Buenos Aires: a trip-worth expression of Latin America’s street art

Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina is where a metropolis meets an affluent heritage contrasted by its harsh current life. The epitome of untamed politics of the South American continent, democratic on the surface, but harming its own people through unstable economic policies that degrade common wellbeing, created a fertile ground for Latin America’s street art.
The Argentines with their open latin attitudes and an expressive way of being are well equipped to comment creatively on their cultural, political and social observations of daily life. Such an embracing spirit attracts also many foreign figures prominent on the global street art scene.
A savvy photographer friend of ours recommended taking a guided tour of the local street art, so we followed her guidance. Soon we were to realise how much our trip to Argentina was enriched by doing this. What’s wonderful is how street art changes so rapidly. What is on the wall one month can be gone the next or even tomorrow as the wall is painted over, the building demolished or a rogue grafitti scrawled all over the art.

We were impressed not just by the colourful diversity, open criticism and the skills of the creative ‘wall painters’, but by how much more free the contemporary street art is than most exhibited in galleries, museums and shows in the curated world of art.
Here are my personal selections of the most captivating street art that we were shown by our guide from BA Street Art.

Politically charged street art of Buenos Aires

The political elite of Argentina noticed the increasing popularity of the local street art, and vexed their interests in. Matt, our guide from the BA Street Art explained that on the fourth image above we see the ex-president Nestor Kirchner saying: “Thanks for bringing back our history”. Because of its covert nature he adds: “We wouldn’t describe this as street art or art, but rather a political propaganda as it was painted by a militant group called La Campora that is run by Nestor Kirchner’s son.”
Aside from that, Latin America’s street art is alive and sizzling with discontent. The wild latin nature can only by tamed when it is expressed, and when it happens peacefully by funnelling into this creative activity. The result is a more balanced protest against the unfavored establishment. I did not comment on the selected art, since the creators communicated their messages directly visually. It is up to you to make conclusions about the current state of Argentina. What does each of the above expressions of the street art portray personally to you?
After the tour, we bought the book co-authored by our guide titled Textura Dos: Buenos Aires Street Art by Matt Fox-Tucker & Guilherme Zauith published with bilingual texts in English and Spanish. We were poised to explore more street art around the globe. So, when I visited Athens, I took the opportunity to witness its own people’s discontent with the challenging economic period in Greece expressed through the street art.

Mendoza: feed your senses where Andes meet the vines of Argentina

Rocks, dust and a scorching sun are the most likely setting for a cacti show, not for the verdant bushes of vines rolling up from the mountains bottoms towards the snow-capped peaks of the Andes. Yet, a sensitive human intervention together with nature’s creativity bound together to fertilize the sprawling plains in the Western region of Argentina.
Invigorated by the sturdy vine plants, that in February will yield bunches of ripe grapes to be fermented into an intoxicating wine. As the heat of the day spikes downwards during the cold desert nights, the sudden drop creates the most favorable conditions for complex wines. The lack of water in this dry region can be easily managed by careful irrigation, allowed by the country’s agricultural regulations.
View of the Andes from Catena Zapata wineryRoad Serpentines in the Andes mountains
Whether you arrive by bus or a plane, this naturally blessed corner of Argentina will reward all dreamy or absent-minded travelers with a wild otherworldliness.
In our case, squeezed in a passenger bus from the neighboring Chile’s capital Santiago, we traversed the serpentines protecting almost miraculously the natural habitat on each side of the Andean border between Chile and Argentina. The two South American countries coud not have been more different – culturally, mentally, politically, economically and most importantly for tourists like us also in their attitude to strangers.
Chile’s nature is pristine, while Argentina’s is wild. Descending from the border to the untamed pastures of Argentina, we saw wild horses whipping their tails in a free joy and were constantly dropping our jaws in awe witnessing the tempreramental landscape. If there was anything like the Biblical Garden of Eden, that my fantasy would imagine this.
Nature of the AndesWild nature of Argentina
Mendoza, the naturally blessed sub-Andean province, is also the indisputable wine capital of Argentina. With over 300 of sunny days per year it is a cheerleader for the politically disillusioned local team of sucessful wine players. This politically jostling South American nation has been perhaps unlucky with its economic stability undermining leadership, but its people defy the material gloom empowered with their open and convivial spirits.
Mendoza's lavish architecture

Land of welcoming people

Arriving in Mendoza also whispers though its heavy desert air a more genuine, slow-paced, and by the arid mountains braced positive attitudes of its inhabitants. They embrace every single visitor like a family of their own. Candidly sharing their courtyards, feeding you with their assado (bbq), inviting you for gelato, taking you to their favorite locales in town and bouncing happily to the tunes of Shakira  until late at the often outdoor-staged boliches (dance clubs).
If you join them in slurping a caffeine-strong brew of mate served in a calabash gourd, you may keep your dance moves charged till early morning hours to watch the sunrise down bellow from the hillsides around Mendoza. A trully rejuventaing experience! Mate is often been drunk in public. The Argentines often carry their own calabash and a typical metal “bombilla” straw, through which at any time of the day they imbibe in this non-alcoholic potion. Pope Francis also relishes his country’s traditional drink.
Wine tasting in ArgentinaArgentine Empanada

Italian influences

The party-going locals also love the more potent Fernet Branca. This Italian herbal spirit emigrated here together with a large Italian population generations ago. Now fully integrated into the country’s drinking culture.
Ladies get even more attention on the active streets that in the “Ciao bella” obsessed Italy. Emboldened either by the sharp sun or by the lush ladies’ minishirts, the local men do not spare on loud and playful compliments. Such a daily shot of confidence does not rouse any more the local divas though.
Smiles are like stickers tightened to the Argentine faces glued by the sunhine or something deep inside them. Huge tables at restaurants and bars serve their communal spirits.  Socialising at the bars dotted on the Avenida Villanueva is fun to be part of.
Dining in MendozaArgentine assado grilled meat

