Am I really going to Argentina? Well, here’s the friendly flight attendant giving me warm peanuts and my choice of beverage. Am I really leaving my two kids, who have so much going on and are handfuls? Oh, here’s my personal movie screen with the latest movies, King’s Speech anyone? Am I really trusting my husband to keep it all together at home on top of his work schedule? Hey, this fully reclining seat makes me realize, I’m not only on my way to Argentina, but in the comforts of first class. Thank you American Airlines! (partial sponsors of this trip) Before I knew it, my flight from Los Angeles into Dallas(2.5 hours) was over. Such a breeze. I walked a short distance to my next gate and boarded my second flight, this time in business class to Buenos Aires. The 8-hour journey was fine, same great service, amenities and fully reclining seats. What I appreciated most was the flight attendant asking if I would like to be wakened for breakfast in the morning. That doesn’t always happen, and when you’re traveling, that extra sleep does make a difference! As I walked off the plane, I was greeted by an American Airlines employee, holding a sign with my name. Luciana’s smiling face suddenly revived me and my excitement swirled. I was finally in Argentina!
The Immigration area at Pistarini International Airport was painless. Hardly any lines, probably due to our 7 a.m. arrival. I did have to pay a $140 entry fee that surprised most of the travelers around me. I quickly jumped in a taxi with another writer, and we headed for the Domestic Airport, where we would board our third and final flight to Mendoza(1.5 hours). The morning traffic was heavy, and it took a good hour and forty minutes to get there. But we made it on board and were heading to The Masters Food and Wine event!
Park Hyatt Mendoza Hotel, Casino & Spa:
After the 20-minute shuttle ride from the airport, we pulled-up to the beautiful Park Hyatt in downtown Mendoza. This grand, old building with its large terrace where people were eating, didn’t look like the Hyatt’s that I usually see. I learned the Hyatt restored the original façade of the Plaza Hotel, a 19th century structure. The Park Hyatt collection features smaller European style hotels, that have unique architecture and design. The one here in Mendoza was right across the street from the bustling Plaza Independencia, in the middle of the downtown area. A new building was added bringing the guestroom total to 186. There are two restaurants, one of them is Bistro M which actually received Wine Spectator magazine’s “award of excellence” for having one of the most outstanding wine lists in the world for seven consecutive years. Grill Q is the other restaurant that serves classic Argentinean food. Next to that is The Vines wine bar. Now for my room, it was very spacious, clean and contemporary. The bathroom was also large and simply appointed with a lot of carrera marble, which I love. It was time for me to leave my comfortable room, and head downstairs to let the eating and drinking begin!(King $750,800-492-8804)
Park Hyatt’s Masters of Food and Wine:
To kick-off the event I headed to Park Hyatt’s Grill Q restaurant. Guests, chefs and writers from around the world were in for a treat. Just look at the main coarse of Rib Eye, potato millefeuille(layered pastry) and vegetables with Malbec reduction. Mind you, this was one of four courses, paired with three different wines. I sat next to the cuisine chef of the hour, Frank Widmer of Zurich’s Park Hyatt. What’s nice about these events is the knowledge of cooking you gain from small talk. Widmer for instance, says he only buys caviar from Uruguay because it’s the best. And he explained why he buys beef aged at least 45-days. The meat basically tenderizes itself with its natural acid, leaving the meat to fall off the bone(sorry all you vegetarians). This was my first official meal of the event, but the real introduction came that night at the opening cocktail party. We were able to mingle and sample the food of all the chefs participating in the event. Numerous stations were set-up around the courtyard of the hotel. A few of my favorites were stewed lamb with coulis and goat cheese, braised ribs with prawn ceviche and banana puree’, and saffron-flavored risotto with Malbec wine. Of course there was the most insane dessert display that I snapped some pictures of, and then sampled. D-e-l-i-s-h! But I was now officially in a food coma and needed to go to bed because the wine tasting started the next morning. (Event package:$2500/single rate, includes three nights, meals, events, and transfers)
Mendoza, the Napa Valley of Argentina:
It was 9:00 a.m. and we were off to experience the Mendoza wine region, one of the world’s leading wine producing areas, about a half hour from our hotel. There are more than 11-hundred wineries in Argentina, and over 900 are located in Mendoza. What’s so unique about this environment is the high altitude coupled with the mere fact that it’s 70-percent desert, lying below the Andes. This is why the ever-so-popular Malbec grape grows well here. The 500-thousand acres of vineyards, are supported by an age-old irrigation system that reserves and uses spring snowmelt. As we traveled over dirt roads, pitted with pot holes and taking-in the simple countryside scenery, we arrived at a white, ornate structure that took my breath away. The tour started here at artist Sergio Roggerone’s home and gallery, “La Alboroza”. Look at the beautiful wall he hand painted in his foyer! I quickly ducked into the dimly lit gallery to view his paintings. Roggerone opened-up his oasis for a champagne reception to kick-off our wine tour. Pastry chef Andrew Shotts of Garrison Confections in Rhode Island said, he had been there since 4:30 that morning preparing his signature treats. I didn’t want to leave this serene setting, but I discovered a few rooms may soon be available for guests to stay, sans Shotts’ desserts, sorry.
