I’ve had some gluttonous experiences in my day. A four-hour extravagant dinner at Guy Savoy Paris. A multi-day rampage through New Orleans’ po-boy shops. A tasting menu with wine pairings at Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia that cost half our mortgage.
But for sheer richness of food consumed, as well as the amount of time spent at the table, I don’t think any of my gastronomic adventures compared to the Park Hyatt Masters of Food & Wine event I attended this month in Mendoza, Argentina.
Culinary festivals have sprung up around the world, and many serious foodies are planning their vacations around them. For sheer beauty, it’s hard to pick a better spot than Mendoza, Argentina. The region’s topography resembles that of Sonoma and other regions of California – only you have the Andes mountain range as the backdrop. Chile is over on the other side.
And of course, Mendoza is known for its wines. A trip here is on many oenophiles’ bucket lists. Besides the Malbec that’s made the region famous, Mendoza vineyards produce Bonarda (a red grape of Italian descent), Tempernillo, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Torrontes, a white wine with floral overtones.
Park Hyatt is holding four Masters of Food & Wine festivals at properties around the world this year. Besides Mendoza, events in Washington DC, Zurich and Shanghai are also on tap.
The festivals are meant to celebrate some of the local ingredients. In Mendoza, for example, we had plenty of Argentine beef on the menu, as well as lamb, goat, wild hare and other regional specialties.
The events also take patrons out into the countryside. The Mendoza festival, sold as a three-day package for $2,000 per person, included several trips to well-known wineries, including Bodega Cartena Zapata, Trapiche, Familia Zuccardi and Terrazas de los Andes, as well as opening and closing festivals. (Scheduled June 2-5, the Washington DC event is the only one that sells tickets to events a la carte; all the rest are all-inclusive).
All of the dinners were world-class affairs, with menus that pushed the culinary envelope. Piranha was on the menu one night; all the desserts seemed to have tapioca balls involved somehow.
I also enjoyed the company of the chefs, sommeliers and wine experts who dined with us. The guy with the glasses in the picture above is Charlie Arturaola, an international wine expert who has made a film about Mendoza’s wine scene. You know those articles you read about the Jet Set? Charlie is the type of guy who qualifies. It helps that he’s charming; when a winemaker invited him down to the cellar for some special sips, he came back to our table and allowed us to taste. That’s a cool dude.
I also liked that we were given a taste of Argentine culture, from tango displays to a “flash opera” performance.
Each Masters is geared to reflect the flavor of the location; the Washington DC Masters has farm dinners scheduled, as well as barrel tastings and local wine and cheese tastings. And early word on the Zurich event in September is that its an all-Swiss weekend, including boat transport to a traditional picnic lunch, visits to up-and-coming Swiss wineries, plenty of fondue, and a guest list capped at less than 35 (prices still aren’t up on the website).
The trip was a marathon, however; if you are buying the whole package, it’s tough to do it all. We would go from a wine tasting to a four-hour lunch to another wine tasting to a four-hour dinner, all without taking a break. I have a feeling that some of the paying guests skipped some of the events so they could rest or see more of Mendoza. At times I felt like a goose that was getting their liver fattened up for foie gras.
And no wonder. For sheer spectacle, it’s hard to top the “dessert room” from the festival’s opening night. Imagine an entire room, filled with cake lollipops, lemon tarts, truffles of all sorts – really, almost any dessert you could imagine. It was like walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
All in all, I felt like the Masters of Food and Wine festival was a perfect way to dive into the gastronomic delights of Argentina. I expanded my palate (have you ever tried unfiltered olive oil? It’s to die for) and learned quite a bit about Argentine wines.
Of course, you can also do the latter on your own, too. Look for a post how to plan your own Mendoza winery trip in the next few days.
Thanks to Park Hyatt Masters of Food & Wine, which sponsored this trip.