Sharing food in and out

Still, the most celebrated restaurant is 1884 located at the Mendoza’s first winery Bodega Escorhiuela. Run by celebrity chef Francis Malman, after the France’based Mauro Colagreco in Menton, the country’s best known chef, it is better just for the atmosphere outside by the large asado, not so much any more for its food. The chef now spends more time in his other businesses and on cooking Tv shows.
The meals at the wineries and the family meals we were invited to were superior to anything we ate anywhere in town. Whether it was the generosity of their hospitality or the juicy local Malbecs, I cannot without a possible personal bias confirm, but these were the most memorable events from our trip.
Snacks in Argentina corn tamales
Now, an insider advise from our Argentine friend: “Get your beef well-done in Argentina!” The local freely pastruring, grass-fed cattle is slaughtered young so its meat is very tender even when cooked thoroughly. It is also healthier. Raw carpaccio is not the strength here, it turns out too chewy with its muscular rather than grain-fed fatty texture. Try morcilla, by the Spaniards imported spicy blood sausage. When grilled on an asado its crisp skin pops to release the powerful and intensely bloody tasting filling.
Our month-long experience taught us that in Argentina the best quality food is served at the home tables, while the average ingredients are sold in stores and at most restaurants. The sweet alfajores and baked empanadas being consistently delicious anywhere we indulged on them in Argentina.

Building smart and beautiful

Mendoza’s smart city architecture drew from Southern European structuring of the square “Plazas”. The central Plaza Independencia like a magnet clusters the other four main town squares. From these, the Plaza Espagna is the most charming and artistically beautiful. Colorfully painted tiles glued on the walls and its shapely fountains gushing with watery energy are pleasure to look at.
Plaza Independencia is the vein of the one-million urban metropolis. On weekends artisanal fairs cast a creative aura on the city centre, adding diversity to an established art gallery there. Mendoza’s most active and nicest hotel – the Park Hyatt is situated there. This five-star social hub is also the main meeting spot where the most important scions of the local wine industry discuss their business.
Mendoza Spanish architecture
The architecture surpasses the lavish buildings in its practical planning. An expansive leafy trees were planted along the flat avenidas (streets) to comfortably shade its citizens from the scorching sun. Taking the advantage of the snow melting in the spring, the “acequias”, deep ditches lining the streets together with the trees, are filled with water streaming from the heating up Andes. An eco-minded irrigation source, but also a dangerous trap for the outside visitors. Beware stepping out of the taxi or car on any of the streest since you might be walking straight into a deep hole.

Wineries as family pride

Outside of Mendoza you can visit hundreds of wineries. The must see are the long established, family-owned Catena Zapata and Zuccardi, both sprawling properties making award winning wines.
Catena Zapata wineryMendel wine tasting room
Argentina’s wine received attention of foreigners and in recent years many of the newcomers found their own recipes for making superb wines here. Viña Cobos, Mendel, Clos de Los Siete, luxurious French project helmed by the world-famous consultant Michel Rolland are also worth visiting.
The place to stay in the wine country is Cavas Wine Lodge, a stunning Relais Châteaux property set in the midst of vineyards. You can stroll under the umbrella shading of the parrals, the vines trained high above human heads that are typical for the region. They protect the bunches of grapes from the sun.
Cavas Wine Lodge ArgentinaCavas Wine Lodge in Argentina
The eclectic design with suites set in individual houses blends gently into its natural landscape. Romantic stay is guaranteed and replenished energy secured at the moorish tiled spa. You can rent a bicycle or ride a horse to one of the nearby wineries for a trully free experience.
Cavas Wine Lodge hotel
From the desert sunny climate around Mendoza to the snow-capped Andean peaks, the Olympic dimensions of the fluctuating temperatures yield impressively complex grapes. Taste it in a gelato made from Torrontez or Malbec grapes, but mainly in the globally recognised wines. One is sure, the Western Argentina is the liquid bread basket of its controversially governed country.

Casa Cruz: fun with modern gastronomic cooking in Buenos Aires

Casa Cruz feels dark, modern (not contemporary) and chic. Entering the restaurant trough a giant polished brass doors resembles a hot nightclub. As you swim inside into an elegant sea of colours with red finishes resembling the hues of corals, where waiters swirl handfuls of tingling plates around the merry diners, you know that you are at a restaurant. Casa Cruz is staged around the bar, the place of seductive action. Here just around midnight, the manly representatives of sharks with mind-ravishing cocktails in their hands, hungry for a feminine pray, circle around looking for the “tastiest” lady from them all. Depending on your mission, wear something elegant to impress as sophisticated or smart-sexy to attract the appetite of the right ‘shark’. Just keep in mind fashion trends that do not stray too much into extravagance as you might startle the serious business diners that also frequent Casa Cruz. Men are advised to wear long sleeve shirt, trousers and closed shoes. Women just be beautiful and you are the most properly dressed even though this is one of the most luxurious restaurants in Argentina. “Babies are not allowed”, which says a lot about this place.