Still swirling from champagne and sweets, our bus rolled-up to Zuccardi Winery. Now this is how I pictured an Argentine winery, look at how beautiful the reclaimed wooden wine cages are in the tasting room. This family run business not only makes vino, it produces it’s own olive oil as well. Miguel Zuccardi, the son, oversees the oil production, while his sister Julia runs the fabulous restaurant complete with overhead vines bursting with grapes. It was quite a site! Again, the four course lunch was paired with light and refreshing Zuccardi wines. Chef Rodrigo Pacheco from Ecuador prepared a fish that I’m still thinking about. It was grilled sole with leek and a potato tagliatelle with a bouillabaisse reduction. The man who has kept this 48-year old company evolving and thriving is father Jose’ Alberto Zuccardi. His son Jose’ does much of the hands-on work in the winery now, and together they’ve made Zuccardi wine one of South America’s top producers and exporters. Many of the wines I tasted are available in the U.S. and reasonable($15/bottle). I loved the Torrontes’!
Time to cook & explore:
Cooking Pea Soup~
We stopped eating for a bit, to take a cooking class back at the hotel, with Chef Brian McBride of Washington DC’s Blue Duck Tavern. This was a welcome break after the decadent afternoon. We watched McBride make a simple green pea soup. He gave us a few tips such as, to use frozen peas because they stay greener than fresh ones when cooked. And cook with the least amount of the highest quality ingredients as possible.
Exploring downtown Mendoza~
Before more wining and dining, we were able to explore the city-life of Mendoza. There are some beautiful places to stay at in the wine country, but I liked being downtown in the Park Hyatt. There’s an outdoor artisan market around the plaza that has the typical handmade jewelry and other little crafts. But I’d save my money for this great leather store called Prune. It’s a chain store in Argentina where I bought
this gorgeous purse made of Argentine leather. With the exchange rate of 4 pesos to 1 U.S. dollar, I paid only $160! I was lucky the shops had just reopened after a siesta from 1:00-5:00. There’s also a pedestrian street, that reminded me of being in Europe. All the restaurants set-up tables for dining outside. As far as purchasing wine, the wineries I visited had locations in the U.S. that sold and shipped wine. Not as fun as buying it while you’re there. So I bought “wine skins” at the hotel and packed only two bottles. Wine skins are wine bottle shaped, bubble-wrap envelopes that got my wine home safely. Wow it was already time to sniff and sip more wine!
Trapiche Winery is 125-years old, and it felt like it! Walking up the long dimly lit path, was like entering a university with it’s towering brick exterior. There’s a small museum we toured where original wine making tools and machinery were displayed. The dining area for the event was glowing with candles. So far, I’ve been featuring only one of my favorite courses of all these meals, but I couldn’t decide at this dinner. I loved the layered baked eggplant, followed by a risotto with scallops and asparagus. Next was a braised beef with polenta(my favorite side dish). The chefs were Italian-born Nicola and Fabrizio Carro, twin brothers who own Quattro restaurant in New York and Miami. But as good as dinner was, the entertainment stole the show. Toward the end of our meal, someone started singing opera. All of a sudden people who I thought were guests or wait staff started standing and singing together. It felt surreal. Here we are eating the best food by world-renowned chefs and drinking flagship wines. And now the unexpected opera performance, unforgettable!
Catena Zapata Winery:
Modeled after the Mayan pyramids in Guatemala, Catena Zapata broke the tradition of what a winery typically looks like. This drive to be different is also apparent in their wines. We were in for quite a history lesson this morning, and apparently a work out. The staircase to access different levels of this winery looked very intimidating! In 1902 Nicola Catena, an Italian immigrant, planted his first Malbec vineyard in Mendoza. The rest is history, with his grandson Nicolas now running this successful company. In 1995 Catena Zapata was the first Argentine winery to be invited by Wine Spectator to pour at the 1995 New York Wine experience. The Catena Malbec was soon drawing attention in wine circles around the world. Some of this interesting information is found in Laura Catena’s book, Vino Argentino. It’s a fun read, as well as a comprehensive guide of all the wineries, including some amazing recipes. Chief winemaker Alejandro Vigil explained how he strives to make a premium wine complex, but easy to drink. Helping to balance the complexity, French oak barrels are used in fermentation. The flagship wine is Nicola’s Catena Zapata, which retails for $90 at (www.winelegend.com).
