Monday, February 28, 2011

Around Buenos Aires

This post combines a few things we saw and did in Buenos Aires.

The Argentina automobile association has a nice little car museum, a big hit with car racing fans.

We took another free walking tour of the Recoleta area of Buenos Aires. Our guide, Sol, took us to the monument to those killed in the Malvinas war and explained what the war means to Argentinians.

We met with Damon, Mike's former student, who is vice-president for new media for Fox Sports Panamerica in Buenos Aires. Damon took us on a tour of the studio.

And, of course, Starbucks is in Buenos Aires. The prices are in Argentinian pesos ($); current rates are four pesos per dollar. When noting U.S. dollars, prices appear as U$S.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Three Excellent Wineries

We spent our last day in Mendoza visiting three very different wineries, each excellent in its own way.

Viña Cobos has the highest rated wines in Argentina. One of their wines, at 99 points, was the highest rated wine in South America. One of the owners, Luis Barraud, gave us a tour and tasting of their excellent Felino and Bramare wines.

Our second winery was Achaval-Ferrer, where we had a most interesting tasting with Julian, hospitality manager. We tasted several wines in two forms: barrel and bottle. We also tasted the component parts (Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot) of the Quimera blend, then Quimera from the barrel, and Quimera from the bottle. Then we tasted the three single-vineyard Malbecs, both barrel and bottle. It was all very enlightening to see how the wines change along the way.

Our third visit was to Tempus Alba in Maipú. The Biondolillo family has been in the wine business for more than 100 years. We met with Aldo, two of his sons and his nephew. Tradition, yes, but also focused on the future, with scientific selection of the grape clones and an investment in wine tourism. And excellent wines.

The company dogma (what we might call values) are prominently displayed.

The family also is thinking about the next generation. The premium wine, Vero, features the fingerprints of three of Aldo's grandchildren (a fourth was due within days).

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

More Fabulous Wine

You will not be surprised to learn that we found wonderful wine and gracious and generous winemakers in Mendoza, but you may be surprised (we were) to find this:

Yes, that is a giant menorah on the main square of Mendoza, Plaza Independencia. It was put there in recognition of Israel's 50th anniversary.

Now, the expected: wine. We traveled to the Uco Valley, about an hour and a half drive from Mendoza, to visit the Dutch-owned Salentein winery. In addition to making excellent wine, Salentein is investing in wine tourism, with a small hotel and excellent restaurant. The owner also has built an art gallery, with a small collection of Dutch art and a larger collection of contemporary Argentinian art. The facility itself is gorgeous:

We had the extraordinary opportunity to speak with Andrés, the chief operating officer; Lorena, the hospitality manager; and the legendary winemaker José Galante. The winemaking facility is outstanding, as are the wines.

We also had lunch with them at the Salentein posada restaurant, with Salentein wines, of course. Lunch included a mushroom-stuffed endive, Argentinian beef, trout, a pre-dessert lemon-orange drink, and apple tart with ice cream. Words cannot describe the beautiful presentation or the delectability of the meal.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Plazas of Mendoza

Our hotel in Mendoza, Hotel Argentino, is on the main plaza of Mendoza, Plaza Independencia. Equidistant from Independencia are four smaller plazas.

Plaza San Martín honors José de San Martín, the liberator of Argentina.

Plaza Chile recognizes the close relationship between Argentina and Chile. The statue is of San Martín, Argentina's liberator, and Bernardo O'Higgins, Chile's liberator.

Plaza España recognizes the Spanish heritage of Argentina.

And Plaza Italia does the same for Argentina's Italian culture. Can't explain the statue.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Wine Tourism is Hard Work

Our first day of wine tourism in Mendoza was wonderful! We visited Mendel and Catena Zapata, two bodegas (that is, wineries) owned and operated by Argentinians that make outstanding wine. With millions in foreign investment in wine in Argentina, finding all-Argentinean operations is becoming rarer.

We chose Mendel partly because Sue has Mendels among her relations. Mendel (the wine) reflects the first name of the father of one of the co-owners, while in Sue's family, Mendel is a surname, so, alas, she cannot claim kinship with the wine.

Mendel is a relatively new winery though the winemaker and co-owner, Roberto de la Mota, is an established and distinguished winemaker from a family of distinguished winemakers. We had the privilege of meeting with him and learning more about Mendel and wine in Argentina.

