World Dinner Club

World Dinner Club
World Dinner Club

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Some Safari Advice I Recently Gave Someone

Where you go depends on the season, because the rains determine migrations and where you can see animals, as described here. Everywhere is pretty good in December, except Zimbabwe (I would suggest that Zimbabwe has bigger problems than weather though!).

Countries I'd recommend safaris from personal experience are Tanzania, Botswana and Namibia.  I've never been to Kenya.  Kenya is nice, but some argue it's kind of overdone. South Africa, I found, is very Disney like as you have paved roads running through Kruger that everyone can just drive on themselves sans guide.

If you are interested in just a Safari, Botswana and Namibia are fun and not overrun with tourists the way the big parks in East Africa are. The Okavango Delta and Chobe in Bostwana and Etosha Park in Namibia are so vast and really rich with game.  You'll see great game here, but these countries don't offer other experiences like snorkeling in the Indian Ocean or seeing Victoria Falls.

Zambia is lovely, especially if you want to see Victoria Falls, but it may not be the right time of year to see game there, but if you wind up in Southern Africa do consider flying up to Livingston to see the Falls.

And Tanzania? If you want to hit a stunning beach and/or hike a mountain in addition to your safari, there's no better place. Here are some thoughts from past posts:

I arranged my travel through a outfit called ATR in the UK.  They were great considering all the things we wanted to do and the internal flights we had to book.

Agree? Disagree? Curious to know what people out there think!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Argentine Odyssey: Mendoza Wine Exploration II

The next day we arose with the ambitious plan to visit four wineries.  Achaval-Ferrer really let us see the process and our enthusiastic guide definitely took every opportunity to champion the superiority of Argentine wine over lesser Chilean vino.
This rather small winery only produces 200,000 bottle of mainly malbec. However, they punch above their weight! If you find their wines, they are not to be passed over.  Achaval-Ferrer has three fincas or estates where the grapes are grown. Single estate wines are produced that reflect the truest characteristics of the terroir. We drank a new wine of 2011 vintage that was just bottled a few days before and a superb blend of malbec and cabernet sauvignon that impressed all of us in the tasting room.
The "first crush" of grapes in concrete tanks

French oak barrels

Unripened olives from the olive trees adjacent to the vineyard

From this boutique winery, we went to Chandon, the major French sparkling wine brand. This industrial facility makes a couple million of bottles of wine a year using local chardonnay, semillon, and pinot noir grapes to produce several wines.  Some use the traditional Methode Champagnoise and other are made using the larger, more industrial process.

2 million of cases of bubbly to bottle

Tasting semillon grapes from the test vines

Sampling "Baron B," a mid-range, i sparkling wine from Chandon

Around noon, we found ourselves at Piatelli.  Surrounding a beautiful Tuscan style villa, we were shown around the malbec vines on the grounds and given a true education on the wine making process from a new perspective. We learned about the economics of wine making and the areas of influence that a wine maker can have. This is largely comprised of a handful of approaches like stainless steel versus ceramic/concrete tanks, French oak vs. exposure to American oak, Portuguese cork versus synthetic corks. The choices made are very important to the character of the wine yes but also to the bottom line.  Similarly a host of other issues are agonized over, such as the types of foil to use, the cost of certain labels and other things that we take of granted, but which quickly add up an effect the profitability of a small producer in the wine trade. This all has seemingly twisted consequences: it is possible to pay more per pound for the best Portuguese cork than to produce high quality malbec grape.  This is a reminder that the grapes remain a gift of terroir more than anything else.

Lunch of was served on the expansive deck between the villa and the small irrigation lake that had been created in the dry Mendoza climate to feed the ground underneath with water though special pipes. 

We had two menus to choose from: a modern take on traditional dishes and argentine tapas.  I opted for the former.

Wild rabbit bruschetta

We began with wild rabbit bruschetta that was salty and earthy. Next we had empanadas of beef, black sausage, and cheese and onion; all with creole sauce. In my empanadas, the cheese was molten hot, the black sausage unctuous yet complex, the rib eye was spicy and succulent with risotto potatoes that were cubed small enough that they became slightly creamy on the outside and firm in the middle. Dessert was an array of chocolate, cheese, sweet potato and quince ice cream with crunchy homemade “oreos.” It was truly a celebration of what local food can be. The tapas was diverse, but included seafood ceviche, prawn in chimichurri, and quinoa salad. Washing this down with the best torrontes from Piatelli’s Salta vineyards and malbec from their Mendoza vineyards for the first two courses, we had the pleasant surprise of malbec rosé to drink with our desserts.

