Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

My mom visits Argentina

May 30, 2012
The view from my mom's apartment

My mom just left after spending a week with us in Buenos Aires. We hit up most of the major neighborhoods and dined at some nice restaurants (see my planned itinerary here). My mom also got in plenty of shopping, which is surprisingly a good way to see the city. We found leather in the centro and handcrafts in San Telmo and Recoleta and perused the boutiques in Palermo.

Here are pictures from her trip, broken down day by day (she has pictures of us, I mostly took pictures of the places we went):

DAY 1 — Centro

Protest in the Plaza de Mayo. The sign reads "The Malvinas (Falkland Islands) are Argentine."

Museum at the Casa Rosada (government house).

DAY 2 — Shopping on Florida street

DAY 4 — San Telmo and Recoleta crafts fair

Sunday street fair in San Telmo

DAY 5 — Recoleta cemetery and Palermo

Recoleta cemetery. On the way there, our cab driver asked, "Do you want to go next to the cemetery or inside it?" Very funny cabbie...

We also took a tango class, saw a milonga (a social tango dance), practiced our Spanish and rode a lot of city buses (my mom liked the "local color"). Overall, she said she had a very "authentic South American experience." And I loved showing her around the city.

- Steph

JSConf Argentina, and the Centro Metropolitano de Diseño

May 22, 2012

This past weekend,  I had the great pleasure of attending JSConf Argentina/Latin America 2012. That's JS as in Javascript, the web programming language. I love Javascript, and for the last few months I've been trying to pivot my work toward a platform called Node.js, which is built in Javascript. I also tried unsuccessfully to organize a BsAs Javascript meetup earlier this year. So I was thrilled to hear, a few months ago, that a JsConf was coming to town! It was organized by Guillermo Rauch, an Argentine developer now based in San Francisco. (His bio page is outdated; he's not 19 anymore).

They flew in some of the top Node.js luminaries from the Bay area - basically the creators of projects I've been working with every day for months. There were several hundred people in attendance, mostly Argentines, but also Brazilians, Colombians, and BsAs-based expats like me. The sessions by the Americans and Brazilians were in English, the rest were in Spanish. Node.js was only a small part of it; a bigger focus was on "front-end" Javascript, like new graphics capabilities in web browsers, 3D visualizations, and building mobile apps with Javascript. I met a lot of great people, and hopefully the BsAs JS meetup that we started to organize over lunch will come to fruition.

The building the conference was in, the Centro Metropolitano de Diseño (diseño meaning design), was really cool. It looks like it was originally a warehouse of some kind, and was retrofitted with prefab structures on the inside, in a way that maintained the original roof, exposed pipes, columns, etc. It was like the building itself was recycled. The rawness of the design reminded me of the Pompidou in Paris. The building is now a public-private partnership, with the city helping to incubate design-centric businesses. In addition to the businesses, a library, and an auditorium (each housed in one of the prefab units), there's a little museum with industrial equipment that (I assume) was part of the building's original function.

- Ben

Our failed blind taste test

May 18, 2012
After spending a day smelling, swirling and tasting wines in Mendoza, we understand a little more about the differences between how cheap wines and expensive wines are produced. But we wondered: Could we taste the difference for ourselves?

We had recently purchased a bottle of Caballero de la Cepa Chardonnay by Finca Flichman for 45 pesos ($10), which is at the upper end of our wine budget. Their low-end Malbec is one of our favorites and we remembered liking their cheap Chardonnay. But we just couldn't warm up to their Caballero de la Cepa, which we found too acidic. We thought maybe we just liked their cheaper wine better (Chardonnay Roble at 25 pesos). We decided to buy a bottle and find out.


Round 1: Ben tries a glass of each. He can't tell much of a difference but professes a slight preference for the cheaper wine.

Round 2: I try a glass of each and vote for the more expensive wine (which I had strongly disliked the night before). Ben isn't totally confident he didn't mix up the glasses.

Round 3: I try a glass of each and pick the cheaper wine.

Round 4: Ben tries a glass of each and picks the more expensive one.

So what did we conclude from our first blind taste test? Either that we are terrible sommeliers or that there's little discernible difference between the two bottles despite the price difference.

Finca Flichman says the Roble smells of pineapple, asparagus and vanilla, tastes of tropical fruits and offers a soft and persistent finish. The Caballero de la Cepa? Smells of pineapple, asparagus and vanilla, tastes like tropical fruits and oak and has a long, fruity finish. Sounds pretty similar to me. Maybe we aren't terrible wine connoisseurs after all.

Bottom line: We wouldn't recommend either. There are better Chardonnays from Argentina.

- Steph

Mendoza: other than wine...

May 11, 2012
The highlight of our recent trip to Mendoza was definitely the wine tour, but we did other stuff there, too.

First we had to get there. Flights were very expensive, so we took a (slightly less expensive) bus. The bus is 14 hours each way, and comes in three classes. The most expensive class includes a curtain around each fully-reclining seat. The cheapest class is an ordinary tour bus. We took the overnight cama ejecutivo class in the middle. The seats came with pillows and blankets and went down enough to sleep, there was some (barely edible) food served, a movie, and wine. We didn't sleep as well as in a bed, but well enough to function upon arrival.

