(October 17 – written by Dave)
Last night we visited Azafran – a well known Mendoza food establishment and had their wine paired degustation dinner. In a word, it was amazing!
The nitty-gritty – 6 courses. 5 matching wines. 3+ hours total seated dinner time. Bookings required and at least from our experience, advanced booking by at least a few days. You can have the 6 course degustation menu with or without the wines. They have an extensive wine cellar and a sommelier that appears to know his stuff.
Our impressions – On arrival, we looked at the menu and actually considered not ordering the degustation option. Item number 1, beef tartar is not Nancy favourite. And item number 3, rabbit, is not my favourite. We debated and eventually agreed to stay the course, take the plunge and let the chef/sommelier try and win us over.
Course 1 – Beef tartar paired with “Extra Brut” local Champagne
All worries of us not enjoying dinner were quickly washed away. The beef tartar was great and its pairing with the wine was nearly perfect – balance between the two was spot on. We would probably never order either of them in real life. It could have been the best pairing of the entire night. Fantastic.
Course 2 – Melon soup with grilled prawns and cucumber, paired with a Cafayate Torrontes
The prawns were warm, the soup cold – an interesting contrast. The Torrontes is such an interesting wine with all kinds of different flavours jumping for attention. The wine worked with the soup well, but neither of us “love” cold soup. While it might have been our least favourite of the courses, it was still nice and fresh.
Course 3 – Roasted rabbit, wrapped in bacon w/ black radish, paired with an Uco Valley Pinot Noir
Another near perfect wine/food pairing. And the rabbit was very good, well beyond our expectations. I’d like to know where the chef got the bacon as we’ve not been able to find it in Argentina (but that’s story for another time). The Pinot Noir was more Oregon style than it was Aussie style – that is lighter, more fruity, but it worked very well with the rabbit.
Course 4 – Rack of lamb, mashed green peas and mint, paired with a traditional Uco Valley Malbec
They asked me how I would like the lamb cooked. I asked for med-rare as I hate overcooked lamb. They told me that med was as rare as they could go. I needn’t have worried, my lamb was more than pink enough and Nancy’s was just a little more done. The mashed peas were one of Nancy’s more favourite items for the night. I really enjoyed the lamb. And the Malbec worked well with everything.
Course 5 – Strawberries and chocolate, paired with a sticky white also from the Uco Valley
This was the first dessert and it was quite nice. We were both very full (and perhaps a little giddy) at this point but we managed to eat and drink everything. The sticky was nice and one more time, the pairing was great.
Course 6 – Dessert number 2, orange ice cream with white chocolate – no new wine
We had more than enough sticky wine left to test it with the second dessert. It worked here as well. Under normal circumstances we would shared one of the four desserts so at this point, we were probably reaching “peak sugar”. Still, we managed to clean our plates.
Conclusions: Winner, winner! Azafran pairing menu was fantastic, a great experience and something we are really happy that we tried once in our lives.
We are not food snobs. In fact thinking back only a few days, we were huddled around a camp stove, eating overcooked pasta bolied to death in our titanium pan. And even only a day ago, we consumed some amazingly bad hot dogs at Mr Dog. Artesian food rarely passes our lips.
We are also not really wine snobs. We like wine but can only get through half a bottle at one sitting and often drink red wine with fish – clueless really. Having an expert match wine and food definitely enhances the flavours of both. The first course last night was stunning – especially when you think we’d never pick those items on our own. We went in with open minds and are sure glad that we did – paired wine and food really is an art, and one that we appreciate more than we ever would have previously.
Keeping with the food theme, today is our last day in Mendoza and we are meeting up with Phillip and Tine for a late lunch. They arrived in Mendoza yesterday. We feel lucky to have overlapped with them once again.
Tomorrow we’re heading west to cross the Andes and ride over to Chile. We’ll be back to cook stove meals and wine only on the rare occasion. We’ve really enjoyed Mendoza and would definitely come back. We’ve barely scratched the surface.