“That was my favorite day of our trip”, the husband sighed with pleasure, recalling our day in Mendoza, where we visited 4 vineyards, tasted (and bought) copious amounts of wine. Indeed, things had gone swimmingly, from our fantastic guide to our friendly companions, and then the increasingly hazy details of consuming glass after glass of fermented grape juice. And while I’m not an expert or even very enthusiastic about wine, preferring to use my daily calorie intake on food, our day in Mendoza also ranked high on my list of best vacation experiences. Much of it had to do with an excellent lunch at Bodega Ruca Malen, because when wine is paired with a delicious meal, I am rendered defenseless too.
Our guide Javier (of Mendoza’s B&B Plaza Italia) brought us to Bodega Ruca Malen, a mid-sized winery in the Lujan de Cuyo region of Mendoza for lunch, just as we were getting tipsy from visiting 2 wineries in the morning. Entering the estate, I am immediately taken in by the expansive view, of ochre colored buildings set against the vast, barren landscape of dormant vines and further away, the snow-capped Andean mountain range. We were ushered into the dining room, surrounded with glass walls to give the impression of dining between the vines. I can only imagine how beautiful it would look during the harvest season, when the vines are heavy with ripe grape clusters.
We ate from the tasting menu, 5 courses matched with 6 wines from Ruca Malen’s line. I have to admit I do not remember much about the wines except that the classic malbecs were indeed violetly hued and full of fat and fruity flavors, and will thus focus the blog entry on the food.
We started with 2 small appetizers, the first 3 mini yellow Andean potatos, impossibly dense and sweet, brightened by acid (sour cream and lemon zest) and rounded out by the salt and fat of cured ham and olive oil. I could easily pop 10 more of those potatoes before stopping. They were paired with the Yauquén Chardonnay 2010.
The second was fresh ricotta and sauteed onion rolls. To me, it resembled the traditional Italian dessert, cannoli, albeit a savory one. Another fun finger food, with the almost syrupy Malbec and balsamic vinegar sauce further accentuating the natural sweetness of the onions.
The traditional lentil stew with country sausages braised in Merlot sauce was my least favorite of the meal. While the lentils were of the whole yet enticingly mushy once bitten quality, the stew was overly salty and devoid of other flavors, least of all the Merlot. At least we had lots of the Ruca Malén Merlot 2009 to go with it.
The meal picked up afterwards with a juicy tenderloin, presented with lovely grill marks and a rosy interior as per my request and simply seasoned with just salt. A delightful piece of meat, with twin wine pairings (Ruca Malén Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 and Kinién Malbec 2008) to allow the flavor of the beef to flesh out the differences in the 2 glasses of wine. I appreciate the presence of roasted vegetables on the plate. Too often had my vegetable intake in Argentina been potatoes or a meager side of lettuce, so it was nice to have some cooked greens once in a while.
As we were getting really full and sleepy from the wine, the kitchen sent out a lifesaver in the form of a citrus mousse, the sweet yet tart flavors and the fizz from our Ruca Malén Brut bubbles a sharp jolt to our senses. The dots of caramel and cinnamon stripe, besides adding color and design to the plate, also reminded us of the dried fruits and honey notes in the sparkling wine.
Our leisurely lunch, complete with fun, good-natured conversation (P loved it that both Javier and another companion who is an English teacher could hold their own in the discussion of English grammar subtleties, something I failed to do at home), lasted just over 2 hours. I would love to visit Ruca Malen’s production facilities or just amble through its vines, but duty calls and we had one last winery stop to make. Next time, I promise not to dine and dash.
Bodega Ruca Malén, Mendoza, Argentina
or contact Javier at email@example.com for a wine tour.