Category Archives: food and drink

our private wine lunch



After Achaval-Ferrer, we drove 80 km further south to a small house on a dirt road outside of the tiny town of La Consulta. Good thing we had a map. Our destination was the home of Facundo Suárez Lastra. My friend Jorge Rosales (the reporter/editor for La Nación) had given me Facundo’s contact info (after first checking with Facundo) when he’d heard that we were heading to Mendoza. Jorge had probably told me other details about Facundo too, but somehow they’d gotten lost in translation and all I could remember was that this guy was someone who lived in Mendoza and knew something about wine. A friend of a friend, I thought.

On our first night in Mendoza, Facundo met us around 10 pm at the restaurant where we were having dinner, we talked about wine a bit, and then made plans for a lunch at his house on Tuesday. Not an out-of-the-ordinary experience in Argentina. People are incredibly gracious here and will make you feel like you’ve known them for years.
When we finally arrived at his place (WAY out in the countryside), I felt like I was walking into a photo shoot for a Food & Wine article. Table set out on the lawn, grilling meats on the parilla, bottles of (his own) wine open and breathing. Over the course of lunch we learned that he had only been making wine for 8 or so years, that the land all around had been in his family for generations, that the malbec grapes all around were also the ones that Achaval-Ferrer (and many other places) used to make their prize winning wines. He sells 95% of his grapes to places like that and with his remaining 5% makes about 10,000 bottles/year under the name of Finca Suárez. All malbec, mostly in oak barrels.

After Facundo’s father died 10 years ago or so, the family land was divided among the children. Facundo’s own share was not even planted with vines then, it was just undeveloped land. The other siblings’ shares either had vines already or were fruit orchards (pears, apples). He said he’d been too busy “with work in Buenos Aires” to care which piece of land would be his. About 8 years ago he planted vines and began to make wine as a hobby; he was delighted with the term “gentleman farmer” when we suggested it. Over coffee he told us how all the older vines had been planted by his grandfather in the early 20th century, after he’d studied oenology in Europe. Somehow we got the sense that his grandfather had been important in the Argentine wine industry.

After lunch he drove us around in his pickup truck and showed us all his vineyards, then we went to the place where his wines are bottled and did a quick tasting in the “laboratorio” where blends are mixed. Very, very cool. And very good. With hugs and cheek kisses he then rushed back to Mendoza, as did we. Implicit in the afternoon was the discussion about whether Kevin’s company might want to import Facundo’s wines, which aren’t currently exported, and Kevin was sent off with several bottles to share/taste with his partners back in the US and promises for quick follow-up.
Altogether it was a delightful afternoon and one that we will remember always.
Ok, so what did I learn since then? When I got back I googled Facundo to see if I could figure out his grandfather’s connection to the Argentine wine industry, and perhaps why Jorge Rosales had once interviewed Facundo. Imagine my surprised amusement to learn that Facundo is a lawyer-politician with the Radical Civic Union party and was the mayor of Buenos Aires in the late 1980s. Prior to that he was the Secretary of the Interior (of the country) and the Secretary of Justice and Security in the capital city. Lots of newspaper articles where he’s quoted (including the NY Times and Washington Post) but hard to follow the story lines.

Politics certainly run in the Suarez family. Facundo’s father, also named Facundo, was Secretary of the Intelligence and Ambassador to Mexico, among other things. His uncle was Minister of Defense in the 1960s. And the grandfather who started it all? Minister of Public Works for the province of Mendoza, but also someone who spent years studying oenology in Europe, wrote numerous books and articles on the subject of Argentine wines, and was VP of the Society of Vitivinicultures of Mendoza. This last bit of family history comes from an article that was giving a very favorable review of one of Facundo’s wines. One that my brother Kevin may begin to import to the States.

Life is full of unexpected events!
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wine tasting at Achaval-Ferrer




Tuesday was wine day. We started the day with a tour and tasting at Achaval-Ferrer, one of Argentina’s premier boutique wines. We had an amazing view of the Andes front range and kept pinching ourselves to see if it all was real. The bodega has been open for only 10 years and have earned one of those reputations worthy of their 98 point wines. It’s a tiny place and has a very hands-on approach to wine making. There’s one single corking machine with which they seal all 500-700 bottles/day that pass through. Their terroir malbec wines, especially the Finca Altamira, was outstanding, and we were only given barrel samples! Bought a bottle of the Quimera that we’ll keep for a special meal.

Argentina 2, Day 37

Just blogging along. Two exciting things on the weekend: we had a marvelous lunch on Saturday with some new friends Daniela, Jorge, and their 3 daughters. Daniela’s a medical doctor who’d evaluated Emily for some physical therapy and Jorge is an editor at La Nacíon, the big national newspaper. Daniela and I had hit if off immediately when we first met and figured out, within a few minutes, that we had in common the city of Bethesda, Maryland. She and family had lived there recently for 3 years (when Jorge was in Wash DC as the foreign correspondent for La Nacíon), and Bethesda is the city where I grew up. Go figure.