Wine wall at the back of the restaurantCasa Cruz gained its fame for an original take on Argentine ingredients blended with Italian cooking, but I would add a bit of French and Spanish touches. Starting with a Provolone cheese souflé with red onion compote or a lighter Organic Greens Salad with goat cheese and crispy nut bread, both underline the modernity of the food at the restaurant (think 80s and 90s New York and London fine dining). The naughty looking cheese souflé, was not too heavy, but rather fluffy and deep because Provolone is rather smoky. In the Organic salad the colorful lettuce was made more interesting with a crisp slice of hazelnut bread that was in a perfect synergy with the fresh goat cheese.
Salad with crispy nut bread
The main courses turned to be a bit more exotic for some of us. Half of our table ordered the Baby Goat served with rustic potatoes, lemon and dried tomatoes. Well, I got a bite of all of it, but must say that goat meat is not in my Top 10. It was too dry so dipping it generously into the accompanying lemon sauce and dried tomatoes paste saved the dish for me. Luckily, I went for the Grilled Octopus, Corn cake and Tomato Compote. The octopus was superb! I prefer a meaty texture of this tentacled sea creature, crispy on the outside and juicy inside. The corn cake was like Italian polenta, the dryness of which was moistened with the succulent tomato compote.
Baby Goat
Do not skip the deserts here if you have a sweet tooth. We indulged in the Vanilla Créme Brulée and the exquisitely delicate Flan with Dulce de Leche. Pears with champagne also looked seductive, but perhaps we felt we had enough wine already, we did not go for the ‘sparkling pears’. I am curious how it might taste. Let me know if you try them so I can sleep easy without the recurring dream of ‘fizzy pears’ I might have had tried at Casa Cruz. If your heart does not need ‘sweetening up’ then you can get various cheeses from Argentina and elsewhere as your “postre” (Spanish dessert means literally the last plate after the main course).
Flan with dulce de leche
The restaurant’s back wall decorated with full bottles of wine gives a good hint about the wide selection of wines at Casa Cruz. Argentine wine fans will like this place. There are 250 labels and 20 wines by-the-glass. If you want wine from the old world then you might be disappointed, but why not trying an Argentine Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec that this multi-rooted country does so well? After all, most of the winemakers are descendants of the Italians, French and Spaniards that once made wines in Europe. On the top of that the Argentine Torrontès can be so aromatic that it blows away most white wines made from this grape anywhere else!
Cuisine: Modern urban of the Western 80s & 90s with then popular French influences, some Argentinian touches.
Visit: December 2012
Price: High (Casa Cruz is a popular hotspot for anyone who is somebody in the Argentine celebrity scene).
Opening hours: Only dinner Mon-Thurs: 8:30pm-midnight, Fri-Sat: 8:30pm – 1:00 am.
Address: Uriarte 1658, Palermo, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Contact: Tel: +(54) 11 4833-1112

La Brigada: slicing tender steak with a spoon

La Brigada is authentic, traditional and has a rustic gaucho feel. The restaurant’s wooden walls are lavishly decorated with anything that is Argentine. From the local football teams’ flags to the pictures of celebrities who dined at La Brigada over decades of its legendary stardom. Dress code is not very strict although I would not run in straight from a training in sneakers and sweatpants. Wear jeans or a dress, but not too formal so you don’t feel like a Martian on the planet Earth.
Slicing tender meat with spoonEmpanadas: Argentine turnovers
The food is generous, authentic and top quality. Starting with the crispy empanadas – either filled with beef, ham and cheese or a vegetarian version with corn cream – we knew that this place has an insider knowledge of authentic Argentine cuisine since the turnovers were crisp yet fresh because of their succulent stuffings. A bit more “exotic” appetizer is a lamb tongue or a pork feet or why not to relish the beef testes savored with vinaigrette?? If you do not want to risk then go for Sopresatta sausage, Grilled Red Sweet Peppers or the superb Grilled Provolone cheese as we did and loved them all.
When you move to main courses, the your choice is not made much easier as the selection is wide. Kidneys, tripe, sweetbreads, steak, just name any part of an animal body – including the tail – are on the menu. All of them are of a great quality and cooked to a precision. Ideally find a group of like-minded friends and share a number of the cuts, slices and chunks of superb meat and inner organs (for some of you it may sound a bit “Middle-aged”) so you can find your favorites. After all each of us has a different boundaries in terms of food we can eat so with a plate of everything one can stick to them like a bee on a candy or extend the boundaries beyond one’s savage imagination and eat something inconceivable to date.
There are some salads too, but if you are a vegetarian I would advise to skip this restaurant with a kangaroo jump otherwise you might suffer a dietary shock. The salads are a refreshing companion to the meats although the french fries are crisp and generous inviting you to be slightly more naughty.
At La Brigada the desserts are not overlooked. Choose from ice-creams, melting chocolate cakes to fresh fruit for those of you who ordered too much meat before peaking on the  sweet delicacies menu. The selection is better than at most cafès, patisseries and sweet shops.  If you are a fan of the local sweet, gooey, condensed milk-based thick liquid called “dulce de leche” (translated as “the sweet from milk”) then the Dulce de Leche Pancake is the one to go for. I personally fell in love with the Chocolate Vulcano. I have to warn you before though as this cocoa bomb blast is insanely addictive and can turn many of you into chocoholics, which I must admit I am.
With a flank of meat a sumptuous and big wine is a choice of many wine drinkers. The wine needs to have enough strength to put up with the fat and intense flavors of the meat. Fruity and “corpsy” (big-bodied) Argentinian Malbec is excellent with any red meat. We went for a D.V. Catena Malbec-Malbec 2010 from Bodega Catena Zapata, which was exquisite. Complex with red fruits, touch of wood from barrel aging and concluding with an invigorating, long finish. The wine list at La Brigada is exuberant in South American wines so you do not need to limit yourself on Malbec, white and sweet wines from Chile and Argentina feature on the ‘Carta de Vinos’ as well.
Cuisine: Argentine steakhouse
Visit: December 2012
Price: Medium to high (La Brigada is “the” steak house, that any local will send you to if you have only one day in Buenos Aires so its fame allows it to price higher).
Address: Estados Unidos 465 , San Telmo neighbourhood, Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires Province
Contact: +(54) 11 4361-5557

