The Seductive Side of Argentina
Photos by Karen Loftus
Known as the Paris of South America or in some circles, Eva Peron’s City, is by far the most European city in all of South America and the second largest city, second only to Brazil’s Sao Paolo.
Due to its European influence the gay scene is more comparable to that of a European or Northern American city versus what is typical in Latin American countries. It is not in line with the Castro, Chelsea or West Hollywood, yet it is a definitive and accepted fabric of the local culture. Their Pride takes place the first Saturday in November to celebrate the first-ever gay group in Buenos Aires in 1969.
Once in this seductive port city, it’s hard not to imagine the diva Eva Peron or that distinctive era. Standing in Plaza de Mayo conjures up many images of the then Peron and her famed speech and other powerful women who have since made their mark. Hearing of the mothers in recent history, who were legally not able to gather in groups, but somehow managed to gather in slow moving circles in the same Plaza, was very moving. They quietly but powerfully opposed the then powers that be.
The locals have several stories from their turbulent past and more recent troubled history. If you stay long enough you start to put some of the pieces together. Regardless of what was, what remains today is a high level of expression, pleasing, provocative and at times powerful. At every turn in Argentina, a story is being told, a culture revealed and a creative endeavor celebrated. Here are but a few, of the creative turns and stories that I was privy to.
I spent my first day deep in the life and mind of Eva Peron. After a walk through Plaza de Mayo we went to The Eva Peron Museum. Even Peron’s good will had an edge. In the late '40s Peron took over this 3 story luxe mansion in a well-heeled hood and housed those single transient mothers in need. It was a move that ruffled a few local feathers, to say the least.
The museum is a quick window in to her life and times as a young struggling girl, which largely influenced the rest of her life. It was her mother’s strife that got her invested and her interest in the underprivileged, particularly women. Her early adult years are well documented, the young and seductive Peron in search of stardom and cinematic success. Last, but certainly not least was her more prominent period and influence until the end. After the spin, we had lunch in house at the museum’s café restaurant on site.
A visit to Recoleta, one of the most famous cemeteries in the world where Eva was buried was the close to that chapter. It’s similar to Paris’ Pere Lachaise cemetery where Jim Morrison was buried, or one of the many famed and great burial grounds of New Orleans. So, if you are in to cemeteries, it’s an evocative spot, Eva aside. There are a string of feral cats clearly too busy to bother with us as they were cavorting with the spirits on site.
I felt a feminine strength throughout my visit in Argentina. Our local tour guides, shop owners and PR reps were stunning, interesting and incredibly strong. Eva, a controversial character with a split in support in all Argentineans I had asked, was clearly a product of the culture.
Another woman of strength and prominence was Maria Amelia Lacroze de Fortabat, the longtime Chairperson and chief stockholder of Loma Negra, the largest cement manufacturer in Argentina set aside a portion of her extensive art collectin for the museum in her name. We’re told it is only a fifth of the complete collection. Her power and influence is apparent when you see one of Warhol’s iconic paintings of the patroness herself displayed in the musuem.
Her eclectic collection includes pieces from Chagall, Dali, Klimt and Rodin. What’s most impressive are the acclaimed Argentinean artists, the Monets of Argentina, who’s names are largely unknown to us, but of equal prominence at home. They too went to Europe and got swept up in the French impressionionist movement. They then returned home and put their own spin on the work. I left coveting several pieces. Yet my lunch on site at Puerto Madero eased the pain of not taking the paintings with me.
A Home of One’s Own
Like any great city there are several great pockets, evocative spots and hip neighborhoods worth a spin. Puerto Madero like London’s docklands is an up and coming neighborhood and home to Fortabat Museum. Recoleta is one of the most expensive neighborhoodswith it’s French style architecture while La Boca is an immigrant neighborhood of Greeks, Italians, Yugoslavs and Turks. Take time for a leisurely stroll in La Boca along Caminto Street with it’s vibrant colors and equally colorful characters. It’s a great place to pick up locally made crafts.
We finished our feast of the city in trendy Palermo. Like New York’s SOHO there are great wine shops, a café society, chic boutiques and several sexy restaurants. We had dinner there at Cabernet. Throughout the course of our Tuscan style dinner we were given a great intro to the local wines of Argentina as each dish was perfectly paired throughout. I was ready for Mendoza.
The first things you see as you drive away from Francisco Gabrielli’s International airport in Mendoza are the vines on their lot. If you didn’t know you were in wine country when you landed, it becomes crystal clear once you exit the airport and kick-start your vine inspired adventure.
Mendoza, the capitol city of Mendoza Province, and the fourth largest metropolis in Argentina is less than two hours by plane from Buenos Aires. This thriving metropolis with an approximate population of 1 million is a European inspired city and a busy stopover for outdoor activists en route to Aconcagua, the highest mountain the Western Hemisphere. Aconcagua plays hosts to international travelers who fly in from every corner of the globe in search of world-class biking, hiking, rafting, horseback riding and skiing.
For others traveling the global road in search of the great grapes of the world, Mendoza is simply a must. The Napa of South America, the fifth largest wine region in the world is producing two thirds of Argentina’s wines. There are other grand regions in Argentina, from San Juan and La Rioja and Patagonia to several other smaller regions. Mendoza’s just the mightiest with vineyard acreage greater than New Zealand and Australia combined.
The Local Vines
Malbec originating from France, yet very different from its French relatives is the regions definitive red and the most widely planted. Their sultry super star, which has already made its mark in the world, is rich in color with deep fruity flavors and a smooth finish. Other reds in the region are Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo originating in Spain’s Rioja region and Italian varieties.
