A Taste Of Argentina With Chef Aarón Sánchez

Mexican-American culinary genius meets top-tier Argentine wines as Chef Aarón Sánchez joins forces with wine brand Terrazas de los Andes for retail activations and other projects in 2016. "[This partnership] was something genuine and organic," Sánchez said. "Once I started having Terrazas and have people engage and inform me about what the wine was about four or five years ago, I started to become a fan." After rising from fan to brand ambassador, the nationally-acclaimed chef and television star met with members from Terrazas and parent company Moët Hennessey for a (rather fabulous) tour in Mendoza, Argentina. The Daily Meal gained exclusive access as Chef Sánchez tasted, sipped, and explored his way around Terrazas' estate and the surrounding Mendoza region. Here's the scoop on what went down on that indulgent Argentina tour (but please refrain from drooling on your shirt or screen).          

Touring, Tasting, and Torrontes

Terrazas Estate director Herve Birnie-Scott kick-started the experience with a tour of the grand, Spanish-style winery, followed by a full-range tasting of Terrazas' wine portfolio — from the citrusy Reserva Torontes 2014 to the complex and rarefied Single Parcel Malbec 2009. Among Terrazas' many brand varieties, such as the flagship Reserva and Altos del Plata, the master chef seemed most pleased by the Single Vineyard Las Compuertas Malbec, a premium wine from ungrafted Mendoza grapevines dating back to 1929. "It's so beautiful, and it has nothing to do with the Old World at all," Sánchez said while tasting Single Vineyard's 2011 effort. "It is truly like the first New World wine that people can say, 'You want to taste New World red? This is it.'"  

Later, Terrazas executive chefs Noelia Squizziatto and Manuel Debandi put together an informal dinner at the estate's lavish, contemporary Guest House, with dishes paired with the winery's 2014 Reserva Torrontes. During cocktail hour, Sánchez and company gathered to a fire pit around the pending meal's piece de resistance: two large, fleshy fillets of salmon, smoking steadily on a traditional wood-fire grill. After light bites such as delicate filo-wrapped Camembert with mango chutney, the mighty pair would later appear as single-portion suprêmes glazed in chimichurri sauce... all a fine match with the indigenous, zesty grape varietal. 

From the Mercado to the Asado

In the morning, Sánchez joined chefs Noelia and Manuel at Mendoza's downtown main market, Mercado Central, to gather vittles for the afternoon asado (barbecue) back at Terrazas' Guest House grounds. "I never try to plan a dish before I go to the market... the idea is the market is going to 'talk' to you a bit and see what you want," Sánchez said about his usual approach. Sánchez admitted this particular central market was more modest compared to the multi-faceted ones he'd visited in Mexico, but he was excited to see the bone marrow and "big, luscious sweetbreads" on offer.     

Back at the Guest House, the trio mainly followed the traditional Argentine way of the asado, an experience no stomach should take lightly: assorted plates of picada (platter of meat and cheeses) to start, clay oven-cooked empanadas and thick-cut provoletas (grilled, semi-hard provolone discs topped with herbs and spices) to keep you further sated, and the deluge of fresh, slow-cooked meats from the wood-fired parrilla (grill), all along with ample servings of red wine. From the parrilla, the standard favorites of chorizo (pork sausage), morcilla (blood sausage), chinchulines (chitterlings), mollejas (sweetbreads), matambre de cerdo (pork flank steak), and familiar steak cuts glistened on each plate, while Sánchez flexed his Mexican roots by cooking up a modified calabacitas con queso (zucchini with cheese), a moreish, autumn-ready recipe passed down from his grandmother. Add in several glasses of juicy reds like Terrazas Single Vineyard and Reserva Malbec, and we all wondered how we would make it to dinner. 

Music to our Tongues

It's difficult to imagine the Mendoza wine region — the heartbeat of the Argentina's wine industry — thriving in such desert-like conditions, but the ever-flowing supply of Andes runoff and irrigation ingenuity makes it all possible. In Terrazas' Las Compuertas vineyard, winemaker Gustavo Ursomarso led Sánchez six feet under (unearthed vineyard soil) to illustrate the soil's diversity and remarkable moisture retention for their celebrated Single Vineyard line-up. With the Mendoza River close by, this particular vineyard only needs irrigation twice a year to sustain the deep soil's wine-producing abilities. 

We later replaced our dirtied shoes and boots with dressier kicks for Terrazas' Single Vineyard Interpretation Dinner, a sumptuous (and cerebral) candlelit affair hosted by Mr. Birnie-Scott in the Guest House. Single vineyard vintages paired with our coursed meal would be no surprise, but the inclusion of cellist José Luis Di Marco (of the Orquesta Filarmonica de Mendoza) providing "music pairings" with each glass was certainly a twist. "There is something special about flavor, taste, and music," Birnie-Scott said before our dinner, "[and] these senses are going to the right brain — the brain of the emotion, the brain of the image." Tunes of J.S. Bach's "Suite No. 3, Bouree" zipped in sync with Las Compuertas Malbec 2011's light and fruity notes, while the somber strings of E. Morricone's "Cinema Paradiso Theme" complemented the deep, matured taste of Los Aromos Cabernet Sauvignon 2003.   

Grand Cru, Grand Day

After a fabulous evening we were off to Los Chulengos, a sprawling, family-owned estancia (ranch) some 8,000 feet high near the Chilean Andes border. Dapper patriarch Don Palma and his family showed Chef Sánchez and our group quintessential Argentine hospitality in their cozy private ranch home — with a full-on traditional asado, of course. Assorted picada with glasses of Baron B sparkling wine (from Terrazas' cousin estate Chandon Argentina) held us down before our spectacular and chilly mountain trek on horseback, and, after given some time for fingers and toes to thaw in their home's fireplace, we were fed meaty, chewy empanadas fresh from an outdoor clay oven with luscious, parrilla-grilled cuts of short rib, fillet, and beef matambre.

It made sense for the Moët Hennessy team to bring out the Grand Cru of Terrazas' line-up — the powerful, elegant Cheval des Andes — on such a memorable occasion. And spirits, perhaps thanks to glasses of the Cheval des Andes 2011 blend, were high in the dining room as Chef Sánchez and the elder Don Palma had heart-to-heart conversations in their Spanish tongue. If what was discussed at the table actually comes to fruition, the world might witness a collaboration of some sort between Sánchez and Palma on a future Argentine restaurant in the United States (take it from me... you want this to happen). 

A Sparkling Finale

With all the inspiration Chef Sánchez could ever need for the Terrazas wine-food collaboration, the Mendoza experience came to a sparkling end with a visit to Chandon Argentina, Moët & Chandon's first-ever international winery, which was founded in 1959. Estate manager Herve Birnie-Scott led the thorough tour of the massive sparkling wine operations, and it was followed by tastings of dry bubbly (Chandon Extra Brut and Brut Nature) and sweeter selections such as Baron B Rose 2012 and Delice Demi-Sec.  Like a select few Terrazas de los Andes sips tried on our trip, many sparkling wines from this particular Chandon are not sold in the States... which is all the more reason for you to come and taste and enjoy the (fermented) fruits of Argentina.