Osaka Buenos Aires: where the trendy crowd meets

Osaka has spread across America from Lima, through Santiago, Mexico DF, Saõ Paulo to Buenos Aires, where in 2012 this luxurious chain of peruvian/japanese restaurants opened its second offshoot in the fashionable district of Puerto Madero.
Bar upstairs at Osaka
Food: Creamy and quite rich sauces accompany most of the Japanese cuisine-inspired dishes. Traditional Peruvian staples such as potato causa and ceviche got a modern revamp and some of the items were made intentionally to impress you with their unconventional presentation.
The Salmon tiradito – “Vietnamito” – is the culinary illustration of the Osaka’s enriching take on Japanese cuisine. The fish was of a great quality when we dined there, yet the sauce was just too sweet for our tastes. Imagine a raw salmon with marmelade – that is the lemon grass flavored chili jam sauce, red peppers and fish sauce on the fish. Served with grated coconut brittle it was indeed quite vietnamese in its own Osaka way.
Salmon tiradito
I preferred more the “Nikkei” tiradito. Nikkei in this tiradito is a blend of Peruvian ingredients: lemon, cilantro and chili peppers with Japanese: shoyu and wasabi. It was more pure and simple yet delicious.
We went for the Osaka Maki roll of King crab, seared scallions, and shrimp furai splashed with au gratin king crab “chupe” on the outside. As you can see on te picture below it was all-too-much. Flavors fighting over each other rather then enhancing its tasty properties. Rich chunk of rice with creamy sauce and hardly detectable crab would be my summery of my palate’s experience from this roll.
Tasty roll at Osaka
We loved the causas at Osaka in Santiago de Chile a year ago, yet as we were slowly realizing that the Osaka at Puerto Madero was far from the excellency its sister restaurant could take pride in, so we skipped them and moved to warm dishes. Causa is based on a potato puree (Peru has over 3,000 types of potatoes) seasoned with diverse savory condiments such as garlic and rich toppings. Its name refers to a fight for the same “cause” of the peruvians.
From the warm dishes we tried the Peruvian classic of flaming scallops. The Parmesan Scallops had its own Osaka touch. Again we loved the scallop dish in Santiago, but here in Buenos Aires we were very disappointed. The scallops were just too chewy, not moist and soft as they should be. Although there is nothing to spoil about melted parmesan so that one saved the dish together with the impressive flame in the middle of the plate that the scallops are presented with. In a similar fashion are made Mariscos al Fuego, which is a seafood mix in Japanese butter, again presented on fire.
Scallops on the fire
Atmosphere: Fashionable, dark and rather party feel like at Zuma, the globally acclaimed chain of Japanese restaurants. Dress fashionable yet do not worry about your attire too much as the Argentines are mostly casual. Upstairs there is a bar and a couple of tables so it can get a bit wild later in the evening (around midnight) and downstairs it feels a bit more like a buzzing restaurant.
Rutini Chardonnay
Drinks: Pisco-based cocktails are popular as well as other mixed drinks. The wine selection is quite wide, although not overwhelming. There are many wines suitable for the restaurant’s food and a sommelier eager to recommend you something your palate desires. We went for Rutini Chardonnay 2007 from Argentina. It is made by Felipe Rutini at Bodega La Rural high in the hills of the Andes. It was oaky, rich, complex and worked perfectly with the intensely flavored food at Osaka.
Cuisine: Peruvian, modern blend with Japanese – Nikkei cuisine.
Visit: December 2012
Price: High (this is one of the most fashionable restaurants in Buenos Aires).
Address: Juana Manso 1164, Faena Arts Center, Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Contact: Tel: +(54) 11 5352 0404

Sipan: modern peruvian cevicheria in Buenos Aires

Pisco sour
Price: Medium to high (by many diners in 2012 it was “the best ceviche in Buenos Aires so it does not come cheep, yet not too crazy).
Intimate yet buzzing atmosphere in the back room
Atmosphere: Young creatives, buzzing and quite low-key considering that it is located at a fancy neighborhood hotel Palermitano. The service is off-beat but effective. Wear anything you want, although anything youthful looking would fir in the most.
Food: Ceviche is a must here and was refreshing, juicy and intense as it should be. The white fish was fresh, corn kernels crisp, onion invigorating and the lime-based “Tigre di leche” sauce the server poured over it just after laying the plate on our table was not too sour, just right to add even more zest to the dish.
From the starters we got the Spicy shrimp, that were to our taste a bit over-flavored. The shrimps were sautéed in sundried chilly, garlic and yellow pepper sauce, served on fancy spoons to slip easily into your mouth at one bite. Unless you had a mouth of a whale you ended up hardly chewing the contents of the spoon as there was almost no space to chew in your mouth. I found it easier to grab each shrimp with my chopsticks and dip it in the rich sauce if needed, but to my taste not much of it was necessary.
Spicy shrimps
The Tiracuya Salmon tiradito (thinly sliced fish) had a perfectly delicate texture, yet it is better to share it with at least three people other wise you might end up a bit “over-salmoned”. It was served with passionfruit sauce bringing sweet and sour tone and with a crispy thin noodle-like topping, that was a bit tasteless yet fun to crunch on.
The Sipan roll looked superb, yet the super-sweet home-made teriyaki sauce made it more of a dessert rather than savory roll with shrimp, salmon tartar, cream cheese and avocado.
Sipan roll
From the warm main courses we went for Seared seafood with vegetables that we saw our neighbors were having. We though that they could not finish it because of the portion being too big for them, yet, as we tasted in just a couple of moments later, it was too salty that eating it all might cause you a heart attack. The seafood was of a great quality and well cooked, just someone had to add an extra pinch of salt each time he stirred the veggies with the seafood.
Seared seafood
Overall, I would come back to this restaurant as it was better than the legendary South American chain of fancy peruvian eateries Osaka, but I would order just pisco sour and all kinds of  ceviche from the menu.
Cuisine: Peruvian, modern blend with Japanese – Nikkei cuisine
Visit: December 2012
Drinks: I had one of the best – if not the best – Pisco sours in my life here. Go for it as an aperitif before your dinner or sip this refreshing cocktail based on a grape spirit pisco, egg-whites, lime and sugar during your meal. Pisco sour works wonderfully with the modern peruvian dishes. Wine is an option too. Alsatian Riesling, steely Pinot Gris or even the spice-bomb of a Gewurtztraminer are my favorite choices with this type of food. Although Argentina makes some of the later as well. We got a bottle of Gewurtztraminer from Rutini and liked it, except it was a bit more sweet than we craved for, so keep it in mind.
Address: Hotel Palermitano, Uriarte 1648, Palermo, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Contact: Tel:+(54) 11 4897-2100 or +(54) 11 4311-6875

