You’ve heard about the ‘ruta del vino’ (wine circuit) by now, but do you know what ‘vino de la ruta’ is? This is the real deal, the wine you’ll actually find on the wine route, or more accurately the wine road. As you drive along any of the roads heading to or away from any wine region in Cuyo you’ll see stands dotted along the highway selling vino casero (homemade wine) and vino patero (wine trodden by foot) as well as preserved fruit and the odd shaped squash. The preferred tipple of truckers and journey weary tourists, this isn’t the sort of wine you’ll find in Wine Spectator or blinging with gold awards from international wine competitions, but it does give you a good idea what everyday joe drinks in Argentina.
Most of these wine merchants are living right by the roadside in the middle of vast desert. So how do they make their own wine? The truth in many cases is that they don’t. Most of the homemade wine is made by wineries, sold as bulk wine and then a bit of sugar is added to it by the roadside kitchen. But some of them do buy the must (grape juice) and then make the second fermentation in their homes, bottling it themselves.
On a random sweepstake of vino de la ruta (Ruta 40 between Mendoza and San Juan in particular) I picked up three bottles to explore Mendoza’s true ruta de vino.
Bottle 1.Tio Fabian’s Mistela $30 pesos
Uncle Fabian makes his Mistela (Mistelle) on the roadside by mixing alcohol with partially fermented grape juice. A muddy orange, oxidized wine colour, Tio Fabian’s wine has aromas of burnt caramel and honey with a bit of candied orange and that slightly musty old book smell. Tastes a bit like marzipan.
Bottle 2. Sarmiento’s Tinto Dulce $25 pesos
Sarmiento and his brother make their sweet red from the must brought to them by big wine trucks. The result is an unfiltered wine with a rather impressive colour concentration which smells like red wine with a splash of ethanol. Some of the aromas are slightly dubious but there is a ton of cherry in there. And a sweet finish of course.
Bottle 3. Fanini Patero $20 pesos.
This is the most popular bottle sold on the route. Made in Guaymallen just outside of Mendoza by the Fanini family, they still use the traditional ‘vino patero’ (stomping on grapes by foot) method. A medium coloured, brickish red with farmyard aromas and quite a bit of structure in the mouth.
By Amanda Barnes
Published in the October/November 2013 edition of Wine Republic