“So where are you taking us?” Nick asked the cab driver cautiously. “To the winery or to Hugo?”
The cab driver chuckled a little bit and replied as if it were the obvious answer: “I’m taking you to Hugo, of course.”
We joked around in the cab. “We’re going to see Hugo. It sounds like a mob boss. The Mendoza mafia.” We weren’t too far from the truth, either. Hugo was the eponymous owner of Mr. Hugo’s, a bike rental place outside the city of Mendoza. A friend of a friend had recommended his company with the statement: “The bikes are cheap, but I should warn you: Hugo’s a character.”
So when our taxi rolled up to Hugo’s shack-turned-bike-rental-company in the middle of a slew of vineyards, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. We walked up the cobblestone path and as we entered, Hugo appeared in full glory.
“Hello! Welcome!” he exclaimed in Spanish, bearing a toothy grin. “Wine?”
Being three college kids, we answered in the affirmative, and Hugo poured us each a huge glass of Mendoza wine to enjoy while we waited to make the arrangements for our bikes. The glass of wine was the first of many (but shockingly not as many as you’d imagine) on our day of wine tasting in the famous vineyards of Mendoza.
Mr. Hugo explained the layout of the area to us and recommended a few of the must-see vineyards. We handed over 60 pesos each, finished our glasses, got on our bikes and rode off towards sweet grape glory.
The first vineyard scared us. Not being legal drinkers in the U.S., none of us had ever gone to a wine tasting before. We weren’t sure. Is there a “right” way to do this? We hovered around a table until a woman noticed our cautious faces and came over to pour us a taste. She handed us each a free glass of wine and told us to enjoy it.
Now, I don’t know how wine tastings work in the United States, but in Argentina, they don’t just give you a taste. They give you a full glass and based on the empty glasses around us, we were expected to drink it all. The same was true of every vineyard we visited, so we spent the afternoon drinking and biking, basking under the sultry Argentine sun.
Biking is not easy on roads made mostly of dirt and rocks. Wine does not make it any easier. Just a half block away from returning our bikes, I accidentally flipped into a six foot gutter, breaking a few souvenir bottles of olives and oil and losing my artisanal chocolate in the process. Plus, breaking the bike.
By the time we got back to Mr. Hugo’s a few hours later, we were tipsy, tired and I was scratched up from my minor accident a few moments prior. Hugo took one look of me and offered me another glass of wine — I didn’t realize I had looked so beat up. We made some small talk and we mentioned that we were going back to Buenos Aires on a long bus ride a few hours later. He paused, told us to wait a few moments and disappeared into a backroom. He came back with three waterbottles filled to the brim with wine, straight up college-style. “Por el viaje,” he told us. For the voyage. We left his shack and he winked, like a true Mafioso -– “enjoy the trip.”