Mendoza Reds (ARG) vs. Marlborough Whites (NZL)

Hey there sports fans! Welcome to another exciting, pulse-raising edition of the Olleydays blog. I know you’ve been waiting some time for this one but the wait is over, the anticipation has reached fever pitch and the stage is set to see several scorching wines go head-to-head in personified battle.

During the Olleyday’s world series so far, we’ve  been lucky enough to try some great wine. Today sees two of the finest ‘New World’ wine producing regions of the world lock horns in an international face-off of grape proportions. Sorry, I may have just left myself a bit red-faced there. Oh stop whining. I guess I’m just scraping the oak-aged barrel here for more. Vintage stuff this.

Anyway.

The Mendoza Reds have the more experienced squad having been producing winners for well over 150 years. They also produce the lions share of the best wine in the country. The Mendoza region of Argentina is home to some of the best red wines in South America, although Chile might have something to say about this! It was only right and proper that we decided to see what all the fuss was about. So, after a longer than anticipated bus journey out of Mendoza, we arrived in the wine region and hired some questionably safety checked bikes. Like a front two pairing that should, on paper, be an unstoppable force, we tested out a tandem, failed miserably and opted for a pair of rusty orange 16 gear bikes, of which only one gear seemed to function. Fortunately, the area was pretty flat and the one gear that we had available to us was suitable for the terrain. Despite the weaknesses in the squad here, the starting eleven seem to suit the tactics employed and have had time to gel and know each other’s game well.

Having wasted a bit of time on the bus arrangements (anyone planning to do this, might actually want to research how the buses work in Mendoza: Buy your tickets from the small corner shop type places prior to boarding, so you don’t look like textbook tourists and subject yourselves to multiple eye rolls)and working out how to get to the Maipú region, we had to cherry pick a few places within an achievable distance bearing in mind we had about 3 to 4 hours before they started shutting up shop. The Argentinians clearly have a host of quality, but is the team selection going to have the quality to see off the Kiwi contingent?

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First stop was Bodega Domiciano, a large and important looking winery, thanks largely to the attention to detail in the simple yet effective branding and a very en vogue shade of grey enveloping the masonry. It oozed class and sophistication, much like the dominating Argentinian squad as the camera pans across a host of internationally renowned players.
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We wandered around the vineyards and waited for our English speaking guide to give us the thumbs up.
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Sandra introduced herself and told us a little bit about the grapes produced in the region. After a bit of preamble, we weaved our way through the stainless steel maze accompanied by some commentary in ‘Spanglish’.
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Onto the main, and lets be honest, sole reason we all do wine and bike tours: the tasting session. Having had the luxury of a tour and some insider’s knowledge, you do, in some way, feel more of an ’emotional’ connection with the wines; probably a wise ploy to help the tourists and their currency part company considering the proximity of a wealth of competition.

Sandra took us to the show room that certainly had had some money spent on it to give it a premium feel with the back wall awash with dark rich woods, effective lighting and the contemporarily labelled vintages. The line up for tasting was some sparkle, a Syrah and Malbec from the 2012 vintage under their brand name ‘Domiciano de Barrancas’. Sandra stayed with us and chatted to us as we sampled, explaining that this was her 5th tour of the day and she always likes to taste the wines with the guests to share the experience! What a job! The sparkle, much like an overrated South American player with loads of potential, fizzled out, couldn’t handle the limelight and lost out to the class posed from a well established breed of european. Highlight? The Syrah, with its nose of freshly sizzling spiced sausages and dynamic flavours rifles one into the onion bag! 1-0 to the Reds!

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Next stop was an olive oil and chocolate speciality shop. It was on the way and rude not to pop in. The highlight at these was perhaps the liqueurs. An early substitute was made and started showing versatility in midfield, with glimpses of flair, but failed to muster any clear-cut winners.

Back on to the wine and La Rural, a smaller, less imposing Bodega with a reduced emphasis on the customer satisfaction experience, but a consistency by way of established quality and reputation. It felt like the place was already winding down, perhaps even lacking the stamina of the fresher more contemporary up and coming stars, and the chance of a tour was out of the question. Particularly as we would have required an English-speaking one. So we decided to enjoy a glass each from the comfort of the on-site winebar and let the quality speak for itself. The damp and dimly lit affair gave the tasting an even more authentic feel with huge old oak barrels surrounding the small scattering of tables. I even look like I know what I’m doing.

