A Tango Through Ar­gentina

Ex­plor­ing Ar­gen­tine vis­tas—from the trop­i­cal north to the glacial south.

DINE and Destinations - - ARGENTINA - By Adam Wax­man

Ifeel like a Ro­man em­peror. Soak­ing in a bub­bling bar­rel bath of Caber­net Sauvi­gnon, I sip sparkling wine un­der the stars. It is night­fall at the Pa­tios de Cafay­ate wine spa, and the start of our tango from trop­i­cal to glacial Ar­gentina.

Wines flour­ish in the high alti­tude of the An­des. In Salta, the sig­na­ture grape is Tor­rontés. “All women love Tor­rontés,” says Lu­cia Romero of Bodegas El Por­venir. “They love the fruit, the flower, the per­fume.” Not just women—its trop­i­cal bou­quet is not lost on me. The cen­tre of Ar­gen­tine wine pro­duc­tion, how­ever, is in Men­doza, where Mal­bec reigns supreme. Strolling through the per­gola vine­yards at Ru­tini Wines is like go­ing back in time to its 1885 found­ing. Their wine mu­seum of relics is, in it­self, worth the visit, as we trace the evo­lu­tion of wine­mak­ing through the ages. The Ru­tini Mal­bec has vel­vety aplomb and com­plex­ity, with deep dark fruit and a smooth lin­ger­ing fin­ish.

My visit to Men­doza would be in­com­plete with­out a day at Zuc­cardi, a fam­ily-run busi­ness with Old World charm and New World en­ergy. Wine-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties for us to choose in­clude har­vest tast­ings, bik­ing through the vine­yards, and even hot air bal­loons with sparkling wine. We opt for an Ar­gen­tine cook­ing class in the kitchen and learn how to pre­pare the ubiq­ui­tous clay oven­baked Ar­gen­tine snack pocket, the em­panada.

Lunch at Zuc­cardi of­fers a range of op­tions like wine-pair­ing menus; a Tea­los­o­phy menu of in­spired in­fu­sions and blended teas; and an olive oil tast­ing menu, in­clud­ing bull carpac­cio with Parme­san cheese petals, beet­root, quince syrup and char­coal oil from the vine­yards. We be­gin with a lovely amuse bouche of sweet and tart el­e­ments: cherry toma­toes pa­pil­lote in rose-wa­ter per­fume herbed with tar­ragon (pre­sented with a scoop of kumquat sor­bet over­top) and paired with Santa Julia sparkling wine. Why wait for dessert to taste some­thing sweet when our taste buds can be set alight right from the start?

If Charles Dar­win sur­veyed Ar­gentina to­day, he would need a de­can­ter. As the wine flows, Patag­o­nia is a land of in­fi­nite hori­zons, where de­vel­op­ing vine­yards have re­quired a pi­o­neer’s imag­i­na­tion to cre­ate a wine in­dus­try where none ex­isted. Dur­ing con­struc­tion of Bodega Fa­milia Schroeder, work­ers un­earthed some of the largest dinosaur bones ever dis­cov­ered. Now, as we dine on fresh lo­cal trout at the win­ery’s restau­rant, the Ti­tanosaurus (ti­tanic lizard), along with its gi­ant pet­ri­fied eggs, are en­cased in glass di­rectly un­der­neath our ta­ble. In homage, Schroeder named its brand “Sau­rus.” My in­stant favourite is the sparkling Tor­rontés, called De­seado. It bursts forth with fresh white peach, or­ange blos­som and notes of mus­cat on the nose that fol­lows through to the palate.

Ar­riv­ing in south­ern Patag­o­nia, one can­not help but feel “an in­con­ve­nient truth” on view­ing the arid land­scape and yet, at the time of this writ­ing, the Per­ito Moreno Glacier has not re­treated. This magnificent river of snow and ice, carv­ing slopes and un­furl­ing be­tween moun­tains looks like a Baked Alaska atop a glow­ing Tif­fany box. It’s so bright that it’s al­most blind­ing. I pack a wa­ter bot­tle for the trek, but it’s like bring­ing a pail of sand to the beach. An empty con­tainer is all I need as I reach into a pris­tine turquoise crevice to scoop up the purest wa­ter in the world.

En route to El Calaphate, we stop to ride horses along serene trails through moun­tains and across streams in the crisp clean air. The en­trée of choice is Patag­o­nian lamb. They don’t skimp on the por­tions in Ar­gentina, and after 1.5 ki­los per serv­ing, I need to take an­other hike.

Ar­gentina has more cat­tle than peo­ple, but the av­er­age Ar­gen­tine eats 68 ki­los (150 lb.) of beef per year—the high­est per capita con­sump­tion of beef in the world. Grass-fed Ar­gen­tine beef is ar­guably the juici­est, most ro­bust beef in the world. No mari­nade or sauce is re­quired—just a pinch of sea salt and a slow-cook­ing wood-fired grill. The rit­ual of the asado, grilling over an open fire, be­gins with a Mal­bec. The beef is gen­er­ally cooked to medi­umwell, so I ask for it “red.” Asado aside, at the Pala­cio Duhau Park Hy­att Buenos Aires, we are treated to the most mouth­wa­ter­ing, taste bud-ig­nit­ing beef for which Ar­gentina is renowned. Here, the am­bi­ence en­cour­ages us to “think in wine and cheese.” As the som­me­lier chooses seven of 60 wines by the glass, his cheese mas­ter matches from 52 Ar­gen­tine ar­ti­sanal cheeses—proof enough that it takes two to tango. With som­me­lier and chef col­lab­o­rat­ing har­mo­niously, “we don’t only match with the wine,” I am told, “we also match with the sit­u­a­tion.”

To the north, bor­der­ing Brazil, we ar­rive at the spec­tac­u­lar Iguazú Falls. Upon view­ing the mas­sive 275 cas­cades spread along the Iguazú River, Eleanor Roo­sevelt is said to have ex­claimed, "Poor Ni­a­gara!” Short open-air rides fa­cil­i­tate us from one vista to the next, while nar­row foot­bridges con­nect paths be­tween falls. Tou­cans, with their tie-dyed-look­ing beaks, sit atop branches, while all sorts of crit­ters along the path make us jump. On a boat be­neath the “Devil’s Throat,” I de­fi­antly wa­ger I can stay dry, but soon enough I’m sop­ping wet, tum­bling through na­ture’s most ex­hil­a­rat­ing spin cy­cle.

“Shall we drink a maté?” our host at Las Marias tea plan­ta­tion asks. He pre­pares yerba maté in a cup made of a dried cal­abash gourd, and of­fers the first sip to me through a bom­billa, a metal straw with a sieve at its tip. Once the wa­ter is emp­tied, the gourd is re­filled. “You don’t just give your friend a cup,” he ex­plains. “You give your friend your own cup and straw.” In­tensely veg­e­tal with notes of cigar box, maté is highly nu­tri­tional, and was once thought of as “the drink of the Gods.” Now it is a so­cial cus­tom.

Tango means “touch” in Latin. We share maté, toast each other with wine, and ap­pre­ci­ate ca­ma­raderie over an asado, be­cause like so many plea­sures in Ar­gentina, the en­joy­ment is in shar­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.