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Tim Foolery

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Wine Tasting in Mendoza – Uco Valley

Planning the Tasting

The main reason we decided to visit Mendoza was for the wine.  We wanted a full day of tasting and we didn’t want to end up at the big producers – we wanted to see smaller operations.  Two months before our trip, I started reaching out to various wine tour operators and was very disappointed.  Of the six groups, only one ever responded to my several emails.  I found these tour guides through general internet searches and through TripAdvisor.  The one who did respond offered us a tour option that wasn’t a good fit.  Their suggested tour included a large 45+ person tour bus.  We wanted a more curated experience.

I then reached out to the Park Hyatt Mendoza for guidance. Within the hour I had received a quick questionnaire to help tailor my experience.  The following day I had received a proper quote for a private tour including driver/guide and vehicle.  The tastings and meals were separate and would be paid at each stop.

The price for this experience was AR5270 or 137USD.  Considering the alternatives, this was a really great option. A much better fit than the massive tour bus option.

The Tour

The day of the tour arrived and we met our guide in the lobby of the Park Hyatt.  Our guide was a retired energy consultant who spent most of his career acting as a mining consultant in Argentina, Peru and Bolivia.  He was a round and jovial man, who laughed with nearly every sentence he spoke.  He was welcoming and very knowledgeable about the region, its history and the people.  Like many people we interacted with in Argentina, their dislike of Bolivians wasn’t hidden.  I was taken aback by the near immediate and frequent racist comments about Bolivians.  It was awful.

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
The breathtaking views of the Andes

As we left Mendoza, our guide told us of the history of the region, including the original Spanish settlers and the more recent Italian and German immigrants.  Our first stop was a gas station about 20 minutes outside of town – we needed to get water, lots of water for the day.  Because of the altitude, the temperature and the relative dryness of the area, we were quite parched.  Plus an entire day of drinking wine wouldn’t help us in that regard.

We continued on to our first destination in the Uco Valley.  We chose Uco as we really wanted to step outside of the city and being only an hour away, it wouldn’t eat up a large portion of our day just getting there. 

La Azul – Tasting

Our first stop was La Azul.  A small family producer that greeted us very warmly upon our arrival.  This wasn’t a tiny producer – there were several other tasting tourists there.  We sat down with a group of Americans, who were also staying at the Park Hyatt Mendoza.  It is such a small world. The guy who sat in front of my on the flight from Buenos Aires to Mendoza was part of this group.  He was much nicer today, when he wasn’t slamming his seat into my knees.

We worked our way through a couple of tasting with a member of the winemaker’s family. She was a bit robotic and on autopilot, but she was able to provide us some fun details on the wine, the vineyard and production. 

After tasting a few bottles we moved on to their production facility where we were able to do a barrel tasting.  This was definitely more for show and offered no real substance, but it was fun nonetheless.

We enjoyed the wine at La Azul and picked up a few bottles to take home.

Gimenez Riili – Tasting and Lunch

Our next stop was Gimenez Riili.  It took us about 40 minutes to travel between the vineyards.  Again, like at La Azul we were greeted very warmly – like old friends.  Perhaps it’s because our guide did indeed know everyone we were meeting with.  By extension we were family.  As with any proper family visit, you should be greeted with some sparkling wine, right?

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Enjoying the sun while we wait for lunch.

The views at Gimenez Riili were utterly spectacular.  The Andes Mountains looming like giants in the distance.  Purple mountains majesty never felt so real than in this moment.

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Bottles all prepped for our lunch tastings
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Prepping plates for lunch at Gimenez Riili.

Our tasting was also our lunch for the day.  We dine alfresco at small tables under trees in the vineyard.  This meal reminded me so much of our time at IPNC.  Honestly, even the Argentine weather in November reminded me much of Oregon in July.  The sun baking down on our skin, dry, but not drying.  It was one of those battery recharging moments for me.

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Enjoying bubbles while the beef ribs cook

The Meal

The meal was spectacular. Not surprising, but it was a very meat centric meal.  Our slow and casual lunch was filled with beautiful wines, stellar views and such warm and welcoming service.  The food was no slouch either.  We ate and ate. 

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
The alfresco table setting at Gimenez Riili
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Starter spreads for our lunch tasting
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
River Trout ceviche with mustard
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Bring on the meat!
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
A simple, yet flavorful pot de creme for dessert

The one complaint I do have was the timing. I do love a slow and casual meal, but this was a bit extreme.  The service fell off a bit and at one point our dessert was delivered before our entrée.  We had another vineyard to visit before the day ended and the slowdown here was starting to impact our plans.  A quick reminder of timing and plating helped get us back on track.  Honestly, I could have stayed here all day, eating, drinking, relaxing, but not if we’ve got another vineyard to visit.  Chop Chop.

