An Argentine Love Affair

Title caught your eye right! That’s the objective, and for the moment I will let you read into it what you will. For the past 17 odd years I’ve had an Argentine love affair, that is I fell in love with the country, the people, the food and of course the wine. I thought that since yesterday was the date we celebrate, World Malbec Day, today I’d write a blog story about my love for all things Argentina — along with a little history of the grape Malbec. Let’s start with Malbec and its path to Argentina. Like the US, Argentina is a country of immigrants, and in honesty, it was the immigrants who created and perfected the Argentine wine industry. As they came to the country in the late 1800’s they brought with them not only their know-how for viticulture, but also their vines.

Malbec was introduced into the country by Miguel Pouget, a French agronomist in 1868. Pouget was tasked by President Domingo Fausto Sarmiento to improve Argentine winemaking. Malbec World Day was created on the day Sarmiento, a visionary, made it his mission to transform the Argentine wine industry. Malbec in France is more traditionally synonymous with the Cahor region, where it is known as Cot, or the black grape of Cahor; and it is also found in Bordeaux. But in this writer’s opinion it found its home in Argentina, where it loves the sun, altitude and dry climate.

It’s now been about a month since I got back from my first trip in the 2 years since Covid shut the world down. And of course my first trip, like my last 2 years ago, was to my “second home” Argentina. I couldn’t wait to go! I have to admit, as a seasoned traveler, this time I was anxious with all the Covid testing and travel regulations. But once I got there, after about 24 hours of travel, I was so relieved. 4 airports, and 2 flights later I landed in Mendoza. The loudspeaker come on and the pilot says we need to wait a few moments until the storm passes. Ok I think to myself, storm, great we are sitting in a tin can on a runway waiting for a storm to pass, what kind of sense is that as I look out the window at the black sky. Finally we deplane and all looks normal at first until I get in the car with my friend and we start driving. A freak hail storm pounded, and I mean pounded the surrounding area. Now hail at this time of the year is normal, but usually in the higher elevations, and rarely in the city. As we started to drive, we saw golf ball sized hail all over the road, along with trees down and water cascading down the streets. Now remember Mendoza is a desert, maybe they get 7 inches of rain a year so this anomaly caused so much rain the streets actually flooded. Now one could say I brought the storm, but I rather think that I brought the sun when I landed. I finally made it to my favorite hotel, the Hyatt with my room overlooking the Andes and a giant AHHHH came over me!

As I said I’ve been going to Argentina for about 17 plus years, and have probably been there close to 40 times now. Each time I go I fall in love with country all over again and this time was no exception. I’ve been lucky to have made a close group of friends so each time I go I never feel like a visitor, it feels like home. I couldn’t wait to see my friends, see their vineyards, eat asado, visit my favorite ice-cream place, drink wine and relax with them before my work trip began. After 2 days in a hotel, I went to my bff’s house and stayed with him and his family. He and I have been friends for the entire time I’ve been going to Argentina. He and his family have become my second family. My room was ready and so was I. Off we went to what would be the first of probably 10 asados – Argentine barbeques. Good friends gathered for this feast of barbeque and wine, agronomists, winemakers we’ve all been friends since the start. This is why I’ve fallen in love with Argentina. We drank new wines, some old vintages and reminisced about when we first met and talked about where we are today. It was awesome!

More friends to visit the next day, more wine to drink and more food to eat. This time my friend proudly served me a wine he made — his special project and we just talked and talked for hours. When I got back to — let’s just call him G, G’s house we were ready to go shopping for Sunday’s traditional family asado. We stopped at the local farm stand to pick up gorgeous veggies to grill and then he took me to the local butcher to pick up the various cuts of meat that would be grilled all day long. We get back to the house and I meet his wife’s mom and sister. Small world we all say that but really it is a small world. As his mother-in-law and I talk, we realize that she grew up partially in NY but not only that, she went to a school 1 town away from my hometown. And on top of that his sister-in-law’s husband, who is an artist, was doing a sculpture at one of the vineyards I was going to the next week as part of my work trip.

Asado is an art, a pleasure and a time to gather with family. The person in charge of the fire, is really proud to be doing the grilling. The fire is wood, and the grill can be as simple as a grate set above; however it’s the art of stoking the fire and the embers that makes an Argentine asado so special. Low and slow the meats, or veggies are grilled, no flames, just white hot embers. There’s no rush in the cooking, the food is ready when it is ready, in stages and that’s how you eat. While the food is cooking, you eat a picada, which most would call antipasti on a charcuterie board. Remember this is a country with immigrant traditions and having a picada is like being in Italy or Spain with loads of dried meats, olives and cheeses set out as an appetizer. The meat’s on the grill, the picada on the table, the wine is flowing and the card game begins . I’ve learned how to play card quickly, maybe like my Spanish, the card game gets easier as the wine gets poured. It was great being part of this Sunday family tradition with my Argentine family.

Playing Cards – Argentine Pendorcho and Truco

Finally the meats are ready and it’s time to dig in. Like any good meal it takes hours to prepare and minutes to finish. We devoured all and then got ready to play cards again. And just when you think you may have digested the barbeque and picada, out comes the sweets. But that’s not all there are sandwich de miga – which are like tea sandwiches, thin slices of white bread spread with butter and ham. How can a sandwich that’s so simple be so good, but more importantly how did I have room to even eat it? But I did and fell into a blissful food coma at some point.

Darkness fell and everyone was set to leave, we said our goodbyes, hugged and I fell even more in love with Argentina. My next week would be filled with more food, friends and wine — promise I will continue next with that portion of the trip. I know how lucky I am. I’m lucky that I get to travel for work. I’m even more lucky that I met and became friends with an amazing group of people because of work. They helped me fall in love with Argentina, a country of strong passionate people, amazing food, and amazing wine — my Argentine love affair.

My Argentine Family!

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