Bicycles and wine

I am not sure what British health and safety would make of encouraging people to get hazily drunk on fine wine while bicycling around narrow busy roads (no helmets of course) with industrial trucks passing you by inches, but whatever those killjoys may think, it is one of the most wonderful activities the world has to offer.

You cycle from vineyard to vineyard, the warm breeze stroking your cheeks, tasting a the delectable wines with the Andes rising, with a menacing splendour in the distance.

Some people squeeze six or seven bodegas into one day.
I prefer to pick a few recommended as the best by the bike hire company and spend a little longer lazing in the shade, savouring the beauty and indulgence of the whole affair.
And I am pleased to say, after years of desperately trying to learn even the most rudimentary facts about wine while quaffing vinegar in London bars and completely failing, here the information seems to soak in a little more with each sip of Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon that I drink.
I should also admit I did have one moment of slight – massive – embarrassment on discovering someone had made off with my superior bike from one bodega leaving me their rather heavy rackety affair in return.
I decided, inadvisedly, to test their bike on the gravel next to a rather large shrub and the combination of wine, sun, stones and weight of the bike meant I made it a few shakey shards before driving straight into said shrub and falling sideways under the bike in about the most inelegant manner possible with a load of Argentinian wine pickers looking on in an, “oh dear God, there goes another one” way that made it even worse.
That aside, Mendoza is a city of fermented and purified joy.
Its wide avenues are tree lined and tranquil, feeding down to plazas of grander range and beauty than any I have seen before.
The streets are lined by stylish bars, and cafes, filled with stylish people, sipping on stylish wine.
Buses take you out to Lujan de Cuyo or Maipu within 45 minutes where you can rent a bike and take off with a rudimentary map to explore the region’s best liquid gastronomy.
The sun shines with a comforting reliability that to a Brit seems almost miraculous.
The people, as always in Argentina, welcome you like a friend rather than a tourist. I know I have – probably – bored you all with my praise of the Argentinians but I think I have finally pinned it down to its essential.
If you speak Spanish, well or badly, you are not a tourist, you are a human being to be welcomed, befriended, interrogated and offered advice. You are not a walking cashpoint as, sadly and understandably, is the case in so many other parts of the world now. They want you to love their country as much as they do, so they look after you.
I was lost in a village yesterday with a couple of fellow gringos trying to find the bike hire place and asked a friendly looking couple who happened to be passing for help.
Rather than the expected basic directions they insisted on walking us there chatting to us along the way, only to deposit us with a kiss and a “Buen viaje! Buena suerte!”
That is what I call good service.
After our overindulgence of Saturday, Anna and I spent a sober and quiet Sunday exploring the beautiful city we had washed up in, but were unable to resist the lure of the evening’s continued “Mega degustacion”.
Less drunk this time I was able to fully appreciate the joyousness of the whole event.
Everyone was there, from the toddler and teenager to middle aged couples and abuelos (grandparents) all drinking with a civilised merriment, dancing with gay abandon in the street to Argentinian music which I could only mourn had never made it to our damp isles. With a wide smile they insisted on filling your glass from their bottle if you were so unfortunate as to be empty, so yet again, I fell into bed in a happy blur.
And after two days of cycling my way around the surrounding countryside I am ready to head back to the city and taste its glory before I board yet another bus to Salta.

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