Michel Rolland and the patrons of Clos de los Siete in Argentina

Clos de Los Siete is about 20 minutes drive from Tunuyan, a town South of Mendoza in Argentina. Reaching to the foothills of the Andes the extensive property is spread through the cool Uco Valley, the increasingly-praised region of the Argentine wine industry. In latin America, the more South one goes, the cooler it is. Therefore, South Uco Valley is much colder than anything else up North in Mendoza.
Picturesque CLOS DE LOS SIETE with Andes in the background
Clos de Los Siete is a unique project of seven French wine proprietors mostly from Bordeaux. It encompasses five different wineries in one enclosed area in an Argentina’s Southern Uco Valley. Together there are about 850 hectares planted with vines. Explaining the project in a detail is a knotty endeavor, so I would leave its complexities to the visitors. Seeing it with one’s own eyes and mainly experiencing it is the best, and perhaps the only way, to understand it. I will share with you the most eye and mind-striking impressions my visit imprinted on my wine-obsessed persona. Below, is a map with parcels divided by grape varietal.
Map of Clos de los Siete

The Bordeaux proprietors involved are:

The Bonnie family of Château Malartic – Lagraviere in Bordeaux and Château Gazin Rocquencourt in Pessac – Léognan. Bodega Diamandes is their part of Clos de los Siete.

Jean Guy y Bertrand Cuvelier, the patrons of Château Léoville – Poyferré (second growth from St. Julien) and the Château Le Crock in Bordeaux. Cuvelier los Andes is their stake at Clos de los 7.

Baron Benjamin de Rothschild and Laurent Dassault of the Bordeaux’ Château Clarke in Listrac and Château Dassault in Saint-Emilion. Flechas de los Andes is their Argentine dream.

Catherine Péré-Vergé, from 1985 the owner of the Château Montviel, Château La Graviére, Château Le Gay and Château La Violette in Pomerol. Monteviejo is her property at the Clos.

Michel Rolland
The man behind the cooperative project is one of the biggest personalities in the wine industry today, the French oenolog Michel Rolland. He and his wife Dany own one of the wineries at the Clos de Los 7 and he is the consultant for all of the rest. On top of that, each year he selects grapes and varietals from all the plots at the property and creates the red blend called Clos de los Siete. It can be based on Malbec, the dominant grape in terms of planting area at the property, but he can decide for more Cabernet Sauvignon in some years as well. Syrah and Petit Verdot usually complete this French grapes-based blend.
Rolland's blend Clos de Los 7

Philosophy of viticulture and winemaking

The system is driven by terroir as the meticulous dissections of the land into distinct plots disclose. As I wrote earlier, Malbec is prevailing, but Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Tannat and Tempranillo complete the range of red grape varietals. Planting of Pinot Noir in a desert-like climate may rise one’s eyebrows, but it is the baby of Michel Rolland on his part of the property. Located in a higher altitude than most of the other plots, the cooling wind and lower temperature on that spot made it possible. It tastes similarly to some of my favorite Pinot Noirs from the Czech Republic. In the older wine at the beginning the nose is a bit closed, but later on, the typical strawberry aroma develops. On the palate its tannins are fresh in youth, acidity zesty and red fruit juicy.

Value for money?

It is not a bargain though. For US$ 75 for the 2008 vintage, the Czech version leads on value with the pricier Pinots selling for $30 in retail price. Competing with a burgundy is rather a different story. There is some complexity, but perhaps the vines (plants) need more age as they will develop their roots more, to struggle more down thought the soil. The resulting wine then should fascinate one’s palate more.
Snow capped mountains above Clos de los 7

Potential of the soil

The terroir is interesting enough. With the prevailing sandy, clay and pebbles rich soil, it is suitable for intense sun heating the pebbles as well as it absorbs irrigated water well. The extremely dry climate makes irrigation necessary and the way it is used influences the resulting taste of the grapes. In the case of Michel Roland’s preference for concentrated wines it has to managed carefully to avoid dilution of the juice in the grapes. Drip irrigation is popular in the better wineries of Argentina and this high-end property is not the exception. The altitude in the highest point is 200 metres more than in the lowest spot in 1.200 metres above the sea level. Which is much higher than in the mostly flat Bordeaux near to the Atlantic ocean. A very different experience for the mostly Bordeaux-born owners of the land at Clos de Los 7.

