Fierro Hotel – a Buenos Aires hideaway filled with tasteful indulgences

After 10 days on the road in Mendoza and Buenos Aires, it’s fair to say our #MalbecsOnly2018 group have have been no strangers to indulgence.

Lavish meals, incredible tastings, inspiring sites, too many memories, a photo cloud that’s bursting at the seams.

After a while, it can all become a bit of a blur. Which is why it takes a truly unusual hotel to stand out – which is what we have found at the Fierro Hotel in the Palermo Hollywood barrio of Buenos Aires.

 

In our experience in Argentina, there are intimate boutique hotels that are warm and welcoming (like Casa Glebinias and Miravida Soho), and there are giant hotels (like the Four Seasons and Park Hyatt) that offer 5-star indulgence and posh amenities.

 

The Fierro brilliantly bridges that gap. From homemade scones, the trip’s best medialunas, and impossibly fresh homemade organic yogurt to the rooftop pool, huge contemporary rooms (4 to a floor) with wet bar, fully-stocked wine refrigerator and Nespresso machine; comfortably huge dual-nozzle showers with enough glorious water pressure to wash a small vehicle, and the on-point front desk team, the Fierro is the kind of place where you would love to just check in for a few months and let the rest of the world take care of itself.

 

The cuisine at Uco, the onsite restaurant, arguably justifies its ranking among BA’s best restaurants. Chef Edward Holloway has developed a menu that respects Argentine tradition without being slavish to it – there are cues from Peru and other South American countries. The trophy dish is Patagonian lamb shoulder slow cooked for 18 hours, and it’s as good as it sounds. The South American paellas are more like dense broth-cooked risottos than the yellow rice dishes we’ve come to identify with Spain. We tried both the rabbit paella and the Peruvian seafood rice dish and both were among the favorite bites of our travels.

 

The wine list, quite simply, rocks. Premium bottles, reasonably priced and thoughtfully curated. No, you’re not going to find as many $4000 bottles here as the Park Hyatt. (But really, unless you were planning to sell an organ, you’ll find more than enough to hold your interest here.)

We attended a free wine tasting at the Vinoteca, the attached wine shop, and despite having just returned from 12 winery visits in Mendoza (this is where we receive the grapes, this is where we fill the tanks, blah, blah, blah), the information offered by Manuel (complete with charts, maps, and photographs) was fresh, relevant and added to our depth of understanding of Argentinean wine.

 

 

This is also the most time we’ve spent in Palermo Hollywood (through the years I’ve always been partial to Palermo Soho) and have discovered that this neighborhood has charms of its own. Fewer designer clothing stores, yes, but a little more chill – and maybe a bit more of a genuine neighborhood feel (think Tribeca as opposed to Soho.)

We invited longtime friends from Buenos Aires over to the hotel for dinner, and al fresco dining at Uco served as the perfect backdrop for our happy reunion.

We’ll be back.

Five-star luxury meets uncommon comfort at The Vines of Mendoza

img_3655
The extraordinary, ever-changing views of the Andes at The Vines of Mendoza

img_0739

It was uncanny.

Walking alongside the Andes Mountains on the way to breakfast, every single employee – housekeeper, room service waiter, gardener – greeted me with:

“Hola, Stephen.”

They knew my first name. All of them.

How is that possible?  But it’s only one of the very human aspects of this highly-reviewed 5 star resort in Argentina’s Uco Valley, the Vines Resort and Spa.

Combine world-class accommodations with uncommon privacy and an unrivaled, ever-changing view of the Andes, in the heart of the country’s most sought-after winelands, and you have the makings of a relaxing visit like no other.
IMG_1270-1.jpg IMG_1307.JPG IMG_1221-0.jpg IMG_1298.JPG IMG_1164.JPG IMG_1188.JPG image
image
image image image IMG_1299.JPG IMG_1223.JPG

To be sure, this place isn’t cheap. I had to blow my budget to stay two nights here. But it was oh sooo worth it. Unlike so many other luxury options, here you actually get what you pay for. Luxury isn’t pretense and pomp. There’s a relaxed, genuine, anything-is-possible vibe that allows you to leave your cares behind.

img_3365The Vines is the result of a unique partnership between an American political visionary and a talented Argentine. Before Michael Evans rocked the world of Argentine wine, he was COO of Rock The Vote, and worked on American political campaigns. Pablo Gimenez Rilli was a partner with his brothers in the family winery in Maipu. Add the talents of Santiago Archival, consulting winemaker, who is the owner of acclaimed Mendoza winery Achaval-Ferrer, and you have all the elements of a unique winemaking opportunity.

