Monday, October 18, 2010

Neuvo Andean Extravagance - 1884 Francis Mallmann

Following our final wine tour, we got back to the hotel with some time to spare before we needed to head out for a final dinner in town. And, what with dinner never seeming to start before 9 or 10 pm, there was plenty enough time for a brief wander around the city core and its huge neighbouring park before the sun started to set. In retrospect, with all that time, maybe we could have fit in another winery tour. Not that we needed it.

Ricardo and the wine agency were good enough to set us up with a hard-to-get reservation at 1884 Francis Mallmann - one of the most lauded restaurants in Mendoza and in Argentina. Indeed, although we didn't know this at the time, at one point in 2002, the restaurant had been named as one of the Top 10 Restaurants in the world by a leading magazine poll. We simply knew that its name came up in virtually every conversation we had or article we saw about dining in Mendoza. What we didn't know was that, to get there, it was going to take a 20 minute cab ride through seemingly deserted streets. I have to admit that I thought the cabbie might be taking us for a ride (and still don't know). It turns out, however, that the restaurant is located in an old palatial compound that contemporaneously houses the working winery, Bodegas Escoriheula.

The restaurant and facilities are gorgeous. For the Argentines, the Spring weather was hardly warm, but we figured we needed to take advantage of a cocktail out in the courtyard where we could watch the chefs stoke the wood fire ovens and grills. Francis Mallmann is widely considered one of the premium chefs in the country. He was a culinary star on television for many years and he also has renowned restaurants in Buenos Aries and in Uruguay. He's cooked for presidents and celebrities - and now we've dined on his Neuvo Andean cuisine as well. Boo may not be so pleased to hear that I subsequently read that Mallmann served a dish - that sounded very similar to the rib eye, chimichurri and potato that Boo had - to George W. Bush during an economic summit. Not one of W's biggest fans, had Boo known that tidbit in advance, it might have been enough incentive to order something else.

As one might expect in a restaurant of this supposed calibre, the wine list was enormous - some 600+ Argentine wines were featured. This definitely called for assistance - even after our "extensive" touring of nine wineries. With the sommelier's assistance and suggestion, we chose a wine and producer that I had heard nothing about.

621. 2006 Bodega Bressia Profundo (Mendoza - Argentina)

A number of those wineries we visited were located, like Bodega Bressia, in the Lujan de Cuyo valley, but I have no idea if we travelled anywhere near the winery or not. We were told, however, that the winery is a small family enterprise started by Walter Bressia and his wife and children in 2003. He had previously been involved with a number of the big boys in the Mendocinan wine business for over 30 years and that experience included a stint as winemaker at Vistalba - one of the wineries that Boo and I had insisted on visiting. I'm starting to think that, despite the massive industry in Mendoza, everyone is somehow connected to someone else in the business. It's like seven degrees of wine separation.

The wine we chose is a blend of Malbec, Cab Sauv, Merlot and Syrah (50/30/10/10) and is very limited in production. The winery only makes around 650 some-odd cases of this wine and has a total production of only 2000 cases of its entire portfolio of wines. This bottle was another example of the wonderful Argentine blends that are becoming better known and even available in the BC and Canadian market. I don't think this producer is anywhere to be found in our BC market - yet - but I would readily reach for a bottle of Bressia's wines were I to see one.

I can't help but think of the comparisons between Walter Bressia and Angel Mendoza - the winemaker (and family) behind Domaine St. Diego, our favourite winery from earlier in the day. Well-established winemakers, retirement projects with family involvement and limited production of wines that they are passionate about. If we ran into just two of them in one day, how many more are there out there - and how in the world do you ever find the opportunity to discover them?

None of that philosophizing was part of our dinner though. Rather, it was about fire, grills, beef and chocolate. As much as the ambiance and the wine was delightful, I've got to admit that I don't know if the food lived up to all the hype and to the much higher cost than we were becoming accustomed to. So far on the trip, the reasonable price of food - even good food - was perhaps the most pleasant surprise. This meal was right up there with the cost of a nice restaurant in Vancouver and, as such, was maybe twice to three times the cost of our other meals. The meal didn't exactly leave us thinking that it was two to three times as good as our other meals. I guess sometimes the cost of celebrity is a bit more than the end value.

All the same, it was a grand way to say goodbye to Mendoza. I'd certainly jump at a chance to came back and visit the area again.

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