Trio of Empanadas

Argentine tapas of fruit, salad, and fried calamari

More contemporary tapas of ceviche, empanadas, quinoa and shrimp

Ribeye crusted with olive, risotto potatoes, vegetables and smoked creole sauce (a salsa of onion, sweet peppers, tomatoes and salt).
Chorizo skewers and provolone
Calamari in purple corn flour batter
For dessert, modern classics done with style: chocolate, cheese, sweet potato and quince ice cream with crunchy homemade “oreos.
Grilled fruit and popcorn ice cream
Delicious, full-bodied malbec

We made our way after much thoughtful and erudite conversation about Argentine and American politics over lunch to Vistalba.  Set in an even more beautiful villa, surrounded by the vines of Mendoza and Andes Mountains in the distance, Carlos Pulenta has built an impressive winery here.The winery includes a small inn and a French restaurant where you can dine in the surroundings of some of Mendoza's best kept vines.
The Visatalba blended wines have won many awards and the Tomero single varietal wines are extremely expressive and reflective of the terroir.
Vistalba blend is named of this corner of Mendoza, which is one of the most sought after for growing malbec.
The winery produces terrific reds, some sparking wine and even olive oil (center)

Back in town, we went to Aristes Villaneauva street a lively bar and outdoor areas for some beer, asado (BBQ) and helado (ice cream)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Argentine Odyssey: Mendoza Wine Exploration I

Arriving in the dusty, hot town of Mendoza in the middle of the afternoon we checked-into the slightly down-at-heel Hotel Urbano Suites and proceeded to explore the city center.  We walked a short distance to Anna Bistro, a contemporary restaurant with a warm, inviting bar and grassy garden with flower bushes.  The menu has a range of dishes that reflected the Italian influence on Argentine food, but also included stir-fry dishes or “woks” as they were called. We chose a couple of appetizers of chicken bruschetta (a new discovery in so far as I understood what constituted a bruschetta topping) and fettuccini pesto.  The bruschetta was an odd flavor as it was more cheese and chunks of chicken than basil, garlic and tomato.  The fettuccini pesto was creamier and with less garlic than I am accustomed too.  The pasta was superb, however, thanks to the perfect al dente qualities and general freshness of the noodles. This was perfect with a glass of local ros

We quickly migrated down the street. We came across a Carrefour store and keen to find out more about how locals shop, we checked it out. We were struck by the very large meat section and by the different cuts of beef of course. We later went to find a small wine bar and tasting room called Vines Mendoza. This was a nice introduction to local wines. We especially liked the torrentes and bonarda varietals produced in the region.  Both are French varietals, like malbec, that thrive in Argentina. Notes of honey in the torrontes and chocolate and berry flavors in the bonarda stood out. The malbecs we learned were frequently blended with cabernet franc, even when the only thing indicated on the label may be malbec. Bonarda, I was surprised to learn, is the second most produced grape in Mendoza. Vines of Mendoza also runs the very relaxing outdoor wine bar and adjoining store by the same name in the nearby Park Hyatt. Both are featured in this weekend’s New York Times travel section.

We walked a short distance to find the central market, a cornucopia of cheese, ham, fish, meat, some vegetables and a lively food court. Planning on returning later we keep walking east to arrive at the local reptile museum. As described in the guidebooks it’s a veritable freak show. Imagine a long tent with two dozen or more snakes in glass tanks. The assortment of large boa constrictors and pythons turned out to be quite amazing. As S (who is terrified of snakes) said, it may have been the best $5 we’ve spent today. However, that was quickly challenged later at dinner when after returning to the market, I finally tried a choripan.  Often called a “choree,” I order the chorizo and bread sandwich along with a large bottle of Andes pilsner beer.  The spicy sausage had been flattened outside of the typical casing and crisped up nicely on the flat griddle.  It was served with mustard and ketchup on crusty bread. We went to find a corner restaurant with outdoor seating and ordered a bottle of malbec to share to cap off the night.