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Monday, October 24, 2011

Argentina's Tasty Tango of Food and Wine

October Springtime in the vineyards of Familia Zuccardi in Mendoza 

Autumn menus in Atlanta might be adding the deep orange colors of butternut squash, earthy brown nuts and other fall foods, but it’s spring time in Argentina.
An October trip to visit my daughter, Katie, who is studying in Buenos Aires for a junior semester abroad, had me struggling with the concept of temperatures warming up while the weather at home was cooling down. I quickly adjusted the first day by walking around bustling Buenos Aires’ wide boulevards lined with purple and pink flowering trees and the promise of springtime fresh fruits and vegetables with delicious cuts of lean beef on restaurant menus. Of course, Argentines don’t need to wait for sunny weather to throw steaks on the grill.
Pork and Malbec in Mendoza
Beef with Bold Sauces
When in Argentina, eat beef. Argentines eat 160 pounds of beef per capita, and their tender, deeply flavored grass-fed beef typically charred on an open fire is considered the best in the world. What I loved most were the condiments that are traditionally served with the grilled meats at steak houses called parrillas.
The expertly seasoned and grilled beef, lamb or pork may be center stage, but interesting salads, such as arugula, hearts of palm with tomato, marinated cauliflower and broccoli, bean salads and roasted beets grace the tables, too. Condiments such as pickled onions, salsas, herb- and garlic-based chimichurri sauces and other savory treats add punch to the parrilla plates, so you don’t have to eat Texas-sized portions.
This is Argentina and the dining style is more European, with smaller portions, and the pace is slow and easy.

Wine and Roses for Madre Day in Argentina
On Sunday of our visit, which was Mother’s Day in Argentina, Katie and I, along with our friend Liz McDermott, enjoyed a typical parrilla lunch on the patio of the Grill Q at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Mendoza, the center of Argentina’s wine country.

Argentine problem: malbec or torrontes?

Bodega means Winery
Argentina’s best-known grape varietal is Malbec, a velvety smooth, red wine with all the aromas of Cabernet Sauvignon, but with the black currant and spices of Merlot. Another red varietal, Bonardo is coming along, too, with more Burgundian style with soft tannins. Argentina is becoming known for its white wines, too, especially Torrontes, which is lighter than Chardonnay.

Jose Albert Zuccardi greets us with his sparkling rose

During a lunch visit to one of Argentina’s top wine producers, Familia Zuccardi, we tasted another delicious product beginning to make its mark as an export -- olive oil.

Miguel Zuccardi proudly pours his golden elixir - Zuccardi Olive Oils 
New Gold in the Vineyards  
While his father Jose Albert and brother Sebastian focus on the family’s wine production, Miguel Zuccardi tends the olive groves and newly constructed olive oil bottling facility.
“Like our wines, we have an advantage that the quality of the olive oil produced in Argentina is very high and the cost is less than oils from other regions,” Zuccardi said.

A Memorable Lunch....of what WE can remember! 

This photo of Liz basking in the glow of empty wine glasses tells the story of our multi-course, multi-wine tasting luncheon enjoyed at the beautiful restaurant of Familia Zuccardi. Spring's poplar trees sprinkled the al fresco table with tiny blossoms making it even more magical.

Do these glasses look good on me?


Culinary Surprises at Familia Zuccardi 
To further demonstrate how the culinary offerings of Argentina are world class and go beyond the parrilla, a memorable lunch presented at the Familia Zuccardi restaurant featured courses such as a tiny savory pastry stuffed with road runner and topped with crispy amaranth grains,
Mushroom Ice Cream with Crispy Oat Chip 
a delicious mushroom ice cream, local trout with pistachio and beets, succulent pork on lemon mashed potatoes and chocolate ice cream infused with cayenne pepper and topped with sea salt and a layer of golden olive oil.

Ever Tasted Road Runner? 
The afternoon ended with a toast to the beautiful spring day with a sparkling wine from the Zuccardi’s cellars made in the method of Champagne but it all began in the winery with a barrel sample of caramel colored fortified "orange wine" that sipped like cognac as smooth as silk.

Viva Argentina! Liz, Carolyn and Katie's great day at Zuccardi!
Can't leave without dessert! We had several but this meringue ice cream ice cream is topped with a dried strawberry that the Familia Zuccardi chef says took days to create!

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