Experimentation with new varietals

Tannat and Tempranillo have been planted only for experimental purposes so far. The coming years will show whether there is any potential for these two varieties. Tannat has proved its potential in Cafayate with a large number of local wineries planting it. Up there in the far North, it gives lush, fruity wines with sweet tannins so different from the French wines made from this varietal. Growing Tempranillo in Argentina flashed through my mind already in Cafayate. Seeing the similarities between the climate there and in Ribera del Duero where the desert-like nature and wide differences between the day and night temperatures, necessity of irrigation (Ribera has an exception in EU), the high altitude – these all resemble the mountainous parts of Cafayate and in some extent also the Uco Valley.

Bodega Rolland

There are also some white grape varietals. Michel Rolland makes an intensely vegetal Sauvignon Blanc with a zesty lemon aroma and fresh acidity reminding me of a New Zealand Sauvignon style. He calls the wine Mariflor.
The entire Rolland’s range here is: Mariflor Sauvignon Blanc, Mariflor Pinot Noir, Mariflor Malbec, Mariflor Camille and Val de Flores.
Mariflor Sauvignon Blanc
The site is unique, there is nothing alike in Argentina, and perhaps in all world. This European cooperative style of joining vineyards and benefitting from them together, as is in the case of the Clos de los Siete annual blend by Michel Rolland, is already showing a great potential for the future of this recently born project. Yet, as with all great wines, patience is the holy grail of making the most complex and appealing wines in the world. Therefore, both the proprietors and the drinkers shall embrace the challenge and try the property’s wines over and over in the years to come.

Finca Los Nubes: beauty-queen of all wineries

In terms of beauty this was the most stunning family winery I have visited so far (and there have been hundreds).  The property and the vineyards are owned by José Luis Mounier & his wife Mercedes.
Finca Los Nubes, “a farm of clouds” was a dream that came true for José L. Mounier. He is perhaps the most distinguished expert on Torrontez, the aromatic white grape variety so popular in Argentina.
Entrance to Finca Los Nubes

Meeting in Maipú

We have met him in person during our visit in Maipú region at Zuccardi winery. It was a great coincidence since I wanted to contact him before going to Cafayate, but could not find his contact anywhere online. At that moment I thought, Argentina is really small. Later on, I thought it over and concluded, that an expert of such a high merit must be welcome in many wineries across the country eager to make excellent white wine. I emailed him as soon as we got back to our hotel in Mendoza. (We have stayed in the popular Park Hyatt on Mendoza’s main square). His responses were brief. His sentences were about English mingled with Spanish, therefore, I was grateful to have my Spanish speaking sister to help me in a case of emergency (communication disaster did not happen as I learned during the subsequent visit).
The tranquil winery

The visit of Finca Los Nubes

A taxi came to pick us up at the cosy and clean hotel Munay in Cafayate where we stayed during our visit of this remote yet naturally wondrous region. After a scary strong rain earlier that afternoon we did not want to risk stucking in a massive flood of mud which was coming down from the mountains. As we saw the muddy liquid mass filling the roads well into the centre of the town, we knew that we cannot wrestle ourselves through such a mess. The man in charge of our hotel was trying to be often very helpful, yet he misinformed us a number of times, so we got into smaller or more serious troubles. In this case it was his claim that the taxi-ride about five kilometres to Finca Los Nubes would cost between six to ten Argentine pesos. What a surprise was finding, once we arrived to the beautiful Finca, that the trip was worth for the driver 25 pesos (about three times more than we were told). We were either ripped off or there were different (lower) rates for locals and special (much higher) for tourists! Wherever the truth is, my advice is to carry more money with you when you travel, so you do not get yourself into an uncomfortable situation.
Nonetheless, the place was endowed with such an extraordinary beauty, that we forgot about the pricey ride within a nick of time. Set between the mountains, covered partially by clouds – the name Finca Las Nubes fits perfectly to this outstanding place (it means A Farm of Clouds).
Finca Los Nubes
The views from the winery were not less stunning. The valley laid in front if us open like a French crepe when it is being spread with marmelade. Red, brown and yellow hues of the opposing mountains added on drama. The clouds after the rain were still playing their game of hide and seek as they were appearing and disappearing in various formations creating a spectacle of natural art.
The valley
We were greeted by Mounier’s wife Mercedes, who welcomed us warmly knowing about a journalist coming. She called her husband to come to join us on one of the tables of their winery restaurant where I set up my questions and recorder. During the interview I encountered his shy personality, perhaps caused by the language barrier between us. On the other hand as our talk proceeded, his English showed not to be as bad as he initially claimed, so we conducted most of the interview in English with little more explanation and my sister’s Spanish assistance in some cases. His persona was very different than the open and easy-going José Zuccardi’s.
Jose L. Mounier
He took us through his tiny family winery, where he now makes mostly red wine from Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Tannat in the mix of French and American oak barrels. He has altogether perhaps about 30 barrels, so the production is very small, the smallest I have seen to this date in Argentina.