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I have no idea what variety it was that we tried. Does it even matter?! With almost a touch of arrogance, an Argentinian veteran pops up at a crucial time to deliver a touch of class, to remind us that they still pose a threat. Like a relatively unknown force in europe, a local legend emerges up to deliver a potentially crucial blow; it tasted pretty good, even if the service was a little on the lacklustre side. A much needed second for the Reds extends their lead to 2-0.

So, after finishing off, we decided that we’d have a nose around the place ourselves. I wondered around the cave with the numerous barrels and Michelle got up close and personal with the grapes.

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After a few different wines and buoyed by the boost of a second goal, the ride around the region seemed to liven up. We didn’t really have much more time to visit any of the other cellar doors as they were starting to close for the day. Time to enjoy the scenery and the cycling. Argentina seem to be in complete control and their passing game is a joy to behold. But did they leave it too late to get into the game? Was the team selection strong enough to hold off the stiff opposition from New Zealand?
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So with time getting the better of us, we decided that there was no better way to end a bike and wine afternoon session than with a visit to a local craft beer bar, obviously. The rest was welcome and the beer was pretty good and a nice change for the tastebuds!
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The surroundings were calm and peaceful and with the sunset approaching, the atmosphere was so perfect, that, what with the effects of the alcohol, we could easily have settled in.
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But, the threat of missing the 6pm deadline for bike return was looming. The golden hour was upon us and we set off back to the main street in Maipú to return the bikes in the evening light. The confidence in a change of pace from the Argentines capped a strong, consistent performance  showing that a combination of new flair, established grit and variety makes them an international force to be reckoned with.
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By comparison, the Marlborough Whites sport a very young line up. The region only really started producing results in the 70s,  whereas their counterparts had been at it for well over 100 years at this point. Despite this, popularity and quality is ever increasing and people the world over are taking notice.

We arrived in the town of Blenheim in the early afternoon and decided that it was a bit late in the day to start our tour. As we drove to our wonderful hostal, called Watson’s Way, we passed through the main vineyards and filled ourselves with anticipation for the following day. I can’t praise the lodge any more highly than recommending that if you are in the area, you need look no further for somewhere to stay. First class attentiveness from the family run business, great value Bike hire, and fantastic quality too! For more info, please see this great blog post. Click Here!

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The scenery was stunning with the vast open and flat landscape, perfect for acres of vineyards, giving way in the distance to mountainous vistas that often make it onto the labels of the local vintages. The weather seemed to be on our side for the fixture the following day.
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So, having fuelled ourselves with a relatively early night and rising full of enthusiasm to play off the reds with the whites, we were greeted to pouring rain and gale force winds. But we went anyway!
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With the conditions against them, the Marlborough Whites would have to do something pretty special to overcome their more experienced Argentinian opponents. The bikes were certainly more sturdy with functioning gears and panniers for storing purchases but would the superior equipment be enough in this weather? First stop, as the rain subsided and the wind picked up was Cloudy Bay winery.
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Set back from the road and hidden from the bulk of the wind’s lament was a fairly large and well set up Winery. The lady behind the counter was remarkably friendly and gave us a few options and a formation to tinker with and even threw in a couple of bonus tasters. Pinot Gris, a local specialty was, as I’d assumed, in fact the same grape as the Pinot Grigio. It was explained that the climate is such in New Zealand that the effect on the overall flavour and character of the wine is so different to the varieties closer to home in Europe, that they opt with the Gris ahead of Grigio. A great start to the attack from the whites as they surge up into the nostrils with a powerful punch of pear. The 2013 was a strong start and followed up with an absolute screamer of a vintage. The 2014 Sauvingnon Blanc was as fresh as it comes and with its bright citrussy lime aroma and crunchy balanced finish the result is an early fightback from the Whites. 2-1, with plenty of time for the Whites to resist defeat. We later discovered that the region is famous for the Sauvingon Blancs that have won numerous medals and awards at wine festivals worldwide. Cloudy Bay also provided some consistency from the 2011 and 2007 Chardonnay but failed to impress with its 2012 Pinot Noir, that, despite a promising start, the flavour just lacked the depth and vigour of the Mendozan offerings.
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With a bottle of the new vintage safely tucked away in the pannier, the Reds were looking a little shaky with such an early reply. Next stop was a smaller vineyard by way of Allan Scott’s.
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The team was in good spirits despite the weather and eager to see what the next attack would hold. The movement up the pitch was almost identical to the previous albeit with a different set of players, only a little less panache. A similar story with the 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, only this lacked the pizzazz of his more highly regarded team-mate. Either way, the attack managed to fire a blistering strike that just moved agonizingly at the last, shaving the outside of the post. Definite cause for concern for the Reds who nearly conceded to a pot shot from only the 2nd attack.