Corazon del Sol – Tasting and Tango

We picked up a couple of bottles at Gimenez Riili as well and quickly headed off to our final stop of the day.  As we arrived at Corazon del Sol, the sun was hovering over the Andes and providing such a warm embrace, I couldn’t have been happier.  We sat outside and listened to a local tango group.  Tango. Spanish Guitar. Flamenco.  I loved it.  As we lounged outside we were given some rosé.  This part of the tasting was purely entertainment. We were given no guidance on the wine. We were to site back, bask in the glory of the Andes and let the music flow.  It was so relaxing.

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
The sun blazes down upon the vines.
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Tango performance at our final tasting

After the concert we made our way into the tasting room.  Our friends from the flight, and the first winery ended their tour at the same winery as we did.  We ended up chatting with them a bit more during the proper tasting.  There wasn’t much of a program at Corazon del Sol.  It seemed more like a mad rush for them to pour wine and make sales.  We didn’t end up buying anything at this stop.  There were a couple of items that we really did want to buy, but nothing was available at that time.  The next vintage would be released soon and we could order and have it shipped home.  We opted not to do that.

End of Day

We hopped back into our guide’s Jeep and made our way back to the Park Hyatt.  Our tour of the Uco Valley took about 7-8 hours and was absolutely worth every penny we spent.  Not only was the landscape breathtaking, the wine stellar and the winemakers so welcoming, the weather was perfect.  Closing out November in the southern hemisphere allows us to kick winter down the road a little bit. 

While the initial planning of this day was quite frustrating – I guess these tour companies have so much business they can turn down customers – I’m so pleased with the help that the Park Hyatt gave us.  Our guide – despite his blatant racism – was a generous and welcoming host.  The price was perfect for what we received – we would have HATED to been on a tour bus with 40 other people, making our way through the factory style wine tasting rooms.

Have you visited the Uco Valley before?  Which wineries are your favorite?  When we return – and we shall – where do you recommend we visit?

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Adventures in Argentina: Introduction

Argentina has been on our list to visit for a few years now. We finally decided to pull the trigger and spend our Thanksgiving break exploring three separate cities in Argentina. These adventures were a great break from a hectic work life.

Our goals for this trip were pretty simple – get away from work for a week and explore a new area of the world. Argentina is well known for it’s wine and it’s beef. As with almost all of our trips we built our experiences around food, wine and seeing beautiful spaces. Of course we had to couple these requirements with our need for a relaxing break. It is a vacation after all.

Andes Mountain Views from Argentina
Views of the Andes from Mendoza.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share with you my thoughts on the various flights, hotels, restaurants and experiences, including:

Not to spoiler the ending here, but we loved our time in Argentina. Next time we will do somethings a little differently though.

Have you been to Argentina? What was your favorite spot? Did you have to deal with the bird poop scam?

Brass Heart – Fine Dining Chicago

Brass Heart is Chicago’s newest Fine Dining Restaurant.  Taking the place of 42 Grams, the stellar Two-Michelin-Starred Restaurant in Chicago’s Uptown Neighborhood. We loved 42 Grams from jump, and I was personally surprised at its abrupt closing.  You can Google more about that, but I refuse to support a chef with abusive tendencies, no matter how amazing the food is.

Brass Heart opened in late August and I’ve been looking forward to popping over for a while now.  Deciding to pull the trigger before it becomes impossible to snag a reservation, I searched just four days ahead of time and found an early spot for two on a Saturday.  While 17h30 is usually too early for me, I figured I would make an exception this time.

Unlike 42 Grams, which was fully BYOB (YES! A 2 Starred resto and BYO to boot), Brass Heart has a lovely cocktail and wine menu.  While not outrageously extensive, it was very respectable and the prices are perfectly in line with the neighborhood and the City as a whole.

We arrived a few minutes before our reservation.  The space is small, and without a proper separate bar, we didn’t want to crowd the space….although, the only people there when we arrived were also dining at 17h30.  We were seated immediately upon arrival and were welcomed by several staff members.

When booking the reservation I selected the nine-course tasting menu, so our only real decision was beverages.  We could do the wine pairings or select individual cocktails, glasses of wine or bottles.  We obviously chose the pairings – we always do.