Together, they acquired a vast piece of land within the suddenly acclaimed Uco Valley, with some of the highest altitude vineyards in the world that are fast becoming the new frontier of Argentine winemaking. They envisioned a resort with vineyards and world-class luxury, that would give owners the chance to cultivate, create and market their own labels of wine. Families return, year after year, to help pick the grapes and blend the wine, while the professional staff at the Vines helps them with marketing and distribution.

The resulting feel is a cross between the most exotic destination you’ve ever seen, and the warmth and familiarity of a country club. Families who own vineyards here cross paths year after year, and develop lasting bonds. Meanwhile, tourists like myself become part of the family while visiting.

And how are the wines? Well, they’re… promising. I’m not going to say that I tasted the best bottles of my trip here, but the experimentation and enthusiasm made for a unique experience. And I am certain that as owners get to know their vineyards, and Achaval continues to refine their techniques, the resulting wines are only going to get better. After all, just a few fields away are some of the most exciting new winemakers in the world. Some vineyard owners hope for fortune and fame with their wine; some only share with a few friends. I hear that acclaimed chef Sean Brock has his own brand that he only serves at his beloved restaurant Husk, in Charleston and Nashville.

The villas are spacious, unabaimg_3301shedly contemporary – and stunning. One the nicest places I have ever stayed in a lifetime of world travel.

Every detail was thought of, from the fully-stocked refrigerator to the frequently-appearing snacks to the Nespresso machine. A custom-programmed iPad for every unit provided the ultimate in responsiveness, paired with privacy. I can easily envision this as the perfect place for a movie star to get away from the world without being bothered.img_3304

img_3314

To top it all off, there is the restaurant, Siete Fuegos, led by Argentina’s most acclaimed master of the fire, Frances Mallmann. I had nothing but the most perfect, inspired cuisine here – yes, there was meat, but there was so much more. My only regret: I at the resort on a quiet night when they weren’t having their big communal feast. There was a salad with grilled pears that I am still remembering now, one year later.mallmann

I may just have to drop back by next week for one more bite.

 

Interview: Miguel Sanz, Driving Mendoza Wine Tours

driving-mendoza-wine

All you have to do is spend a few minutes on the Argentina forums of FlyerTalk or TripAdvisor before you see all the kudos for Miguel Sanz, a driver and personal tour guide for visitors to Mendoza. To call Miguel a “driver” hardly does his role justice. He’s more like a concierge or chaperone. He can make appointments with the wineries, arrange a memorable lunch, and make just about anything happen. Since practically everyone’s heard about Miguel, we thought it would be interesting for people to get to know him better.

 

Where is your hometown? Tell me about it.
I live about 15′ from downtown in a great city called La Heras. My house is in a calm residential area, where the kids are still playing outside without a problem.

 

How long have you lived in Mendoza?
I was born in Mendoza City and grew up there until I was 22 years old; then I moved to Canada for a period of 7 years. Than I came back to Mendoza for the holidays and decided to stay.

 

You have quite the fan base on TripAdvisor. Why do you think you’ve become so popular with Americans?
I guess because I understand the needs of the visitors and probably because I had great training working in the Park Hyatt and Cavas Wine Lodge hotel the first three years as a driver.

 

You worked in the wine business before you began Driving Mendoza, correct? Where did you work, and what did you do?
I have a degree in Export Marketing and Logistics and I did work in the wine industry. I worked for Familia Zuccardi as a Logistics Manager and also for Wines of Argentina too.

 

How did you get started driving visitors?
In February 2007 I had a full month off. My brother was a driver of a tourist agency and the owner needed to replace a couple drivers so they offered me to work for him 15 days. In those 15 days I drove many people and three of them wrote the manager of Park Hyatt a letter about my great service and knowledge, so the manager call my brother’s boss and asked him to do what ever it took to keep me in the hotel. That’s how I started.

 

How many days is a good visit to Mendoza, that gives people enough time to get to know the wineries and the region?
Well, there are three different regions to visit in Mendoza, so I would say at least three days.

 

Some people think renting their own car is a good idea. What do you think of that?
First of all, the rentals agencies don’t have automatic transmissions. So if you don’t know how to drive manual transmission, that is the first reason. We have zero tolerance in drinking and driving. And besides that, there are no good signs. GPS can help a little, but if the one you get isn’t updated to the very latest version, you’re still getting lost.

 

What are some of the less-discovered wineries that you think visitors should take more time get to know?
Well if I tell you all my secrets, my competitors will start to copy me.
Okay, I’ll give you some: Altocedro, D’Angeles 1928, Sin Fin.

 

What if one of the member of a group is not a wine drinker? What other places and activities in the region do you enjoy taking visitors to?
There’s many options, mountain trips all the way to the Aconcagua Park, outdoor activities like horseback riding, rafting, zip lining, trekking, 4-wheel drive tours on a road through the mountains, shopping tours. Night tours, etc. You ask and I provide.

