After only a couple of days in Mendoza, I was given the opportunity to experience a few necessary firsts. Along with an introduction to the wonders of Malbec and a glimpse at the region’s stunning landscape, it was also the chance to join the numerous motorists on Mendoza’s streets.
As a European, I am well aware of the notorious traffic in London, Paris and Rome, but South America provides its ownunique challenges – running the occasional red light is not uncommon. However, a distinctly French connection was not far away, as our vehicle of choice for the day was a vintage Citroen 3CV courtesy of Slowkar (www.slowkar.com) a rental company with a collection of handsome classic cars. Just like the Mini or Volkswagen Beetle, these instantly recognisable and iconic Citroens have the ability to turn heads and create smiles. When you consider some of the local driving habits and the somewhat leisurely pace of our beautifully preserved automobile, the favourable reception to my debut drive in Mendoza was very welcome. As with all cars of this age and nature, getting to grips with the fundamental controls takes a bit of getting used to. But once you’ve mastered the unique gearbox and remembered to turn off the indicators after every turn, it is possible to immerse yourself in this fantastic driving experience.
Our first port of call was Achaval Ferrer (www.achaval-ferrer.com), a winery and vineyard located in the picturesque Luján de Cuyo. Upon leaving the hustle and bustle of Mendoza’s city streets, you can truly appreciate the stunning countryside. The fact we had the roof down on our classic car made the views even more pleasurable. As we approached this boutique bodega, we wondered what the locals thought when they saw an old Citroen attempting a three-point turn and then struggling to stop in order to ask for directions. Nevertheless, we soon arrived and parked proudly in the middle of several modern cars that don’t warrant a mention.
For a first wine tasting session in Argentina, Achaval Ferrer set the bar remarkably high. Started by five friends as a hobby, it now produces a wide range of delectable reds. Although my introductory Malbec was superb, the Quimera blend was a personal favourite. Our guide Lucía Romero Rosso said they are well aware that the perfect wine does not exist, but dream of “creating something beautiful” does, and you can tell in the wines. With its 2008 Finca Bella Vista achieving a staggering 98 Robert Parker points, it would be easy to expand and create more than the current 250,000 bottles a year. But for the time being, it is reassuring to know the intimate experience is here to stay, as there are no plans to expand.
After a Malbec breakfast, it was time to get back behind the wheel and continue our relaxed journey through yet more beautiful terrain. Next on the agenda was Casa Antucura in the Uco Valley. However, just after my female driving buddy decided to get acquainted with the life in the driver’s seat, Mendoza had yet another surprise in store. With the wind picking up, humidity increasing and a dust storm appearing on the horizon, it became apparent that I was in for another first. We were now facing the prospect of Zonda (http://wine-republic.com/2013/10/03/sanctuary-in-the-desert/), a ferocious hot wind that can topple trees and start fires. Needless to say, it was time to shut the roof, close the windows and see how robust our ride really was. In the face of some pretty humid air coming through the dashboard’s air-vents, we were relieved to soon recognise the Water Tank in Vista Flores and would pull up at Casa Antucura (www.casaantucura.com) in style.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the boutique winery and hotel’s charming characteristics are breathtaking. On the outside, the view beyond the grounds and vineyard towards snow-topped Andes Mountains is a sight to behold. What’s more, distinctive sculptures and the surrounding trees add to the location’s special atmosphere. Inside, the grand library houses more than eight thousand volumes, while ceiling artwork and beautiful murals can be endlessly gazed at. But despite these alluring traits, I hopelessly found myself going back to the car to capture some pictures of our retro carriage. Boys will be boys I guess.
Even though the Zonda sparked fears, or should that be optimism we might have an overnight stay at Casa Antucura, the wind died down and our trip back to the city was underway. We even achieved a couple of overtaking manoeuvres, which was greeted with thumbs up from those in the slow lane.
While the overall experience took nearly twice as long due to our easy-going and relaxed ride, this kind of gentle excursion perfectly compliments Mendoza’s wine-loving existence. As soon as you break free of the hectic urban streets, Slowkar’s philosophy makes perfect sense. Be prepared to encounter some moments out of your comfort zone, but rest assured that whatever happens, you are the most gracious, stylish and dashing driver on the road.
By Christopher Davies
Published in the October/November 2013 edition of Wine Republic