Mounier’s credentials and his wines

Known as being the best expert on Torrontes in Argentina, Mounier was making white wine for Bodegas Etchart for 20 years. And, still, today he uses some vineyards lower down in the valley to grow Torontes for an aromatic white wine bearing his name on the label. He also makes a sparkling blend of Chardonnay, Torrontes and Pinot Noir in Mendoza. There he also sources the grapes as he does not have a sparkling winemaking facility in Cafayate, otherwise the sensitive white grapes would have got spoiled during the long transport. He uses the traditional method champeinoise with second fermentation taking place in a bottle. At his winery he solids it for 60 pesos.
He also makes a rosé from Malbec. As our conversation had flown we learned that he has three children. One of his sons is an actor in a theatre in Tucuman. His father was French and after coming to Argentina he was making wine in Mendoza. Wine was omnipresent in his childhood and even he assured me that he has wine in his blood.
Unfortunately, we did not taste any of his wines at the winery. He might have forgotten. Never mind, it was better for us, as the sun poped out from the clouds, we decided to walk back on the scenic road the long five kilometres back to town.
Dry yet colorful land
We did not regret it. I could not stop taking pictures of all the spectacles the nature gifted us with on that day. The colors were changing continually so I had to capture all of them. There were horses, goats and sheep tasting the chlorofile-rich grass along the road. Cacti, variety of trees and bushes I have never seen before, and mainly the unique views of the landscape so beautiful that one did not want to leave the place ever. Such a tremendously enjoyable walk slightly downhill was surely worth the time. One does not feel much effort as the beauty fully captivates the mind shaking off all the negative thoughts.
Wild goats

Yacochuya winery: Michel Rolland's Argentine miracle

As you drive from Tucuman to Cafayate the lush green fertile hills with flora resembling my native Central Europe turn into an almost life-less dessert with the rising altitude. The land gets drier, rocky and all you can see are giant cacti some more than 200 years old. Colorful rocks with hues if red, brown and grey add a bit of artsy atmosphere into an otherwise plain surface.
On the way to Yacochuya
From hill to hill you can spot some wild horses, cows, goats and sheep feeding themselves with everything green they can spot on the occasional pastures. They look so piecefull, harmless and content that one wishes to join them in their worry-free lives.
Mountains and vines
In this setting one would rarely expect seing vines, what more the vines giving lush and complex wines. Yet, the reality is different than it might seem. If Michel Rolland, the world’s most famous oenologist and consultant, trusted such climate and took on the challenge to assist on creating spectacular wine here, then something must be right.

Potential of the land

More than right, indeed. It is the altitude and big temperature difference between the cool nights and hot days that make growing of top-quality vines around Cafayate possible.
Most of the best winemakers in the region believe in Cabernet Sauvignon and think of Malbec as more suitable for Mendoza. Not Michel Rolland and his old friend and Alvaro Etchart, the primary owner of the estate Yacochuya. The old Malbec is the key to success to his intriguing and concentrated wines. The main winemaker at the winery today  is Alvaro Etchart’s son Marcos, while Michel Rolland remains consulting for the estate.
Marcos Etchart at the winery

Strenuous journey to the winery

Getting to San Pedro de Yacochuya becomes an unforgettable trip if you cycle or walk there, even for cars it is quite a bumpy ride. Once you leave the main road, pass through an alley of trees pampering you with shade, you get to even a dustier and more rocky road. Going slowly higher up, the pungent rays of the sun during summer days require increasing willpower to continue on the seemingly short journey to San Pedro de Yacochuya off the main well-tended road.
The winery is located only five kilometres from the main road, but the gradually worsening conditions as you accent towards the winery (2035m above the sea level) make the trip challenging. Beware of the dust, especially when a car passes by  as it stirs the suffocating mass of dust and may cause a difficulty in breathing. When it happened to my sister I thought she might die on the spot. She could not breath, we had no water to clean her sinuses and mouth so the only solution was to stop and wait until her breathing got back to normal.
Passing a school we thought: “hurrah we are there”, but, to our slight disappointment and surprise at the same time, we had to continue further. Who would think of a school here? Quite far from the town. Nevertheless, later we have learned that it is quite usual in the area.

The house and winery in one

Arrival to the Yacochuya winery was an ultimate reward for our physical as well as psychological effort. Stunning views from a tranquil patio by the winery’s visitors entrance calmed down our pumping hearts and exhausted minds. Marcos Etchart, the winemaker welcomed us and took straight to the premisses where tanks filled with this year’s wine were awaiting us to sooth our thirst and fill our minds with joy. After a short explanation about the family winery, it’s history, relationship of his father Alvaro Etchart with the legendary French oenolog Michel Rolland, and the techniques employed in wine growing and wine making as a result of his consultancy, we moved to tasting.
The bodega San Pedro de Yacochuya

Wine tasting

We tasted various wines from the tanks and later the barrels. Yacochuya produces a small quantity of aromatic Torrontes, in 2011 also a deeply coloured rosé from Malbec, unoaked and oaked Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and in some years also a locally popular Tannat. Using French oak is the rule of thumb, the length of ageing and also the age of the barrels varies according to the quality level of the resulting wine. The highest range of wine is aged for 18-24 months in the new French barrels.
All the wines are extremely concentrated, with soft tannins and enormous depth. The most interesting for me and my sister (a sommelier) was the spicy Cabernet Sauvignon. Red pepper and dark berries on the nose with hints of leather from the wood and big, concentrated yet balanced with approachable soft tannins. It is like a birthday cake for adults. Dark berries add the sweet feel, the alcohol (above 15%), the festive atmosphere.
Wine art at the winery
During our visit, Don Alvaro Etchart was not around, which was a bit shame since his love of poetry and connections in the local wine trade are profound. The family house is just above the winery and it’s perhaps the view or the waterfall on the property that inspires him to seek the beauty of life in poetry. Surely, meeting him and tasting the tremendous wines at the San Pedro de Yacochuya winery near Cafayate is a good reason for my return to the region.
I missed the poetry, but not the art hanging all over the tasting room. This particular one was for my personal appetite for art the most appealing.

