Last week David, our friend Catherine, and I visited Mendoza in search of the best Malbec. We rented rooms in a guesthouse in the middle of La Morada Vineyards, in the heart of Uco Valley. As I was researching the area I discovered our guesthouse was just down the street from Siete Fuegos, a famous restaurant by Francis Mallmann, one of Argentina’s best chefs, and we decided to stop by for a lunch. The restaurant is situated on the beautiful property of The Vines of Mendoza, a winery and hotel in one.
We started our visit with a tour of the Vines Private Vineyards. For all our many trips to Napa, I’ve never learned so much about winemaking in such a short period of time. The tour was very hands-on, as our host Daniel walked us through the vineyards to examine the leaves, and discuss how to identify different types of vines. (Cabernet vines have five pointed leaves, while malbec vines have three points to their leaves.) We witnessed how differing levels of contact with the skins determined whether a wine would be a white, rose or red, as Daniel plucked a bunch, and ground a grape into his hand. The Vines Private Vineyards has a unique business model in which they enable wine lovers to buy 3-10 acres and become winemakers! The Vines staff manages the farming, harvest, production, bottling and shipping to the owner’s specifications producing 300+ unique wines per year for over 150 individuals and families.
After a tour of the vineyards, barrel room, and bottling line we settled in to try our hand at blending. Daniel lead us through a tasting session exploring the different attributes of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc, and Malbec, and then we each tried to blend our ideal wine from the four varietals. The most fun aspect was a blind tasting of each of our blends, talking through what we liked and didn’t like about each glass. We voted and my blend came out the winner! It was so exciting to have Daniel make a bottle of my custom blend (which, for the record was: 70% cab franc, 15% malbec, 10% cabernet, 5% merlot) and I got to put the cork in myself. The blending session format would be a really fun premise for a dinner party at home. I’m going to keep that one in mind when we get back to the states!
Next we wandered down the road for lunch at Siete Fuegos. We were seated at a table right next to their reflecting pool, which expertly mirrored the beautiful sweep of the Andes mountains. Though nights in Uco Valley are quite cool, the days are hot and we were thrilled to start our meal with a trio of refreshing salads. All of which I know I’ll be recreating at home, since the ingredients are all so simple and fresh. David loves gazpacho, and ordered a bowl for himself, which he had to defend after I got one taste. It was the best gazpacho of my life, and I begged for the recipe, which they graciously shared and allowed me to publish here. Of all the entrees we ordered we loved the Wagyu-style beef the best, and enjoyed lingering over dessert of burnt peaches and ice cream for an hour while watching the sun slowly slip behind the Andes.
I’ll be sharing more from our trip to Mendoza and Argentina over the next few weeks, be sure to sign up here and never miss a post!
Thank you to Sharon, Daniel and The Vines of Mendoza for your wonderful hospitality!
Photos by David and Stacie Flinner for stacieflinner.com.