 

What is the biggest mistake foreign tourists make when traveling to Mendoza?
Try to arrange the winery appointment by themselves. It’s not impossible, but sometimes they make appointments each hour to try to get most of their day and they forget that some wineries are 30km apart and hidden.

 

What’s your favorite story of something that has happened when you were leading a tour?
I was in La Azul restaurant and this guy told me that he was going to propose to his girlfriend. He did it with the surprise that I told everybody in the restaurant and we filmed all the proposal.

 

What are some differences to consider when you are choosing a driver or tour company in Argentina?
First, my tour is totally private and if you decide to come back after lunch to the hotel you can do it. You can choose your wineries, or at least share the names of the wineries that you like to visit. Sometimes it isn’t possible because availability from them, but normally, we work it out. On a group tour you have fixed tours and you don’t know what kind of people you will sharing the tour with.

 

How has the wine industry in Mendoza changed since you began giving tours?
A lot, because many wineries are open for tourists, so now we have more than 150 wineries to visit.

 

What do you see as the biggest change that will come in the next five years?
Well Argentina is just beginning. New investors will come and now with the new government that just started, I think this type of service will grow.

 

You can learn more about Miguel on Trip Advisor or request his services at DrivingMendozaWineTours.com. You can also email Miguel directly here.

 

Miravida Soho – A Boutique Hotel for Wine Lovers

If you look at the hotel reviews for Buenos Aires on Trip Advisor, the #1 hotel is the stunning 5-star Alvear Palace, which runs about $400 a night.

Guess what #2 is? An innocuous 6-room hotel in the fashionable Palermo Soho neighborhood, with rooms in the mid $100s.

MiravidaSoho

Having stayed there twice, I’m here to tell you: Miravida Soho is the real deal. The location is perfect. The rooms are comfortable. And the staff – maybe the best of any boutique hotel I’ve ever stayed in, worldwide. They simply can’t do enough for you.

courtyard2

IMG_3057

When I had difficulties changing a LAN Airlines flight, the front desk manager Pamela (who also served my delicious breakfasts in the morning) spent 1 HOUR on the phone with LAN, helping me get through all the Spanish language menus to make the change. We’re talking 6-star service. They were more than happy to let me store a piece of wine luggage while I spent five nights in Mendoza.

courtyard

The back courtyard, where breakfast is served on sunny mornings, is elegant and quiet.

And because the hotel has its own wine bar, the evening dynamic is much friendlier than at more soulless hotels. They’ll happily pour you a glass of first-rate vino at the end of your evening – whether that’s 10 PM or 4 am.

IMG_3058

And it’s wine you’d actually want to drink – from Tacuil, the highest vineyard in the world, to Bramare from Vina Cobos. It’s rare to find good wines by the glass in a hotel setting in B.A – especially at reasonable prices.

In a city with occasional security concerns like Buenos Aires, there’s much to be said for enjoying a nightcap in the safety of your very secure hotel, with fellow travelers who are eager to share stories and tips. And the hotel employees are right there in the conversation, just like your favorite bartender. I enjoyed every evening at the wine bar.

Miravida Soho’s staff quickly become newfound friends. The hotel has recently undergone a change in ownership, but the entire staff remains the same. Ale, Taunya,  Pamela, Felipe, Gabriel, Omar and Roberto – I loved them all, and look forward to returning next trip.

Alfa Crux – Getting reacquainted with an old friend.

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Alfa Crux Malbec

4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Alfa Crux Blend

4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Beta Crux Blend

Alfa Crux was one of the first wines I fell love with in restaurants visiting Buenos Aires. An unapologetically big, bold, New World red, it was always located near the top of wine lists, and once we tasted it we were hooked.

An even bigger treat was visiting the winery, O. Fournier, on my first trip to Mendoza. It is a stunning, futuristic, gravity-driven winery that has you half thinking the Martians have landed alongside the Andes. It is as beautiful and iconic as the wine itself.


Located inside the winery is the restaurant Urban, helmed by Ortega Gil-Fournier’s wife Nadia. Hoping to eat there on this trip, because I loved her other restaurant, Nadia O.F., when it was located in Chacras de Coria.

Last week I had old friends over to my loft, and as usual, had been extolling the virtues of high-end Argentine wine. I thought of the perfect bottle to pull out.

An old friend, for old friends.


As usual, they were blown away.

Alfa Crux is available in a 100% Malbec and a red blend. Both are stunning. In fact, in a side-by-side tasting at Nadia O.F., I was hard pressed to pick a favorite.

Further down the price chain is their second tier red blend, Beta Crux, which is also delicious for its price point. Expect to pay just over $40 for Alfa Crux in the States, and keep an eye out for Beta Crux in stores like Costco for under $20 from time to time.


