Thursday, September 9, 2010

Lunch at Bodega Ruca Malen, Mendoza, Argentina

(Sept. 4, 2010)We had an appointment for a winery tour and lunch at Ruca Malen Winery, but when we arrived the hospitality manager recommended we have lunch first because the dining room was filling up quickly. In fact the restaurant is so popular they were completely booked for the weekend, and had reservations through next April 2011.

Once we were seated, I could see why it was so popular. The dining room was small, but is located inside a glass room in the vineyards with a view of the Andes. Once again the menu was amazing – a 5 course meal with 2 ounce wine pairings for $150 pesos (approx. $35 US). They only do lunch – no dinner, because they want people to have the magnificent view.

I was intrigued with the name of the winery, which is actually in the ancient language of the original people who settled in Argentina. It means “Home of Women.” Indeed their logo is a woman with her head thrown back (see photo). Very memorable. I did ask where the native people lived, and the response was that many had moved to Northern Argentina. Some are apparently decedents of the Incas, whereas others are separate tribes. Like California, there do not seem to be many of the original habitants still living in the area.

The first course was quinoa with lemon citric mousse paired with Yauquen Chardonnay 2009. The appetizer was exquisite and also lovely to look at (see photo); whereas the wine was very refreshing. It is an unoaked chardonnay with subtle green apple fruit, crisp acid and a dry finish. We were told that “Yauquen” means “sharing” in the native language.

The second course was a spicy meat brochette with pumpkin and walnut empanada and chimichurri sauce. It was paired with the Yauquen Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 – an interesting choice because the wine was so young that it wasn’t that recognizable as a cab. It was very fruity and fresh, and needed more time in bottle.

Third course was fresh cheese, leek and olive terrine with pine mushrooms. It was served with the Ruca Malen Merlot 2005. In a blind tasting, I would have placed the merlot in Chile because it had the same sweet edge with herbal notes.

The main course was steak - -a grilled tenderloin with cassis sauce. This was served with my two favorite wines of the day: 1) the Ruca Malen Malbec 2007 – a very satisfying dark berry malbec with velvety texture and moderate oak. Simple, but very pleasing; and 2) Kinien Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 – excellent with fine-grained tannins, dark dried fruit, med+ acidity, well –integrated French oak and a long finish. The manager informed us that this course was a permanent fixture on the menu, whereas the chefs had freedom to change the other courses to suit their whim.

Dessert again included two stages. The first was called a pre-dessert and was a delightful chardonnay, lemon and rosemary granitee. This was followed by a banana wrapped in crepe with white chocolate sauce. They served this with a delightful Ruca Malen Chardonnay 2007 with a sweet finish. We concluded with espresso, and discovered that we had run out of time to tour the winery. If we didn’t leave then, I would miss my flight.

We raced back to Club Tapiz to finish packing, and after a flurry of hugs and kisses, I said good-bye and stepped into a taxi. The flight time home was 23 hours from departing Mendoza at 5:30pm and arriving in San Francisco the next day at 12:30 pm (a four hour time difference.) This included a transfer in Santiago again with a 2.5 hour layover; then 9 hours to Miami (arriving at 4:30am – ugh!); a 4 hour layover, and then 5 hours more of flying. It was not enjoyable, but the time in Argentina was absolutely delightful.

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