“Mendoza now is like Napa Valley was thirty years ago, ” I was repeatedly told. Since my last visit to Napa was a good ten years ago, I can’t compare the two but, overall, Argentina’s Mendoza, the main wine-growing area, isn’t nearly as slick as Napa–which is just fine. This is not true of Familia Zuccardi, a very upmarket, stylish bodega (vineyard) that produces great wines and serves wonderful food.
Familia Zuccardi is in Maipu, about a thirty-five minute drive from Mendoza. (Note to travellers: stay in the wine area, not Mendoza City itself. ) FZ produces and markets a number of wines including those under the Zuccardi label; some as Santa Julia, named for a Zuccardi daughter; Malmado, a port wine and others.
We arrived, accepted glasses of the house sparkling wine and browsed the excellent work in the art gallery-cum-reception area before Francisco, our guide, took us to visit the aging wines–and, of course, sample them. In each area, Francisco opened a spout to pour from enormous barrels and stainless steel tanks into our glasses. We tossed whatever we didn’t care to finish into the floor gutters. At other (dark) bodegas, we’d been told that wine needs to mature in as little light as possible. Francisco said this was totally unnecessary, which makes sense since it’s already dark inside the barrels and tanks. (Readers, if I’m wrong, I’d love to know.)
We walked through the vineyards admiring the labels on each type of grape, until it was time for lunch. The dining rooms walls are glass, the better to admire the view of the snow-capped Andes.
Lunch for two cost roughly $70. We began with an amuse bouche of toasts topped with what was described as “mayonnaise” but has nothing to do with Hellman’s, accompanied by Santa Julia Reserva Blanco. The bread service included a sort of focaccia, an olive loaf and a white bread with a flight of house pressed olive oils, the last one so dense it had a green, grassy taste. Next up, three empanadas, one filled with cheese, one with meat and the last and best, with onion. At that point, our waiter suggested we switch to red wine, again the Santa Julia Reserva. I picked Malbec; my husband opted for a Syrah.
The heavy lifting started with the asado, or barbecue that began with sausages, one of pork, the other a fabulous blood sausage.This was followed by meltingly tender steak or beef ribs or both.
I’m not a big meat eater but kept going because it was so good. Then came pork or chicken with chimichurri sauce made of parsley, olive oil , garlic and red pepper flakes. Dessert was a dense chocolate pavane topped with coconut ice cream, served with a sauce of reduced peach and one of reduced port. Coffee and tiny cookies ended the feast, the only course not bathed in wine.
The meal lasted several hours and left us unable to do anything once we got back to our hotel other than lie on the bed digesting. Familia Zuccardi gets high marks for professionalism and style although many other vineyards to also produce excellent wines and organize informative tours. If you visit the area, take some time off from wine to visit an olive oil “factory” like Laur. Olive oil trivia: even the pits are recycled as fuel.
Finely chop the parsley, garlic and oregano (can use a food processor), and place in a small bowl. Stir in the vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Argentinians serve this with steak but it would work with any grilled meat. Keeps, covered, in refrigerator for a week.
Credit where it’s due: many thanks to Jake Sheppard, techno- extraordinaire, for the blog’s new banner.