Monday, March 31, 2008

Photos from Argentina Segment of our Wine Trip

Here is a collection of photos we took on the Argentinian portion of our wine trip to South America in March 2008. Read the blog postings from each day's adventures for some laughs and to share the excitement. These photos were taken in Buenos Aires and Mendoza.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Rehearsing for an Episode of "Bizarre Foods" on Travel Channel

We had a full day of wine tourism outside of Santiago and now we wanted a good meal. So, we went to a grill that the conceirge at the Ritz-Carlton recommended: Tierra Noble Restaurant. Some of us wanted meat and some of us wanted seafood. Fine - everything here is fresh and grilled, and quite good. And they had a great wine list.

Barry decided to order the "criadillas". None of us had any idea what they were .... except Barry. He is into eating all kinds of organ meat.

Here is the definition of criadillas:

"Bull testicles. Also called Prairie Oysters in Canada (Alberta). It is called "criadillas" in Spain but has different names in other Latin countries. The criadillas are the testicles of the pig. They are sliced first and then cooked with garlic and parsley, better if they are barbecued. If you don´t know what you are eating, the taste is intense but in a nice and pleasant way."

Fortunately, Barry asked the waiter if he liked them. You often do that in restaurants and expect the waiter to give you an honest answer. Our waiter responded "me no like." That was enough for Barry to change his order. We could just imagine the head chef telling the waiters that anyone who brought in an order for criadillas had to surrender their own for him to prepare.

Matetic Vineyards - there are Croatians even in Chile

After lunch, we visited Matetic Vineyards. The family immigrated from Croatia in the early 20th century and made a fortune in construction materials and mining.

Seems like you can travel thousands of miles from San Pedro and still run into people from Croatia. Our friend Pauline would love this place and feel right at home - she's Croatian.

What a winery building! Amazing modern architecture and a cellar that looks like it is right our of Star Trek. The walls of the cellar are all built out of river rock and kept in place with steel mesh. We're taking this picture from a balcony overlooking the barrel cellar.

And of course, there is the wine. Matetic's EQ varietals are available at good wine stores in the U.S. at a reasonable price. Good QPR as they say in the wine magazines.

Back to Santiago for dinner now.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

This is NOT like any deli I've ever eaten at

Our last day in Argentina. Our one night at Cavas Wine Lodge is over. This is one of those hotels you never want to leave. Stunning views of the Andes Mountains, grape vines right outside the door of your room, your own "plunge" pool (with very cold water), relaxing spa treatments, and fabulous food (and wine).

Caren and I did a couples massage session that ended with a wine bath. It looked like we stepped into bathtubs filled with red wine, but it was actually wine colored bath salts that were made of a substance that did not stain your skin or towels.

After checking out (sob, sob), we we drove to the Maipu Valley east of central Mendoza and had lunch at Almacen del Sur. It promotes itself as a delicatessen, but it's not like any deli I've ever been to. Tim, our tour arranger, booked us for the five course tasting menu (each with a different wine). For "foodies" like the four of us, this rated as a "great" meal. One course looked like it was a salad with shredded chicken, turkey, or duck. Not. It was rabbit. Unbelievably tasty and not at all greasy.

Now it's off to the airport in Mendoza for our flight to Santiago.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Achieving a Milestone in Golf

Today, we went to play golf. Why not? One needs a break from wine tasting and eating.

We drove to La Vacherie Country Club outside of Mendoza and rented some clubs. We all played terrible on the first few holes, but then Barry's game turned around and he finished with a flourish.

Caren and I reached a milestone with this round of golf. We have now played golf on every continent (except Antarctica). North America of course. Europe, in Spain and the U.K.. In Australia, a couple of times. In Asia, in the sweltering heat of Singapore a couple of times. In Africa, last year in Kenya. And now in South America.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tasting Wine with the Robert Mondavi of Argentina

This was a full day of wine tasting. We started at Achaval-Ferrer with a 9:30AM appointment. Nothing like tasting Malbecs first thing in the morning after breakfast.

This winery, owned by four Argentine businessmen and two Italian wine industry veterans, has established a strong reputation in the U.S. for an excellent Malbec at around $20, a blend called Quimera in the $30-$40 price range, and a series of high end, single vineyard Malbecs in the $90-$110 range. We did barrel tasting of the wines about to be bottled for export (clearing space for the harvest that was about to begin).

We then had an appointment to meet Walter Bressia, known as the Robert Mondavi of Argentina. Bressia changed the wine industry around Mendoza several decades ago, by upgrading the growing practices and winemaking techniques. Argentina used to make cheap, bulk wine mostly for local consumption. Bressia changed that and helped make Argentina into a world-class wine producer and exporter.

We drove up to an unassuming building that appeared to be under construction (and in no hurry to be completed). Up drives Walter Bressia and his daughter. Inside the building is the winemaking equipment and a wonderful small cellar. We walked down into the cellar to find they were all set up for us with cheese, salami, crackers, and of course, several bottles of wine. What an experience!

