How do you celebrate your birthday when you’re already traveling around the world on the trip of a lifetime? Well, Jeremy had a pretty spectacular birthday visiting Easter Island, eating delicious seafood, and drinking giant pisco sours. I couldn’t let him have the better birthday, so this had to be something above and beyond the normal nice dinner out. And there had to be copious amounts of alcohol. When I realized that we would be in northern Argentina on my birthday, I immediately knew what we had to do: a premium food and wine tour in Mendoza.
We had been on our share of wine tours and vineyard visits on our RTW trip when we were drinking Bordeaux wine and driving in Tuscany searching for vineyards, and we even did a really cool bike trip through the Maipu region of Mendoza the day before my birthday. So, at first I wondered if a premium wine tour was really any different and if it would be worth it. After trying a dozen reserve and grand reserve wines and enjoying a 5-course gourmet lunch with perfect wine pairings, I can without a doubt say that the Ampora Wine Tour to the Lujan de Cuyo region of Mendoza was worth every penny.
Small Groups and Relaxed Atmosphere
One of the best things about the tour we did was that it was a small group- there were 7 people including Jeremy and I, and the maximum number of people was 8. Our small group got along really well which made the day even more fun. The interactions we had were in stark contrast to those that we had on the large wine tours with 50+ people where we hardly talked with anyone else. The small group atmosphere made talking with our host Jose even more enjoyable and easy.
We are by no means pretentious wine snobs, and I was a bit curious as to what the atmosphere and tone of the tour would be. To my delight, it was anything but pretentious. Jose was extremely knowledgeable and taught us a lot, but he was also very down to earth. Our fellow group members were similar to us in that they really enjoyed and wanted to learn more about it, but they were by no means wine snobs (although how lucky must you be to have 6 out of 7 people on the tour be late twenty-somethings?).
A Well-Paced Learning Experience
With most budget wine tours, usually by the last vineyard you’re just done. Your palate is done, you’re sick of hearing the same information over and over again, and you’re sleepy and maybe a little bit too tipsy. The premium tour we did with Ampora was very different, in a good way. The focus at each estate was different, which meant we learned different things along the way. The timing was also thoughtful and spread out so that we never felt our palates were overwhelmed or that we were tipsy. Part of the reason this tour works is that it starts early in the morning, when your palate is most awake and spans the whole day to not overwhelm you with alcohol.
At our first stop, Bodega Clos de Chacras, we got to see the processing of malbec grapes and actually tasted a few of the sweet gems. Although I had learned about ageing wines before, it was at this estate that I really started to understand the difference between young and aged wines, and learn about how to age wines yourself after you buy them. The tasting was in a beautiful room at a big, square wooden table, with bread and cheese to go along with our Crianza blend, aged Cabernet Sauvignon, and aged Malbec.
The dramatic tasting room at our second stop, Pulenta Estate, was a highlight of the day. It was set underground with the only light coming from a giant square window in the ceiling above. At Pulenta we learned about the different colors of red wine and were able to see just how purple Malbec is compared to a Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir. We also had a perfect cheese pairing with each wine, and we geeked out at their lab where they test things like specific gravity and pH to monitor the fermentation progress.
Our third stop was at Bodega Caelum, which was a smaller and younger estate with a big focus on experimentation. They also had a cute puppy who loved the pistachios that we were given to snack on as we tasted a Rose, Torrontes, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Dolce Malbec. The peachy, crisp Torrontes was one of our favorites and worlds apart in flavor compared to other Torrontes from the region.
A Lunch to End All Lunches
Our day ended at Bodega Dominio del Plata with a 5-course lunch complete with wine pairings. From the Torrontes paired with lamb pate crostini, to the best steak we had in Argentina paired with Ben Marco Expresivo, to the dessert course of cheeses and candied fruits paired with a late harvest Malbec, everything was spot on. It was the kind of meal that you just don’t want to end!
If you’re going to visit Mendoza, I highly recommend saving your pennies and splurging on a premium wine tour. You learn so much more than on a budget tour, you get to taste the really special reserve wines, and the atmosphere is much more relaxed and enjoyable when compared to the other wine tours we’ve been on around the world.
As for the $300 price tag for two, well, I’ll gladly pay that again when we return to Mendoza on a shopping trip. It is worth every penny, birthday or not.