The marauding whites surged forward and  toyed with their opponents. The weather brightened up and the scenery came alive. The play moved in and out of glistening vineyards despite the wicked wind. It persisted and made movement difficult, however it whipped up the clouds creating some quite dramatic scenes before moving them on over the hills in the distance allowing for moments of brightness.

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The next few kilometres in the wind took their toll. For much of the possession, the New Zealand side toiled to no avail and time drifted away and into a half-time break for lunch.

Refreshed and rejuvenated for a rest it wasn’t long until the Whites offered another offensive move. The next chance for the young and sprightly New Zealand offering fell to their French named starlet, Georges Michel, whom about great things had been spoken. Arrival at the winery was impressive and, combined with the words that had gone before, it looked a highly promising prospect for a much deserved equaliser.

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However, today was not the Frenchman’s finest hour as the decision nearly resulted in an own goal due to him being in the wrong place at the wrong time, namely not there when we were.

The wind prospered in the open terrain and was tiring the legs of the players. There was one more trick up the sleeves of the wily whites as they played their trump card; the highly decorated Hunter’s estate was the final roll of the dice.

Jane Hunter has done the late Ernie Hunter proud in taking the bull by the horns and taking the Irishman’s winery from strength to strength,  not only have they won over 165 medals and 25 trophies for their vintage displays, but they can consider themselves pivotal in establishing Marlborough as a force to be reckoned with globally.

Turning to the most seasoned player in the ranks and paid dividends and in true romantic (some might say clichéd) style, the best really was saved until last.

In a delightfully unselfish display of dominance and pride, a huge selection of tasters was on offer dwarfing the 3 or 4 that had gone before. Not only was there the obligatory introductory fireworks by way of the Maori inspired fizz, MiruMiru (translating to ‘bubbles’ in the native tongue), but there were multiple tastings of both red and white and even a rosé introduced to the fray also. Not only were the tastebuds treated, tested and tantalised with an oaked and unoaked Chardonnay, but the Pinot Gris was followed up with the ubiquitous Sauvingnon Blanc and even a Riesling to boot. The sheer volume in numbers does enough to overwhelm the opposition and the Whites walk the ball into the net for the equaliser. A to cap an excellent performance and blistering end to the match-up, even the red (The Chase 2011), a blend of Pinot Noir, Merlot and Caberbet Sauvingnon, impresses and caps a remarkable display from Hunter’s. The result, a last gasp, deserved winner for the Marlborough outfit. Perhaps the final flurry from Hunter’s is made that much more impressive considering that it cost absolutely nothing, snapped up on a free transfer, whilst the other Marlborough offerings demanded a modest fee, with clauses in contracts reimbursing on further purchases.

So, the Marlborough Whites snatch it at the last from their Argentinian counterparts but perhaps the margin could have been greater had the weather allowed for a more thorough onslaught. In hindsight,  perhaps the tactics from the South American’s worked to their detriment: had there been more time to experiment, it might have been a different story altogether as there were some strong individual performances.

That’s about enough for now. Time to reflect on the performances and take a look at the highlights from the closing stages of today’s play.

Final Result:
Mendoza Reds 2 – 3 Marlborough Whites
Enjoy the return of the domestic football calendar today.
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