We probably spent 90 minutes talking with Walter (thru his daughter as interpreter most of the time) about his family, the business, the wine industry in Argentina, his future plans, our comments on tasting his wines, and wines in the U.S.. The entire family (wife and children) all work in the business.

The construction is for a new tasting room and kitchen he is building to host more visitors in the future.

The annual production at Bressia is very small. They make a small series of varietals that sell for $20-$30 in the U.S. (if you can find them), a blend called Profundo that retails for about $50, and a limited production blend called Conjuro that retails for about $100. We picked up a bottle of Conjuro to stash in the cellar for a special occasion.

Tim really booked a full day for us. Next stop - Ruca Malen for lunch on their patio. And what a lunch - six courses, each served with a different wine. Kudos to Tim for also ordering up perfect weather. After a lot of food and wine, we weren't sure we wanted to (or could) get up.

But we had another stop to make - Finca Decero. This is a newer winery that is not yet exporting to the U.S.. Built by a Swiss businessman (the founder of Swatch), he spared no expense building this place. The architecture, the interiors, the equipment, and the location all indicate they intend to produce premium wines at this place. We'll have to keep our eyes open for their product in the U.S. later this year.

Monday, March 17, 2008

An Empanada Making Party

This evening we had a cooking class in Antucura's kitchen. Pablo, the chef at Andeluna Winery, came over to teach us how to make empanadas, the Argentine way. What a blast!

Laurie and Caren really got into making the dough, Barry was the chief fry cook, and I did the ingredient prep (and picture taking). We all mastered the job of eating the empanadas.

And of course, one builds up a thirst making empanadas, so we drank a few bottles of Antucura wine.

After our lesson and sampling our creations, Pablo cooked us a great dinner.

We will definitely have to stage a similar cooking event at home for some friends.
Uco Valley

This morning we left our hotel in Buenos Aires at zero-dark-thirty (I think it was 4:45AM) to catch a flight from BA to Mendoza. We left from the domestic airport in BA. It looked like the morning commuter jam at LAX with lots of business people checking in for flights to cities throughout Argentina.

The Argentine version of TSA must not be trained by the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security. We zipped right thru to our gate - no shoes off, everything passed the X-ray machine, and the agents seemed to enjoy their jobs. Definitely not TSA personnel.

Once we arrived in Mendoza, we had about a 90 minute drive south to the Uco Valley. Eventually, we pulled up to Casa Antucura.

We are the first public guests ever to stay here. It is a family house that is being opened to the public as a small tourist hotel. It is smack dab in the middle of Antucura Winery's vineyards and a stone's throw away from their winery building.

There are eight rooms at the lodge and we are the ONLY guests. This is going to be cool.

The Uco Valley is almost a desert. It sits on the eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains and get little rain. Everything that grows here is due to irrigration.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Our Introduction to Argentine Wines

It's been a long day. We arrived in Buenos Aires early in the morning, checked into our hotel (the Four Seasons in the Recoleta district), and walked around a bit.

Early evening with met Tim and our guide for tomorrow (Cecilia) for a private wine tasting in the hotel lobby bar.

Tim started us out with a Jose' Mounier Torrontes (a crisp, fruity white wine), and then we tried a special white wine, Bressia Lagrima Canela. After that we switched to reds and sampled an Enrique Foster Malbec Reserva, followed by an unusual Chanarmuyo Estate Petit Verdot.

Our conclusion - there is a lot of variety in Argentine wines - it is not all Malbec. There are dozens of producers, multiple wine growing areas, and lots of different varietals. Given the low cost of land and labor, Argentina should be an increasingly large wine exporter to the U.S. and Europe in the next few years.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Heading to South America

Today, we left LAX and headed for Atlanta to connect with our flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina. We should arrive in BA sometime early tomorrow morning.

It was a remarkably clear day for the LA area and we snapped this picture out of the airplane window as the pilot turned east and rose to cruising altitude. That's Santa Monica Bay to the left, the Palos Verdes Peninsula in the center, and our house is slightly to the left of the cloudbank. Can you see Winston and Spencer waving to us?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Argentina, here we come

We booked another trip - this time to Argentina and Chile. No bicycling this time. This trip we are going to focus on wine tasting, sightseeing, and food.

Caren's cousin Barry and his wife Laurie (the wine gurus) are coming along.

Our itinerary starts in Buenos Aires, then we head to Mendoza (the heart of Argentina's wine country), fly over the Andes Mountains to Santiago, Chile, and finish with a few days in one of Chile's wine valleys.

We arranged the trip with Tim Robertson of Robertson Wine Tours. Tim is an expatriate from Great Britain who lives in Buenos Aires. If you ever consider a trip to South America, Tim is THE guy to call. He knows EVERYONE in the wine industry and has set us up with some one-of-a-kind arrangements that your typical tour never experiences.

We should have a fantastic time. It's the start of harvest and crush season down there, so there should be a lot of activity. Hopefully, we'll learn a lot about wines from Argentina and Chile so we can do some more buying for the wine cellar.

More to follow as we post our adventures.