The Seduction of Argentina
It’s easy to fall in love with this South American country with its well-crafted wine, culinary & arts culture
Written and Photographed by Karen Loftus
Known as the Paris of South America or, in some circles, Eva Peron’s City, Buenos Aires is by far the most European city in all of South America and the second-largest city, second only to Brazil’s Sao Paolo.
Once in this seductive port city, it’s hard not to imagine the diva Eva Peron or that distinctive era. Standing in Plaza de Mayo conjures up many images of the then first lady Peron and her famed speech, as well as other powerful women who have since made their mark. Hearing of the mothers of those who disappeared during the dictatorship—who were legally not able to gather in groups, but somehow managed to gather in slow moving circles in the same plaza—was very moving. They quietly but powerfully opposed the powers that be.
The locals have plenty of stories from their turbulent past and more recent troubled history. If you stay long enough you start to put some of the pieces together. Regardless of what was, what remains today is a high level of expression: pleasing, provocative, and at times powerful. At every turn in Argentina, a story is being told, a culture revealed, and a creative endeavor celebrated. Here are but a few of the creative turns and stories that I was privy to during my time in the country.
I spent my first day deep in the life and mind of Eva Peron. After a walk through Plaza de Mayo we went to the Eva Peron Museum. Even Peron’s good will had an edge. In the late 1940s Peron took over this three-story luxe mansion in a well-heeled hood and housed single transient mothers in need. It was a move that ruffled a few local feathers, to say the least.
The museum is a quick window into her life. Her experiences as a young struggling girl largely influenced the rest of her life. It was her mother’s strife that got her invested and led to her interest in the underprivileged, particularly women. Her early adult years are well documented; the young and seductive Peron was in search of stardom and cinematic success. Last but certainly not least was her more prominent period and influence until the end. After our spin through the exhibits we had lunch in-house at the museum’s café.
I See Dead People
Eva is buried in Recoleta, one of the most famous cemeteries in the world, where we closed out the day. It’s similar to Paris’s Père Lachaise cemetery where Jim Morrison is buried, or one of the many famed and great burial grounds of New Orleans. If you are into cemeteries it’s an evocative spot, Eva aside. The cemetery is home to a number of feral cats clearly too busy cavorting with the spirits on-site to bother with visitors.
I felt a feminine strength throughout my visit in Argentina. Our local tour guides, shop owners, and PR reps were stunning, interesting, and incredibly strong. Evita, a controversial character with a split in support in all Argentineans I had asked, was clearly a product of the culture.
Another woman of strength and prominence was Maria Amelia Lacroze de Fortabat, the longtime chairperson and chief stockholder of Loma Negra, the largest cement manufacturer in Argentina. She set aside a portion of her extensive art collection for the museum that now bears her name. We’re told that the Fortabat Museum holds only one-fifth of the complete collection. Her power and influence is apparent when you see one of Warhol’s iconic paintings of the patroness herself displayed in the museum.
Her eclectic collection includes pieces from Chagall, Dali, Klimt, and Rodin. What’s most impressive are the acclaimed Argentinean artists, the Monets of Argentina whose names are largely unknown to us, but who are of great prominence in their homeland. They too went to Europe and got swept up in the French Impressionist movement. They then returned home and put their own spin on the style. I left coveting several pieces, but my lunch on-site at Puerto Madero eased the pain of not taking the paintings with me.
Like any great city there are several great pockets, evocative spots, and hip neighborhoods worth a spin. Puerto Madero, like London’s Docklands, is an up-and-coming neighborhood and home to Fortabat Museum. Recoleta is one of the most expensive neighborhoods with its French-style architecture; La Boca is an immigrant neighborhood of Greeks, Italians, Yugoslavs, and Turks. Take time for a leisurely stroll in La Boca along the Caminito with its vibrant colors and equally colorful characters. It’s a great place to pick up locally made crafts.
We finished our feast of the city in trendy Palermo. Like New York’s SoHo there are great wine shops, a café society, chic boutiques, and several sexy restaurants. We had dinner there at Cabernet. Throughout the course of our Tuscan-style dinner we were given a great intro to the local wines of Argentina, perfectly paired with each dish. I was ready for Mendoza.
The first things you see as you drive away from Francisco Gabrielli’s International Airport in Mendoza are the vines on their lot. If you didn’t know you were in wine country when you landed, it becomes crystal clear once you exit the airport and kick-start your vine-inspired adventure.
Mendoza, the capital city of Mendoza Province and the fourth-largest city in Argentina, is less than two hours by plane from Buenos Aires. With an approximate population of one million it is a thriving European-inspired city and a busy stopover for outdoor activists en route to Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere, which plays host to international travelers who fly in from every corner of the globe in search of world-class biking, hiking, rafting, horseback riding, and skiing.
For others traveling the global road in search of the great grapes of the world, Mendoza is simply a must. The Napa of South America, the fifth-largest wine region in the world is producing two-thirds of Argentina’s wines. There are other grand regions in Argentina, from San Juan and La Rioja to Patagonia and several other smaller regions, but Mendoza is the mightiest with vineyard acreage greater than New Zealand and Australia combined.
Malbec originated in France, yet the Argentinean version is very different from its French relatives. It is the region’s definitive red and the most widely planted. A sultry superstar, it has already made its mark in the world with its rich color and deep fruity flavors with a smooth finish. Other reds in the region are Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo (which originated in Spain’s Rioja region), and Italian varieties.