Equally distinctive in the Mendoza portfolio is Torrontes, the only grape wholly indigenous to Argentina. This seductive wine is unlike any other white. It causes a sensorial surprise, with its Muscat-y fragrance, aromatic and floral with hints of peach and citrus, yet spicy on the palate. It is a unique, medium bodied white that can stand up well to the Argentinean smoked meats.
Argentina kicked in to the grape game in the 16th century. The Spanish, Italian and French have all played a hand in influencing their local viticulture. Once quantity driven, the now 1,000 wineries in today’s Argentina are largely focused on quality, producing world class wines. Their wine tourism is as impressive as the wines themselves, with top-notch accommodations and a natural and dramatic backdrop of the Andes Mountains.
We are Family
In Argentina you’ll find many family-run wineries with forth and fifth generation winemakers at the helm. Zuccardi Winery is just one of those wineries as it dates back to the mid 19th century. Today winemaker and patriarch Jose Zuccardi and his ex-wife amicably run the winery with their two sons and stunning daughter actively involved, one of which found his passion at their olive oil presses, where he oversees all aspects of their family run artisan olive oils.
You can take in the vines via balloon, bike or classic car or be a part of the process, picking or pruning depending upon the season. Whether its pain or pleasure, you’ll be wildly rewarded with a chilled Rose Brut and passed tapas of beef and succulent cheese & onion empanadas. Once seated in their warm and rustic restaurant, their traditional Argentinean asada of Argentinean beef, sausage, chicken and pork is well worth the wait and perfectly paired by with Zuccardi Q 2005 Tempranillo. Their Port Malamado, a late harvest 2005 Malbec and mandarin mousse is a seamless finish.
Salentein set in The Uco Valley is the highest of the four regions within Mendoza. It is dramatically staged at the foot of the Andes Mountains lying at 800 to 1400m above sea level. The Dutch owned winery is an architectural and artistic accomplishment as it is also home to Killka, an on site art gallery for prestigious Mendoza and Argentinean artists and a restaurant under the same name, a showcase for their greatest work of art, their Premium Malbec with its stone fruits, plum tobacco and long finish.
Once you photograph, figuratively or literally their breathtaking views slip in for a tour of the evocative gallery and their stunning winery. Indulge in a tasting of the expansive portfolio of their premium Chardonnays, Pinot Noir and Malbecs in their sleek tasting room.
An Argentinean lunch at Killka is a must. The highly spirited restaurant with large family style tables is an intoxicating place with their floor to ceiling windows creating a perfect backdrop, a portrait of the vines painted in to the base of The Andes. Lunch was a sinful mix of Cheese Provoleta, Argentinean lamb and the best Dulce de Leche of my life. It was truly decadent, the perfect ending to this window of seductive bliss.
Wine – The Winery Store in Mendoza, the former home of the Mayor of Mendoza and adjacent to El 23 Gran Bar is perhaps the chicest wine shop on the planet. If Anna Wintour was a wino, this is where she would shop.
Dine – By the vines, Almacen del Sur’s gourmet delicatessen and restaurant in Mendoza is pitch perfect for the foodie who likes a few flights with their local culinary lesson. Trapiche was their wine of choice. Three is a charm as we had the Trapiche Chardonnay, Fond de Cave Sauvignon Blanc and their late harvest Malbec. PS, Almacen has an extensive line of jams, jellies and dips to take with.
Final Culinary Curtain - In Mendoza’s city center, there is simply no better way to end a wine inspired adventure than with award-winning chef Pablo Ranea at Azafran. The restaurant beckons to another time with his expansive collection of kitchen antiquities.
Ranea’s food and hospitality are simply sublime and the sommeliers Yanquen 2007 Rica Malen, 2007 Trumpeteer Torrontes, 2005 CV Catena Malbec and the Stradivarius de Bianchi 2003 desert wine were simply some of the best wines of the week.
Stay – The Sheraton Park Tower in Buenos Aires is set up for business or pleasure while Sheraton Mendoza Hotel and Casino in Mendoza is city centric and walking distance to all of the shops and top restaurants. Their luxe accommodations include a pool, spa and gym, perfect for working off your local sins. It’s home to one of the few five star restaurants in town with the best views of the city from the rooftop restaurant.
Play - For all things fun and festive in Argentina & Mendoza- www.argentinatravel.com
Come Fly with Me – LAN is the go-to airline for South American travel. The staff was wildly attentive and the in-flight food and wines were impressive.
Blogger Bio: Karen Loftus is a Comedian, Writer, Producer and Travel & Lifestyle Writer focused on Fashion, Food, Wine, Spirits & Golf.
After globetrotting through The Middle East, Europe and Asia, entertaining Expats, execs, US troops abroad and theater savvy audiences around the globe at international theaters and festivals, award winning playwright, Tennessee Williams Fellow and international comedian Karen Loftus took a break from touring, slipping in to journalism, putting on the page what she once delivered onstage. www.karenloftus.net
As a journalist, Karen found her definitive niche in travel writing, covering vino trends in travel and culinary and cocktail tourism. It was a coming home as her Irish grandparents ran a speakeasy, distilled their own spirits and ran many a famous pub.
This fashion forward foodie takes great risks and goes to extreme journalistic measures on the global road, parasailing, bungee jumping, four tracking and canyoning in search of the story. Karen is a travel addict and is most at home when she is away from it.
Follow Karen on Twitter: @LAKarenLoftus or find her On Facebook.