Zuccardi: bonding family with wine

José Alberto Zuccardi runs his family business in an exemplary fashion. He welcomes visitors with his eternal smile, setting a positive vibe for the upcoming tour through his extensive winery. It must be the combination of his smile and the almost always shining Mendoza’s sun which work as a guillotine against all bad moods, aches and worries that may preoccupy one’s head.

The family business

Browsing around the winery uplifts one’s spirit even more. Seeing the family at work reminded me of how beautiful it is to see relatives working on a common goal, supporting each other and at the same time respecting the passions and talents of each member individually. That is perhaps why, the eldest son of José Alberto is involved with the wines, the younger son creates unique olive oils and the daughter manages the winery restaurant, the first of its kind in Argentina. Their common goal seems to be creating a pleasurable sensual experience for their customers. Whatever your likes or dislikes might be, you will find something appealing to your palate made by Zuccardi family – might it be wine, olive oil or a wonderful meal at the restaurant.

A bit of history

But, how did it all start?
A young engineer, Alberto Zuccardi, the father of José Alberto came to Mendoza’s Maipú province in the 1960s, where he pioneered his own irrigation system. His invention together with other factors incited a massive expansion in wine growing in the region since then.
Irrigation is crucial for the majority of agricultural products in the dessert-like climate of Mendoza. The vine plant is not an exemption. Without sophisticated water management, there would grow perhaps only the prickly cacti, and not vines with their juicy fruits – the grapes. And, without grapes, there is no wine. At least not the real one. I have tasted some strawberry, raspberry and a range of other fruit-based “wines” elsewhere. Argentina though, takes its wine seriously. Perhaps, the dominant Italian immigrants make sure that the grapes rule in their Argentine wines.

Driven by innovation

An experimental spirit is adamant at Zuccardi. The winery has its own premisses dedicated to trying new winemaking techniques, tweaking the old ones and blending locally so far underestimated varieties. The innovative genes came from Alberto Zuccardi, the father of José Alberto, whose credentials I mentioned above.
At Zuccardi today, they have launched a range of wines under the “Innovación” label. As its name reveals, these are not typical wines for Argentina, at least they were not, until Zuccardi brought them to life. They are, surely, interesting to try.

The winery & vineyards

Today, the Zuccardi family has vineyards in various provinces in Mendoza. The highest, and for many Argentine viticulturists the  most treasured, is in Altamira by the slopes of the Andes mountains. The soils are different in each area. This picture tells it all…
The soils at Familia Zuccardi vineyards
The diversity of soils is embodied in the wines produced. There are four ranges so far:
Santa Julia – named after José Alberto’s only daughter Julia
Fuzion – trendy and contemporary trying to mirror the spirit of Argentine people
Zuccardi – the top line with the first premium-quality Tempranillo in Argentina called “Q”; the tip of the quality-moulded iceberg is “Z” wine
Malamado – a range of fortified wines, popular as a base for various cocktails
The number of wines  produced in the above four lines is so extensive that I would have to dedicate a magazine issue to them. The winery’s website explains the wines well in detail, so for these curious just click.
As in many parts of Mendoza though the vines and especially the grapes are threatened by the mighty hail. The hail storms can destroy the entire vintage, therefore many winery owners protect the plants by nets above them. Nothing attractive, but it saves lives … like a helmet worn on a bicycle.
Vineyard protected from hail by nets

Events & art

Every year, the family organises a big tasting event at the winery’s premisses. The ‘Degustación Annual’ takes place in late November and brings together the wine and food lovers from all corners of Mendoza as well as the lucky foreigners visiting Argentina at the date of the tasting. Performances, local cuisine, and of course tasting of the Santa Julia wines makes for a perfect day in the countryside.
Each year, the event is anchored with artistic placards, unique for each occasion as the topic of the day varies from year to year. Theatre was one of the recent endeavors, so actors were cheering up the wine-loving degustateurs on the day.

The family’s passion for art is evident. An ongoing exhibition of local art-works at the winery is another example of their penchant for creativity. Recently, they even came with “Consecha de Artistas“wine range, with labels, like the legendary Mouton Rotshields, designed by artists.


Set in the middle of the vineyards, the winery restaurant can host a romantic luncheon for a couple, a meditating séance for a nature lover or an exciting meet-up with wine enthusiasts and friends. There is a space for everyone. My favorite is the outside patio. The vine pergolas hanging over my head were enough to keep me there for hours – what an ambiance! The food might exceed ones expectations of a winery lunch. I am not exaggerating when saying that it was the best meal we had in Argentina during our trip. Forget the fancy restaurants in Mendoza city.
Zuccardi olive oils
Starting with the fresh bread and the mouth-watering range of single-varietal olive oils developed by José Alberto’s youngest son Miguel equaling a high-dining experience. I loved the local varietal Arauco with its spicy finish the most. The empanadas (typical Argentine pastry filled either with meat, cheese or vegetables) are delicious and the assado (Argentine style of grilled meet, including their famous beef) made me think of renting a belly from a big person, how great it was! Luckily, we had plenty of wine, especially the fruity and full Malbec and locally second most popular red variety Bonarda, even though austere, it was nice with food.
Scenic winery restaurant
The three generations of effort by the Zuccardi family has surely bore a variety of fruits. From grapes, through olives to successful restaurant. Moreover, in 2007 Mr. Zuccardi was recognized as one of the five most influential personalities in Argentina from the UK based Decanter magazine. That is a great news – the person with an ever-present smile on his face is the right kind of influence I wish to be affected by.

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