Brass Heart Chicago

Full Nine Course Tasting Menu

Brass Heart Chicago

Osetra Caviar, Pumpkin

Brass Heart Chicago

Osetra Caviar, Pumpkin

Brass Heart Chicago

Ham and Eggs

Brass Heart Chicago

Ham and Eggs

Brass Heart Chicago

Mulligatawny Soup – Ham and Egg Alternative

Brass Heart Chicago

Duck, Apple, Black Walnut

Brass Heart Chicago

Duck, Apple, Black Walnut

Brass Heart

Brioche, Fried Chicken, Honey

Brass Heart Chicago

Brioche, Fried Chicken, Honey

Brass Heart Chicago

Rice and Beans

Brass Heart Chicago

Rice and Beans

Brass Heart Chicago

Duck Fat Halibut, Celery Root, Matsutake

Brass Heart Chicago

A5 Kobe, Chanterelle, Pommes Souffle

Brass Heart Chicago

Quince, Acorn Squash, Granola

Brass Heart Chicago

Gateaux d’Epices, Paw Paw, Bourbon

Brass Heart Chicago

Petit Fours

Brass Heart Chicago

Petit Fours

The meal was stellar.  We loved every part of our experience.  The wine pairings were on point.  There were a surprisingly large number of Oregon wines on the wine list, which we all know is the quickest way to my heart.  The nine-course tasting menu is $125 per person, plus $75 for the wine pairings.  While this isn’t a cheap night out, it’s cheaper than most other fine dining options in Chicago.  My recommendation:  Make reservations NOW while you can still get in!

Have you dined at Brass Heart?  Did you dig the wine pairings?  Which course was your favorite?

Need Advice: Argentina Trip

Each year, we travel somewhere for Thanksgiving.  We find it a great time to leave the country as no one is traveling for business that week and most Americans are traveling domestically.  We’ve traveled to Ireland, Mexico City, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Colorado, and Oregon for Thanksgiving.  This year, we are heading south to Argentina.  This will be my first visit to the country, while it will be Mike’s second.

Thanksgiving in Argentina

Thanksgiving in Mendoza, where to go?

So far, we’ve book airfare down to and back from Argentina as well as flights inside the country.  We’ve chosen our cities to visit and the hotels in which to stay.  We’ll be staying in Cordoba, Mendoza and finally a few days in Buenos Aires.  I’ve only made reservations for one meal while we are there too – our final night in Buenos Aires, we are hitting a lovely fine dining restaurant as we celebrate Thanksgiving.

I need your help though.  I’m looking for advice from travelers and locals who can tell us great places to eat and wineries to visit.  Frequent readers know that I love a good bike tour, so any recommendations on who to ride while while in Argentina, let me know.

What is the one thing you wish you had done while you were in Argentina?  What about the one thing you wish you hadn’t done?

EVA Air Royal Laurel Class (Business Class) ORD-TPE

EVA Air boards Business Class passengers directly from the Air France / KLM Lounge for our flight to Taipei. I was the third person on board and quickly took my seat of 9A. As I was getting situated (you know, tablet, headphones and chargers out), Daisy, the flight attendant working my portion of the cabin approached, delivering menus and a warm moist towel to help you get refreshed before the 15 hour flight.

On the Ground

EVA doesn’t serve champagne on the ground, at least in Chicago. Cook County taxes are very high and they don’t want to pay them, so they serve an inferior sparkling wine, they wouldn’t even tell me what kind it was.

Champagne and chocolate with a view

Pre-departure champagne and chocolate

Daisy asks if I want the seat cover – not a mattress pad mind you, just a quilted cover over the seat. I took it. I’ll take any additional padding I can get on airline seats. Pajamas were delivered and I immediately hopped up and changed. The lavatory between the two business class cabins is much more roomy, making it much easier to change. The front lavatory is a standard sized room…small, very small.

1-2-1 Business Class Configuration

These private business class seats are some of my favorite in the sky.

1-2-1 Business Class Configuration

Loves these very private seats.

1-2-1 Business Class Configuration

These private business class seats are some of my favorite in the sky.

Leg room and pop-out IFE

Lots of leg room on EVA Air’s Business Class Seat

New Pajamas for Me

New Pajamas!

Boarding continued and I sat back and enjoyed my drink, in my new pajamas, and thought about my trip. Was I crazy for flying so far for just a couple of days? Maybe, but I am going to enjoy the journey. The door closed at 00h20 and we were pulling away from the jet bridge at 00h23. It was fast. Then we sat on the tarmac for about 20 minutes.

Amenity Kit + Champagne + Airport = Happy Tim

Business Class Amenity kit. Not the fabulous Rimowa kit, but Georg Jensen was still nice

Amenity Kit Contents

The amenity kit was a little lean

Copa Airlines

Departure – Copa Airlines off to Panama City

In the Air

Once airborne, the crew sprung into action. It was late, people wanted to sleep and the sooner they can put us to bed, the easier their flight will be.

I had preordered the duck for my entree, which was easy to do on the EVA website. EVA offers some additional entrees that aren’t normally stocked on board, but they are catered upon request.

Another glass of champagne arrived as did the amuse bouche. It was quite lovely, Turkey Ham (huh? What’s turkey ham?) with Asparagus with champagne was a great way to kick off this Business Class Meal.