Strangely enough I’ve worked up an appetite from the first winery. I guess I’m getting used to eating a four course meal every few hours, not good. Now unlike Catena Zapata’s rich history, Rutini is only two and a half years old. This was the company’s first event at the winery, and it’s projected to open to the public in possibly a year. Up until now, their best selling wine in the U.S. is the entry level Trumpeter at $12 a bottle(www.epicwines.com). The catered luncheon featured the work of Chef Rodrigo Oliveira from Brazil and Pastry Chef Osvaldo Gross from Argentina. My two favorite dishes were the sun-dried beef with milk pirao and pumpkin and marrow butter. The dessert of chocolate cake soaked in one of Rutini’s Malbecs, with light pistachio cream, poached apricots and spiced cocoa syrup was perfection!
Terrazas de los Andes:
Thankfully, we had some downtime to rest after our trip to Rutini, before heading to Terrazas de los Andes. Interestingly enough Moet et Chandon champagne, owns this winery. After much research that started in the late 1950’s, the company decided to set up it’s first ever vineyard outside France. Again the local conditions of the high elevation vineyards, watered by the Andes spring run-off were impressive. In 1999 Terrazas de los Andes was finally opened, and today there’s even a cozy little guesthouse where you can book a night. This was definitely the most unique dinner of the trip. Chef Martin Molteni from Argentina prepared a starter of Pacu'(type of piranha) cooked in an earth oven with lemon and potato stew and mozzarella. We then sampled Mollejas (sweetbreads) glazed with sugar cane honey, mushrooms and figs with potato. The next treat was the Tango! A romantic dance that originated in Buenos Aires. It was a perfect way to end the night, at the last winery of this memorable event.
Before flying back home to L.A. I was able to spend the day touring Buenos Aires at lightening speed! The April showers did not slow me down. The rain only lasted a few minutes, in fact the weather most of the year is very pleasant in Buenos Aires
. I first dropped off my bags at the Park Hyatt in Recoleta. I would definitely stay in this upscale French neighborhood. The hotel is separated into two buildings, one an ancient 1932 French Palace Duhau. The gardens were so lush and colorful and the private art gallery featured many unique pieces. In walking distance from the hotel, was the famous cemetery where Eva Peron’s tomb is located. It was so fascinating, with many big, ornate tombs. Just a short taxi ride away($40) is the trendy neighborhood of Palermo Soho. It was Sunday so many of the boutiques were closed, but I ate at a great restaurant, Sans Panes & Cerveza. The charcuterie platter was too good! Another must see neighborhood is San Telmo, and if you’re lucky enough to be there on Sunday you’ll catch the antique market. These vintage seltzer bottles were only $20, but unfortunately too heavy for me to pack in my suitcase. This picturesque area had me wandering the cobblestone streets and snapping so many pictures of the shops and buildings. Vendors lined the streets for blocks, giving us shoppers more retail opportunities. There was even a couple dancing the tango right in the middle of it all. This passionate, artistic and dramatic dance was so easy to watch and get caught up in, like this whole 4-day experience in Argentina. I left only having scratched the surface, not denting it, like I wanted. As I jumped in my cab for the airport, I knew with all certainty that I’d be back.
About the Author
Nicole Rodriguez is an emmy nominated news reporter who started on the airwaves in college for UCLA’s radio station. She continued to pursue news broadcasting and writing through internships at Entertainment Tonight and KCAL News. After graduating she took her first job in Bozeman Montana as a reporter and night time anchor for an ABC news affiliate. A year later she was back in California working at the local NBC station in San Luis Obispo as the morning anchor and reporter. Her next job brought her to Seattle Washington for CBS news where she was a reporter, back-up anchor. When her first child was born she decided to “retire” and move back home with her husband in Manhattan Beach. After a year, she returned to news as a freelance reporter for Fox-11 news. Now after a second child, enjoying mommy-hood and living at the beach, she’s writing again. The best part of all her jobs she says, was meeting different people everyday and writing about their stories.
Note: This trip was sponsored in part by American Airlines, The Masters Food and Wine event, and Park Hyatt.