Equally distinctive in the Mendoza portfolio is Torrontes, the only grape wholly indigenous to Argentina. This seductive wine is unlike any other white. It causes a sensorial surprise, with its Muscat-y fragrance, aromatic and floral with hints of peach and citrus, yet spicy on the palate. It is a unique medium-bodied white that can stand up well to Argentina’s grilled meats.
Argentina kicked into the grape game in the 16th century. The Spanish, Italians, and French have all played a hand in influencing the local viticulture. Once quantity driven, the 1,000 wineries in today’s Argentina are largely focused on quality, producing world-class wines. Their wine tourism is as impressive as the wines themselves, with top-notch accommodations and a natural and dramatic backdrop, the Andes Mountains.
It’s a Family Affair
In Argentina you’ll find many family-run wineries, with fourth- and fifth-generation winemakers at the helm. Zuccardi Winery is just one of those, dating back to the mid-19th century. Today winemaker and patriarch Jose Zuccardi and his ex-wife amicably run the winery with their two sons and stunning daughter actively involved. One of the sons has found his passion at their olive oil presses, where he oversees all aspects of the family’s production of artisan olive oils.
You can take in the vines via balloon, bike, or classic car or be a part of the process, picking or pruning depending upon the season. You’ll be wildly rewarded with a chilled Rosé Brut and passed tapas of beef and succulent cheese-and-onion empanadas. In their warm and rustic restaurant, the traditional Argentinean asado of local beef, sausage, chicken, and pork is well worth the wait and perfectly paired with Zuccardi Q 2005 Tempranillo. Their Port Malamado, a late-harvest 2005 Malbec and mandarin mousse is a seamless finish.
Salentein winery is set in the Uco Valley, the highest of the four regions within Mendoza. It is dramatically staged at the foot of the Andes Mountains lying at 800 to 1,400 meters above sea level. The Dutch-owned winery is an architectural and artistic accomplishment as it is also home to Killka, an art gallery for prestigious Mendoza and Argentinean artists, and a restaurant of the same name, a showcase for their greatest work of art: their Premium Malbec with its hints of stone fruits, plum, and tobacco and long finish.
Once you photograph—figuratively or literally—their breathtaking views, slip in for a tour of the evocative gallery and their stunning winery. Indulge in a tasting of the expansive portfolio of their premium Chardonnays, Pinot Noir, and Malbecs in their sleek tasting room.
An Argentinean lunch at Killka is a must. The highly spirited restaurant with large family-style tables is an intoxicating place with floor-to-ceiling windows framing a perfect backdrop of the vines painted into the base of the Andes. Lunch was a sinful mix of provoleta (a slab of grilled provolone), Argentinean lamb, and the best dulce de leche of my life. It was truly decadent, the perfect ending to this day of seductive bliss. Bodega Salentein.
Wine – The Winery Store in Mendoza, in the former home of the city’s mayor and adjacent to El 23 Gran Bar, is perhaps the chic-est wine shop on the planet. If Anna Wintour was a wino, this is where she would shop.
Dine – By the vines, Almacen del Sur’s gourmet delicatessen and restaurant in Mendoza is pitch perfect for the foodie who likes a few flights with their local culinary lesson. Trapiche was their winery of choice for our visit. Three is a charm: We had the Trapiche Chardonnay, Fond de Cave Sauvignon Blanc, and late-harvest Malbec. P.S. Almacen has an extensive line of jams, jellies, and dips to take with you.
Final Culinary Curtain
In Mendoza’s city center, there is simply no better way to end a wine-inspired adventure than with a meal from award-winning chef Pablo Ranea at Azafrán. The restaurant beckons to another time with his expansive collection of kitchen antiquities.
Ranea’s food and hospitality are simply sublime and the sommelier’s recommendations of Yauquén 2007 Ruca Malen, 2007 Trumpeter Torrontes, 2005 D.V. Catena Malbec, and the Stradivarius de Bianchi 2003 dessert wine were simply some of the best wines of the week.
Stay – The Sheraton Park Tower in Buenos Aires is set up for business or pleasure, while the Sheraton Mendoza Hotel and Casino in Mendoza is city-centric and walking distance to all of the shops and top restaurants. Their luxe accommodations include a pool, spa, and gym, perfect for working off your local sins. It’s home to one of the few five-star restaurants in town with the best views of the city from the rooftop restaurant. Sheraton
Play – For all things fun and festive in Argentina see Argentina Travel.
Come Fly with Me
LAN is the go-to airline for South American travel. The staff was wildly attentive and the in-flight food and wines were impressive.
For info on LAN Airlines and flights to Argentina and other South American destinations, go to LAN.com.
Karen Loftus is a Comedian, Playwright, Globetrotting Photographer, and Travel & Lifestyle Writer focused on Fashion, Food, Wine & Spirits, and Golf. After touring through the Middle East, Europe, and Asia entertaining expats, execs, U.S. troops, and theater-savvy audiences international theaters and festivals, award-winning playwright, Tennessee Williams Fellow, and international comedian Loftus took a break from touring, slipping into journalism and putting on the page what she once delivered onstage. KarenLoftus.net. .
- LAN Airlines
- Zuccardi Q 2005 Tempranillo
- Bodega Salentein
- Sheraton Park Tower in Buenos Aires
- Sheraton Mendoza Hotel
- Argentina Travel
Note: This trip was sponsored in part by Argentina Tourism