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Sideways in South America: Enjoying a Wine Tasting Lunch at Bodega Ruca de Malen in Mendoza, Argentina

I’m currently in South America traveling through Argentinian wine country. In a country in the midst of economic crisis there are three safe topics of daily conversation in Argentina: Messi (the country’s most famous export, on the fast track to sainthood), meat (grilled after being marinated in saltwater) and Malbec, the smooth red wine this area is famous for.

A view of the patio of Ruca de Malen in Mendoza, where I went for the wine tasting lunch

This is my first trip to Mendoza and so far I’m enjoying both the spectacular scenery –vineyards against a backdrop of the Andes– and the local wine (specifically the Malbec, although I’ve met a few Torrentes that I don’t hate).  Since I’ve found that the South American custom of eating dinner at 10 pm at night doesn’t really agree with me, or let me sleep well, I’ve made lunch my main meal of the day and enjoyed spending my days Sideways-style, with wine tastings that start in the afternoon.

Horses tied up in the vineyard

Yesterday I went to the Bodega Ruca Malen for a wine tasting lunch. The winery is about 40 minutes  by car from the Park Hyatt Mendoza, which is my home base for this trip.

The Bodega Ruca Malen wine tasting lunch served a five course menu included five wine tastings and cost  $700 Argentine pesos ($134 USD) for two people.

Dead soldiers: the wine line up for yesterday’s lunch

The first course, humita (creamed corn) salad in fresh cream was served with toast, almonds and fresh herbs was paired with a 2011 Chardonnay. Chardonnay never has been my favorite wine but its acidity was a nice counterpoint to the creamed corn, which was shockingly delicious.

I didn’t know creamed corn salad could be so delicious, but it was

The second course was particularly well suited to the beautiful fall weather– carmelized beets served over glazed carrots and ricotta. It was refreshing and delicious and perfect for the crisp autumn. It was nicely paired with the Yauquen Malbec 2012.

Beets and glazed carrots with ricotta paired nicely with Malbec

Up next was a mushroom risotto croquette served in pumpkin cream with red pepper and chili marmalade, paired with a 2011 Petit Verdot. The risotto croquette was the least remarkable course of the tasting, but the Petit Verdot was totally drinkable.

Dining Sideways Style in South America

Third Course: Risotto croquette and Petit Verdot pairing

The main course was (of course) meat: grilled Argentinian steak with seasoned pumpkin millefeuille and creamed potatoes, creamed eggplant and fresh rosemary. The beef was delicious and a bit salty and served with two wines– the Reserva de Bodega ( a blend of 50% Malbec, %30 Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Petit Verdot) and a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon which surprised me by being my favorite wine of the day. Usually I find California Cabs too big for me– but this one was smooth and drinkable and a touch smokey, which was a great compliment to the beef.

Red meat & potatoes, Argentina style

I was so full by the dessert course- an oragne biscuit and baked fruits served on orange cream– that I skipped it completely, choosing instead to walk through the vineyards and enjoy the scenery before heading back to Mendoza pleasantly in a food coma in time to enjoy a siesta. It’s been the culinary highlight of my trip thus far.

Turning leaves in the vineyards

Up close with the grape vines in Mendoza

These gorgeous horses were tied up near the vineyard.

A panorama of yesterday’s lunch spot shot on my iPhone 5

Push & shove in Mendoza