SF Bay Area
Food and drink that has us seeing gold
Once we arrived at the bus terminal in Tunuyán after an 3 hour bus ride from the Algodon Wine Estates in San Rafael we hopped in a cab and were on our to the illustrious Casa de Uco Vineyards & Wine Resort. After driving past all the hotels and continuing further towards the Andes Mountains than previously, we weren’t sure if the driver was lost or just taking us the long way around to run up the meter. Shame on us for thinking the worst, as 5 minutes later we slowed and turned into the entry gates at the beautiful wine estate nestled amongst the desert landscape.
Our Mendoza itinerary was unfortunately cut short so we had to make the most of our 1 night here before flying to San Francisco for Natalie's special Christmas Twitter presentation; and believe me, we did exactly that. The staff were more than accommodating and the moment we arrived the in house activities coordinator greet us and put together a special schedule to ensure we could participate in all of the daily activities along with a special wine tasting and degustation dinner. Things were off to a great start and only got better from here; we organized to go horseback riding but first needed some sustenance, so we sat down and enjoyed a delicious lunch overlooking the spa and vines.
Once our appetites were satisfied we donned our gaucho hats and met up with Martín out the front whom had the horses ready for us and after a small introduction led us on an amazing tour. The expedition took us winding through the rows of grape vines and as we moved along our guide never skipped a beat with a very comprehensive history of the young but impressive vineyard. Once through the vines we came out at the manufacturing facility where he introduced us to Heidi who led us through to the wine production and resting area. As we were visiting off-season the machinery was all packed up but once we entered the concrete resting room we saw the array of different vessels used and were fortunate to be allowed a taste of their extraordinary 2016 Malbec straight from the concrete fermentation tank.
We finished off our glasses and although another would have been nice we were excited for our next activity; downhill mountain biking. No, this isn’t where we tell you we rode up into the Andes and did some RedBull worthy off road biking; we did however get a ride up to the Monumento Retorno A la Patria where we then removed our bikes from the back of the truck, waved goodbye and enjoyed a pleasurable downhill ride on the paved road. The sights along the way were wonderful and being so close to the Andes this meant we had to take our time and stop for as many photo opportunities as possible before we rolled into the resort just in time for our next activity.
With all the adventurous outdoors activities out of the way it was time to get to work, and for us that means engaging in some serious drinking; hard life right? At a place like Casa de Uco where they are experimenting with different varietals but are currently concentrating primarily on their Malbec production that means tasting some the best wines from the local region along with beautiful cocktails with locally sourced ingredients. First we made our way down to the cellar for a wine tasting with in house sommelier Federico who explained everything to us about the vineyard and why they implemented their distinctive style of production. It’s really great to be able to see the difference in soil composition between vine plots of the same Malbec grape only separated by a few feet, but what is really fascinating is to then taste the wine produced from these plots and how distinctive they are due to this factor. What Casa de Uco does best is combining these 2 very individual Malbec grapes, which are both processed through multiple different production methods and then amalgamated into one final bottle with a delicately balanced flavor profile.
After our lesson in the wine that is the Casa de Uco Malbec it was time to meet with the head mixologist Gerardo who came all the way over from Buenos Aires to take on his role here and educate the visitors on cocktail creation. Using as much of the local flavors as possible the kitchen and bar share a garden where they grow their own produce as well as taking the occasional trek around the property and surrounding area to forage for wild herbs and fruits to use. Most impressive of the locally found ingredients was not an herb or fruit but was actually the water Gerardo used for his large custom ice cubes; sourced personally from fresh Andean water streams found up in the mountains.
The cocktails were delicious and some of the techniques he implemented were certainly worth writing home about. We began with a Bloody Mary made from house-roasted tomato and habanero juice that really took things to the next level only to be matched if not bettered by a smoked Negroni like no other. These Negroni’s are actually batched up in a large container, then Gerardo builds a fire outside in a specialty smoker and once it's ready he combines 7-8 different herbs and fastens the smoker with the batched Negroni inside. After a few hours of extended exposure to the pungent smoke the Negroni is ready and is then allowed to rest and cool before being served at the bar.
We had been enjoying everything so immensely that time just seemed to slip by without us barely noticing; thankfully the staff were aware and as it was time for dinner we made ourselves comfortable at one of the restaurant tables overlooking the vineyard and set in for our degustation dinner with wine pairings. This menu is prepared primarily with ingredients grown in their private garden with the remaining ingredients being locally sourced or foraged. To accompany each plate Federico has put together his preferred wish list of wines sourced from all around Argentina, which showcase the spectacular diversity from this special region of the world.
With little time to spare before running to the airport in the morning Martín indulged me in one last activity, as the day before I had noticed some great compound bows on display in the reception and he had offered to give me an archery lesson. Our time at Casa de Uco was now at an end as Natalie made her way to the airport heading to San Francisco and I was to make my way across the Andes into Santiago, Chile by bus.
Founder and creator of the cocktail website and blog Beautiful Booze. Natalie is a mixologist, cocktail stylist, photographer, recipe developer, and social media guru. Beautiful Booze the website features over 400 original recipes and photography that celebrate cocktails. From "DIY" bourbon tastings to simple 2-ingredient cocktails Beautiful Booze has something special shaking for everyone. Beautiful Booze has been named one of the top 5 cocktail Instagram accounts to follow and Natalie has a passion for Instagram and social media. Natalie is a regular contributor to Foodable WebTV, Drinkwire, Vinepair, and Delish. Her recipes have been featured on Liquor.com, Huffington Post, Fox News Magazine, Today Show, Latin Kitchen, Cosmopolitan, Pop Sugar, Country Living and many more.