For lunch we enjoyed a traditional asado: a particular sequence of meats grilled on a parilla. Usually first entraña (might be translated incorrectly as entrails; it’s some cut of meat from near the diaphragm but sometimes I find it translated also as skirt steak? My cow map doesn’t help since I don’t know where different beef cuts come from anyway; does one wear a skirt steak above or below the knees?), then chorizo (pork sausage), then asado (both a cut of meat – short ribs – and the name for the whole meal), then vacio (flank steak). Yum. Sometimes at the beginning one also eats other innards and those things with an innard type of provenance. Blood sausages, sweetbreads. Julia finds the vat of sesos (brains) at the butchers rather off-putting.

The other exciting event from the weekend? Defrosting the freezer. Chris estimates the fridge is older than we are (which would place it from the mid-1960s or before). It has a tiny (12″ by 24″) space that fills with ice, known as a poor excuse for a freezer, and since we’d moved in it had done what old-fashioned freezers do: fill with ice all around. Once there was only space for a small box of Barfy burgers, we figured it was time to pull the plug. The kids found the endeavor quite curious (having never seen one defrost one’s freezer in their short lifetimes). Thanks for executing that necessary chore, Chris.

Now that Chris is done with the bulk of his teaching we’re thinking about what kind of brief out-of-town trips we might take with the kids. I have one coming up, a few days in Mendoza with my brother who will be visiting soon. Otherwise we’re still debating. Eric and Julia consider their weekends sacred, not being big fans of school right now. They’re quite content to hang out, read books, play GameBoy, watch Spanish TV, walk around town and do errands, swing in the back yard. Recently Julia heard us discussing the option of a short trip across the river to Uruguay. Julia (who hasn’t got the foggiest notion of life across the river) retorts: “Uruguay?! I don’t want to waste a precious weekend in Uruguay!”

Hmmm. Perhaps there’s a freezer that she can stay home and defrost instead?

>food/marketing disconnect

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A product (in this case, frozen hamburger patties) that might not sell so well in the States.

the mate tradition



Drinking mate (with two syllables in Spanish, “mah-tay”) is a tradition throughout southern South America. It’s an herb – looks a lot like oregano – that you stuff into a container (traditinally a gourd, but now more likely wood or metal) – which is also called a “mate.” Before you fill the container you put in the metal straw (bombilla) that has a strainer/filter on the end. You pour hot water over the mate and then drink the “tea” through the straw. It does have caffeine, maybe as much as a soda ? – so it’s both a mild stimulant and effective at calming an upset stomach.

 

Normally it’s taken straight and it’s fairly bitter, though in some regions people add sugar or other such stuff. Chris, Julia and I enjoy drinking it, Eric tolerates it during social situations, and Emily wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot bombilla.

 

EVERYONE drinks mate, young and old, rich and poor, men and women. People walk around with thermoses under their arms everywhere. Morning, noon, and night. It’s a very social experience. One person pours the water and passes it to someone, they drink and return to the pourer who refills and passes to the next person, and so on. Burning hot metal straws don’t allow for many communal germs, or so we allow ourselves to believe. What’s a little spit among friends anyway?

>Striking Farmers

>I’m finally beginning to understand the story behind the strike that’s been going on across the country in the last few weeks. There is no shortage of opportunities to hear the news, but I guess I spend too much time sitting in my house working on a computer and connecting to the States and not enough time reading the Argentine newspapers or having conversations on the street. My step-father Fred even experienced the traffic associated with the strikers blocking a main highway but we still didn’t understand the whole story.

Now I’ve pieced together the threads with the helpful perspectives of the lady who owns the lavandería (laundromat) down the street and Mari, the woman who cleans our house. The government is imposing higher tariffs on grain exports, much of which go to China. Argentina competes with Brazil and the US for those Chinese dollars and it’s a cut-throat market. Argentina is the world’s 2nd largest corn exporter and 3rd for soybeans. President Kirchner has many ideas for how that tax revenue could be used, but many don’t think it will help those who need it most, including the (huge) agricultural sector. In protest, many farmers and transporters (truckers) went on a 16-day strike. With no truckers trucking, the shelves at stores grew emptier and emptier. Prices for meat (and milk, and other foods) are already very high here, and it’s hard to imagine an Argentine meal without meat. Last night I went to the carnecería to shop for tonight’s parilla and the butcher reminded me to get all I’d need for the weekend, as he expected to be sold out by noon today. At a market this morning, Chris said the sale of milk was limited to two boxes, sugar to two bags, and no meat could be had.

Last night the strike may have ended, good news for everyone except the cattle of the country. English accounts of the story from this Al Jazeera (!) source and the BBC report.