Ruca Malen Winery is world famous for its development and success in creating a tasting menu concept at its in-house restaurant in Mendoza, Argentina. The goal of this project is to express the terroir in each of the elements that make up the experience of pairing Ruca Malen wines with the local cuisine. I have not visited the restaurant at the vineyard in Mendoza, which is open to the public for lunch, daily, but had the next best thing possible.
Chef Lucas Bustos and his staff flew into New York to host a traditional wine pairing dinner in the same fashion as the restaurant of Bodega Ruca Malen does in Argentina.
I was fortunate enough to receive an invite to this special occasion, which took place at a private kitchen and event space at The Kitchen Table, 132 Mulberry Street, smack in the middle of Little Italy and next to Umberto’s restaurant, known to our family for their signature dish of Linguini with white clam sauce, made, according to my wife, the same way as her Neapolitan mother made fifty years ago.
As I entered the beautiful and aromatic space, I was immediately handed a large glass of 2015 Ruca Malen Yauquen Torrontes, a white, floral wine from the Salta region, in northwest Argentina. The area is known for Torrontes, a wine that that is made in stainless steel tanks and is quite forward and pronounced in flavor. My glass was fresh and crisp with just the perfect balance of tropical fruit, enough to make one consider the wine as an aperitif.
Later in the evening, this wine was served with a lemon, chili, herb marinated yellow squash appetizer. The elements of acidity in the dish balanced perfectly with the make-up of the chilled wine.
Winemaker Pablo Cuneo said that the wines for the dinner were picked specifically to pair with the foods that represent our country of Argentina. He alluded to the fact that the winery was founded in 1999 by two French men. The idea was to produce world class wines. Pablo added that the right place for the wine is the table. One of our goals is to find some similarities with the wine and food. A second goal is to look for a balance with the wine and the food. The acid of the wine balances the fats from the dishes. And thirdly, we look for density in the wine. These are our three goals as a company and mine as the winemaker.
Winemaker Pablo added that the name Ruca Malen was made-up by the French vineyard founders. He said, Ruca means house and Malen means young lady. We were asked why did the Frenchmen choose that name?
Chef Lucas asked us to pretend that for tonight’s dinner, we will be in Argentina. Lucas stressed that ‘We don’t go to farm and table, since farm and table are in the same place.’ Usually we share food and wine with friends. Imagine that this is 400 years ago. The food we will eat for dinner focuses on the history of the Argentinean.
Chef Lucas Bustos and Winemaker for Ruca Malen, Pablo Cuneo, food and wine pairing dinner menu:
Pairing: The sweetness of the carob pairs effectively with the cherry, fruity, sweet overtones of the balanced wine/
Dish: Cured and olive oil marinated Angus beef on top of a bean salad and Malbec glazed sauce.
Wine: Reserva Malbec 2014 ($19) (Diaguitas, La Rioja) Aged 12 months in oak barrels, both French (85%) and American (15%)
Pairing: The oily notes and fleshy textures in the dish are balanced by the tannins in the wine. The creaminess of the stew tastes velvety due to the wines innate characteristics.
Dish: Curanto-style braised osso buco with roasted vegetables. Curranto cooking is a technique of underground cooking that involves hot stones.
Wine: Reserva Petit Verdot 2013 ($19) ( Mapuchas) A well balanced, aromatic, complex wine aged for 12 months in French (80%) and American (20%) oak.
Pairing: The balsamic elements of the wine are a perfect match for the unusual texture of the braised meat and smokiness of the vegetables.
Dish: Grilled filet mignon with a smoked carrot puree, quinoa and sweet corn.
Wine: Kinien da Don Raul 2011 ($75) ( Patagonia) 65% Malbec, 15% Petit Verdot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah. Aged,18 months in French (90%) and American (10%) oak.
Pairing: This full-bodied, complex, dark fruit oriented wine matches perfectly with the juicy, flavorful steak.
Dish: Dulce de leche cake with orange sauce and vanilla ice cream.
Wine: Ruca Malen Brut made with 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay. Twelve months of leese contact makes this traditional methode sparkling wine a real contender.
Pairing: The acidity in this dessert balances with the finesse of the wine.
History of the vineyard as told by Winemaker Pablo Cuneo:
The vineyard was founded in 1998 by two Frenchman, Jay Pierre Thibaud and Jacques Louis de Montdembert. Pablo Cuneo, already well known internationally, was hired as their winemaker. His job, as winemaker, was to balance French winemaking techniques with Argentine character. The wines must be elegant enough to pair with the food that is inspired by the rich culture of Mendoza. Lucas Bustos was hired as chef. The rest is history.
In 2015 Ruca Malen was acquired by Molinos Rio de la Plata, Argentina’s most prominent food and beverage broker. Their vision remains the same as the founders, Jean Pierre and Jacques Louis.
Philip S. Kampe