The winery is in a "vintage" winery building. Note the "cupola" on top of the building. It is a water tank, very common on residential and commercial buildings in Argentina. The people working are packing Mendel wines.

We tasted 2008 and 2009 Malbecs. Each was distinctive and each was excellent. We also tasted the signature Unus, which is a Malbec-Cabernet Sauvignon blend and a 2010 Semillon. Terrific!

Catena Zapata is a much grander operation with several labels. We had the good fortune taste Luca (Laura Catena's personal wine), Catena Alta, the Catena Zapata single vineyard wines and the then the premier  Catena wine, Nicolas Catena Zapata, a Mabec-Cab blend.

It is a most impressive facility, surrounded by vineyards.

We had several "wow" moments during our tour of the winery, including the barrel room and a storage area for unlabeled wines. The labels will be added once the destination of the wines is known to accommodate different countries' labeling requirements.

The glasses were empty when we finished.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Hola, Mendoza

We arrived in Mendoza yesterday.

The light display was not just for us but part of Vendimia, an annual Mendoza wine festival. We will not be here for the festival itself but are enjoying the preparations.

Of course, we had to have dinner. We selected Tristán Barraza. Sue ordered trout; Mike ordered rabbit. Both were cooked on the grill. Vegetarians, look away now.

We also ate grilled squash, pumpkin, peppers, potatoes, and sweet potatoes, and drank more delicious wine from Argentina. Another lovely meal.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Catedral Metropolitana

It looks like a bank but it's a cathedral, the Catedral Metropolitana on the Plaza de Mayo.

This structure dates from 1822. One of the best things about the cathedral is that it is cool inside. It also houses the tomb of General José de San Martín, the liberator of Argentina. Gaston, our guide on the first day, said that San Martín is the only politician that all Argentines like.

The church also has beautiful mosaic floors, a silver alter, and a domed ceiling.

Once again we needed refreshment after all of this touring. We headed for Café Tortini for a Submarino. A Submarino is hot milk with a bar of chocolate; in the case of Café Tortoni, the chocolate is shaped like a submarine. You stir the chocolate into the milk and yumminess ensues.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

La Biela de Recoleta

Buenos Aires is a big city (13 million+) but feels much smaller because it is a really collection of distinctive neighborhoods. We are staying in Recoleta, a quieter upscale part of town with lots of parks and tree-lined streets.

Neighborhoods need hang-outs, places for people to gather, and Recoleta has La Biela, where we stopped for lunch today. It is a large, light airy place that extends out into the park. La Biela means "connecting rod" and it carries a double meaning in this case.

First, it refers to the literal connecting rod that holds an auto's pistons to the crankshaft, the piece of forged metal that keeps the engine from tearing itself apart as gasoline explodes in the cylinders. This meaning honors the auto racing champions and fans who have for decades gathered in this room to drink coffee and talk their sport.

The cafe is decorated with auto racing photos, posters and trophies from the 1930s to the present. It was very interesting to see two young women excited to have their photo taken in front of a portrait of Juan Manuel Fangio, the great Argentinean Grand Prix world champion of the 1950s.

The other type of connecting rod? Well, as I said before, every neighborhood needs someplace where people can gather, connect and re-connect. La Biela seems like the perfect social connecting rod to me.

What did we eat and drink? Sue had a sandwich of Serrano-style ham, a fruit salad and sparkling water. I drank "chopp" (the local term for a small draft beer) and the cafe's signature sandwich of pounded beef tenderloin with lettuce, tomato, cheese, and hard-boiled egg. Very tasty and satisfying!

Monday, February 14, 2011

To Market, to Market

On a warm, sunny Sunday, it seemed that a good deal of Buenos Aires was at the San Telmo market. The main market is about antiques; the fringes are filled with tourist junk treasures. The antiques market has a bit of everything: linens, china, silver, crystal, buttons, jewelry, books, toys, pictures, records, money, you name it.

The fruit and vegetable market provided supplies for tomorrow's breakfast.

We enjoyed a big ol' piece of grilled beef for lunch at La Brigada, a restaurant recommended by our friend Lauri. The beef was special -- raised on the restaurant's own estancia. Wine choice was a Rutini Malbec-Cabernet Sauvignon blend, which was perfect with the meat. What do you expect to pay for a dinner-sized lunch for four with a large piece of meat, Caprese salads, fried potatoes, wine, water and coffee? About $125US. Heck of a deal.