Appetizer of Turkey and Onion Tart

Prelude
Turkey Ham with Green Asparagus – Brie and Gouda Cheese with Onion Chutney Tartlet

The lobster appetizer arrived fifteen minutes later. It was served with drawn butter and a quinoa salad that was just packed with flavor. I skipped the quail egg though

Lobster Appetizer

Hors D’oeuvre
Maine Lobster – Quail Egg – Quinoa Salad

Lobster Appetizer

Hors D’oeuvre
Maine Lobster – Quail Egg – Quinoa Salad

Right at 01h30 my duck arrived. I asked for a glass of Bordeaux to accompany the duck, but it never arrived. The duck looked…well…strange. I’m not sure what happened to it, but about three-quarters of it looked and felt like it had been eaten by someone else then spit back onto my plate. I was disgusted. I couldn’t eat it. Daisy came by and saw that I wasn’t eating and she asked a couple of questions, then took it away. The purser came back to talk to me and she was mortified. She suggested I choose a different entree, which I did. The kung pao chicken sounded good to me and it was delivered moments later.

Special Ordered Duck Breast Entree

Duck breast with rice and broccolini

Special Ordered Duck Breast Entree

Duck breast with rice and broccolini

The chicken looked strange too. It was stuffed with a truffle brioche that just seemed off when paired with a kung pao truffle jus. I scraped out the stuffing and ate the chicken. Quite a disappointing entree selection.

Second Entree - Chicken

Main Course
Truffle Brioche Stuffed in Pan Friend Chicken Brease with Black Truffle Jus – Mixed Vegetables

The fruit and cake plate and was delivered. There was no cheese course. When I asked about it, the matter of fact answer was that “There was no cheese course tonight.” Hmmmrph.

The disappointing dessert

Sweets
Fruit – Blueberry Cheese Cake

At 02h00 the dinner service was over, plates and linens cleared. I was a bit disappointed.

It was time to turn in, so I laid my seat out to a bed and put on the EVA provided headphones and listened to the Big Bang Theory as I slept. It is a great plane show – as it always makes me want to sleep.

I woke up after about 5 hours of sleep and decided to watch a movie I brought (Indiana Jones) and get some work done. The internet was slow and cost $16.95 for three hours of service. It did what I needed it to do, but it was soooo slow.

At 08h00 I ordered the vermicelli with pork, which was a great choice. I should have had three of those for dinner.

Amazing Mid Flight Snack

Snack
Stir Fried Vermicelli with Pork in Taiwanese Style Sauce

I napped intermittently until breakfast, which was served promptly at 12h30. The lights popped on with a never before seen intensity! I’m not a big breakfast guy, so I skipped the cereals and I chose to have the fruit, pastry and the bread pudding. It was all pretty great. The fruit was a little under ripe, but it was still flavorful.

Croissant with Butter

Breakfast Pastry – Croissant

Simple Breakfast of Bread Pudding.

Breakfast
Butter Bread Pudding with Cherry Ragout

At this point, breakfast is done and we are still two hours from Taipei. US and European carriers don’t start serving arrival meal until 90 minutes before landing. We had lots of time left, but now I wasn’t really in the mood for sleeping.

Landing

As we come into Taipei, the flight crew sprung into action. Unlike the rest of the trip, they seemed like chickens with their heads cut off. Seemingly executing their landing procedures in a near panic mode. For example, I had five sheets of paper stored in a cubby behind my shoulder. I was told that I couldn’t stow anything there and as I was grabbing it another stew comes over, repeats the request, then the first grabs the paper, ripping it, then shoves it in another cubby (that also said No Stowage During Taxi, Take Off or Landing). Theses were just notes I had taken to prep for my trip – not a big deal, but the service sure went south fast. The crew all took their seats and we still had 30 minutes until we touched down.

We rolled into TPE at 04h05, 11 minutes early. Despite this flight being more than 15 hours, I wasn’t ready for it to end. I really do love EVA. The flight timing is great – I can work a full day, leave at 00h30 and be anywhere in Asia by noon the next day. That’s no small feat from Chicago. The seats are among my favorite in Business Class. If you are traveling with someone it is a bit difficult to chat, but for a solo traveler, you can’t beat these seats. The food is usually pretty good – the entrees on this flight were pretty abysmal, but the other courses were enjoyable.  Loved the noodles.

The Cost

I used 90,000 United Miles (Saver Award) on this Business Class flight (including the next one), the value can’t be beat. I haven’t ever checked the actual cost of the flight, because I’m not expensing these flights back to a third party. I’m not paying thousands of dollars this flight (likely) costs in Business Class.

Have you flown EVA Business Class before? Do you dig their service? What do you think was wrong with that duck entree I had? Have you ever not wanted to get off a flight after more than 15 hours of flying?