We had a 5-course paired lunch at Ruca Malen vineyards which was the highlight of our day out in the vineyards of Mendoza, Argentina's Napa Valley. Ruca Malen is set just off national route 7, the road that traverses the Andes from Mendoza to Santiago, Chile. The first course was a Yauquén Chardonnay-Semillón 2006 (70% Chardonnay, 30% Semillón). We were told it was the youngest wine the winery produces. It was indeed young; but also fruity and fresh with no oak aging. Very easy to drink. This was paired with bruschetta that had thin slices of eggplant, ricotta cheese and lemon zest on top. This particular pairing highlighted the freshness of this wine which went nicely with the acidity from the ricotta and the citrous flavor from he lemon zest.

Next up was the Yaquén Malbec - Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 blend of 50% from each grape. This also belongs to the youngest line the winery produces. 50% of the wine was in contact with oak. It was a red wine with violet-like hues. It had a complex nose and a soft and light mouth with strong fruity notes. This was paired with a small tartelette made of grilled onions, pumpkin, and what tasted like goat cheese. The wine highlighted the sweet notes of the onions and pumpkin. The third course started with a Ruca Malen Merlot 2004 which was, indeed, 100% Merlot. It was aged for 12 months in oak barrels (80% aged in French barrels, 20% in American). It was then aged for 12 months more in the bottle before release. It was a red wine with violet hues. The aroma was reminiscent of cherries, strawberries, and plums with some vanilla and chocolate notes. For eating, we had lentil ragôut with creme fraîche ... the cream was reminiscent of the malolactic fermentation and the earthy flavors that accompany the tannins of the malbec.

Just before our meat course, we got to try a bit of the Ruca Malen Malbec 2004 (85% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot). This is Ruca Malen's middle-line commercial brand, aged for 12 months in oak barrels. And again, 12 months more of bottle aging before release. It was a red with some violet hues. The aroma is reminiscent of red fruits like cherries, strawberries, and plums. Again, with some vanilla and chocolate notes.

For our fourth course, we had a Kinien Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 which was 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec. This one was aged 15 months in new oak barrels, and a final 15 months in the bottle before release. It had a rich ruby red color with spicy scents and a delicate pepper touch mixed among plums, berries, and cherries. A little smoky with vanilla and chocolate character. This was paired with roast beef tenderloin, black pepper butter, olive oil and roasted peppers. This pairing seemed pretty self-explanatory! Mmm.

For dessert, our fifth course, we had Quinoa bread, roasted apple cake with hesperidina and caramel sauce. No dessert wine today, unless you count the hesperidina.

We finished this meal absolutly stuffed and somewhat tipsy. Overall, I'm not sure how well this meal would have stood up on its own without the wine pairings. Many of the courses were served lukewarm and were somewhat bland. But, it was an overall very positive experience as we dined with the Andes in the background.

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