 

 

Mendel: A Winery You Should Be Getting To Know

Mendel_Malbec_Label

One of the more under-the-radar wineries you should be getting to know is Mendel Wines. They’re small but steadily gaining huge respect in the industry.

Their highest rated wine is the Finca Remota, which is $100 in the US, but Mendel Malbec is a good (and fairly widely distributed) choice in the $25 range.

In between is Mendel Unus, a delicious wine around $50 that got 93 points from Wine Enthusiast.

 

 

Wines: Cobos Malbec

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Cobos Malbec

CobosWaiterHyatt  Cobos

It’s the wine most of us never get to drink. At least until we inherit a bigass fortune or win the Lottery.

I’m talking about Cobos Malbec, the icon wine from Paul Hobbs’ legendary Vina Cobos in Mendoza’s Luján de Cuyo region. Hobbs has consulted with numerous wineries in Argentina, but this is the vineyard he owns, so obviously it’s the one he’s put his most masterful touch on.

vina_cobos

I flew to Mendoza and visited the winery myself. But after 5000 miles and thousands of miles in of travel, would they give me just a wee taste? Nope. Not unless you bought the stuff. And at the time that just seemed highway robbery.

Should a malbec cost $200? Hell no. But this one does.

vinacobosline

This seems a good moment to back up and describe the entire line of Vina Cobos’ wines. All of these are available in a Malbec and Cabernet version, but as usual I am focusing on the Malbec.

Felino is readily available in the States for about $19. It aspires to take the sweet spot from Catena Malbec in this category. It’s not a bad wine, but with some shopping around I think you can do better for the price. 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Bramare is where Hobbs starts to get serious about wine. This bottle can be found around $43, again coincidentally about the same price as Catena Alta. 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

But for my money, where Vina Cobos starts to become a must-try is at the next level up: the green-label Bramares. These are the wines from specific vineyards. The one from the Marchiori Vineyard, about $75 if you shop carefully, is one of the best wines I have ever tasted. 4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

BUEPH_141

But my friend Greg and I were sitting in the stunning courtyard of the Palacio Duhau – Park Hyatt, arguably one of the nicest places to have a drink in the world. And Cobos Malbec was on the wine list. I’d just gotten a mess of pesos at 11/1 exchange via Xoom.com. So everything was a bargain, right? It not now, when?

So when they served the bottle, it was… good. Actually the bottle was a little warm, and I asked them to cool it off. And our first sip was just, nice. But after five minutes, oxygen worked its magic and we started to realize we had one delicious glass of wine in our hands.

It grew in complexity and the legs on the sides of the glass were just huge.

It was truly amazing, but for the price, you could have three bottles of equally amazing wine. So was it worth it? That depends on where you are, and what you are celebrating.

For all the talk of trophy wines that are too big, too New World, and too alcohol-tinged, there is something to be said for a wine that just blows you away on a perfect afternoon in one of the world’s most perfect places. Cobos Malbec 4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

 

Has the Parker effect ruined the South American wine industry?

An increasing number of retailers and vineyard owners seem to think so.

My conversation with Claudio Fontana, owner of esteemed wine retailer Terroir Casa de Vino in Buenos Aires, was most revealing.

Fontana understands the double-edged sword that ratings and popularity have brought to certain vineyards. And as someone who has benefitted enormously from the popularity of Malbec, he doesn’t question that Parker ratings are what originally put Argentina on the map.

Claudio

What worries him is customers’ slavish devotion to the numbers. He says:

“Don’t drink points – drink wine.” 

The interesting point that Fontana makes is that popular wines tend to have a life cycle. They come out of nowhere when a Wine Advocate or Wine Enthusiast reviewer assigns them a high numeric rating.

Being the value seekers we are, consumers flock to that particular label of wine. Hooray! For consumers and the winery.

But then the next harvest comes, and consumers want more of that delicious, highly-rated wine. So, what’s the winery to do?

Find. More. Grapes.

Make. More. Wine.

But chances are, the winery was already using all their best grapes in the previous year’s output. So, they have to go find grapes somewhere else. Maybe even on the bulk market, from unknown vineyards in unknown locations.

And the wine you fell in love with, that Robert Parker or Jay Miller or Neal Martin loved, isn’t the same wine anymore.

Really skillful winemakers can mitigate the effects of higher volume, but it’s hard to do, and exceptionally hard to deliver the same wine at the same quality.

So, following Fontana’s theory, it’s even smarter to look for under-the-radar wines from smaller vineyards that haven’t yet suffered from The Parker Effect.

But, as I pointed out, as Americans we don’t have the luxury of Claudio standing beside us in our local grocery store or wine shop. I’ve relied heavily on Parker ratings throughout the years, because otherwise, what are you going to do?

What are you thoughts on this?