Mendoza is both a province (with all the vineyards, among other sites) and a city (the provincial capital). We stayed at a hostel in the city, with a private room but shared bathrooms. We arrived on Thursday morning and ate some brunch until our room was ready to check in. Then we walked to the center of town in search of an activity. Companies were offering wine tours, parasailing, skydiving, horseback riding, rafting; we decided to go rafting.

We reserved a spot on the afternoon group. A few hours and an 80-minute bus ride later, we were at a roadside kiosk. The rafting company's van picked us up there and drove us with a bunch of other people to their lodge. We got geared up - neoprene wet suit and booties, rain jacket, life jacket, helmet - and got on another van, also towing two rafts, to drive to the river.

Our raft had five people: the two of us, an Australian couple, and the raft guide. We basically just followed orders: "Forward!" "Backward!" "Stop!" Everyone paddled in unison and he steered. The water was mostly calm, so he pulled some silly stunts, getting the raft flooded, getting stuck on rocks. At one point we were stuck on a big rock, we tipped hard to the left, and the Australian guy fell out of the raft into the cold water. (Before we went rafting, I had to reassure Steph that it wasn't really going to be that rough, so I was very glad Steph, who was on the same side, didn't fall in, too.) Overall I thought it was pretty silly: I'd much rather steer my own boat, and get wet when it's actually rough, and avoid the big rocks that there's no reason to get stuck on. The Aussies seemed to be having a good time, at least. (We had to leave our cameras at the gear house, and they wanted to charge us 70 pesos for the photos their guy took, so we don't have any action shots.)

For dinner Thursday night, we went to a really good restaurant called Florentina. The menu was very creative, we were very hungry, and we weren't yet hung over from the wine-tour-to-be, so we enjoyed a good Torrontes (a white grape unique to Argentina).

Friday was the wine tour. 19 wines, almost a full glass of each. It took us a day and a half to get over the hangover, and I still need a few more days before I can drink another Malbec.

On Saturday, we took a city bus to the neighboring town of Maipu and rented bicycles. Maipu is home to a number of vineyards, including the huge Trapiche and a bunch of independent producers. We were still too wined-out from the previous day, so we mostly skipped the vineyards. A wine museum was filled with old wine-making instruments. A small chocolate and liquor maker had a good sampler platter, but was too expensive to buy more, and probably small because they weren't good enough to be bigger. The bike rental shop recommended the town "Beer Garden" for lunch, but it wasn't easy to find: one sign pointed in the wrong direction, another incorrectly said that we had reached the beer garden, when it was actually half a kilometer away. The town has a petty crime problem - we overheard one group of tourists reporting an attempted bag-snatching to a cop - and another cop stopped us from getting too lost finding the Beer Garden, probably thinking everyone was better off if the cycling tourists stuck to the main roads.

We finally found the Beer Garden, and their "artesanal" pizza and beer demonstrated the generally-true principle that "artesanal" means "not good enough to sell in bulk."

We went to one last vineyard before returning the bikes, and enjoyed (as much as we could given the overdose) another glass of small-batch Malbec. The lady working at the visitors' cabin was a teacher, and had a small laptop that the government issued to every student and teacher in the country. She was telling us how she liked learning new things about wine from the internet, especially YouTube. I had heard about the laptop-giveaway program before, and find it very impressive, so I need to read more about that and write about it later.

On Sunday morning, we rented a motorcycle from Mendoza Moto Adventura, a 250cc Honda Tornado dirt bike. It was a cold morning, with the sun not yet warming us up. The road out of the city was closed, so we improvised a detour. We got to a dirt path at one point, but seemed to be going in the right direction toward the road. Steph thought we should follow other cars but I thought, it's a dirt bike, we don't need to follow the cars... until we got to within a few meters of the road, with a big metal median blocking us. A bunch of bicyclists were lifting their bikes over the median mockingly.

Finally back on the road, we rode west toward the Andes mountains, through Potrerillos to Vallecito.  Past Potrerillos, the road was an unpaved switchback trail up a mountain. We bumped along around the tight curves for several kilometers. It wasn't clear where or how far the road went - were we supposed to keep going, or just go as long as we wanted and turn around? - so when we hit our halfway point (with a bus to catch in the evening), we just turned around. We had lunch at a wonderful ski lodge-style restaurant called La Charamusca (translates to The Ugly Hag), with empanadas, chicken stew, and hot chocolate.

A few hours later, we got back on another bus for another long, overnight bus ride back home.

- Ben

Mendoza: The most wonderful wine tour

May 8, 2012
The highlight of our trip to Mendoza was a full-day wine tour of the Luján de Cuyo region. We visited four wineries and tasted 19 (!) different wines. We also learned a lot about wine along the way.


The first stop on our trip was the Alta Vista winery, owned by the French d'Aulan family and the biggest of the wineries we visited. It was founded in the late 1800s by a Spanish family and bought by the d'Aulans in 1997.

The winery processes grapes from three different vineyards across the country: one on the main estate, one in the higher-altitude Uco Valley about 75 kilometers south, and one up north in Cafayate, known for the uniquely Argentine Torrontes grape. Wines from the Luján de Cuyo region tend to be aromatic and fruity, whereas those from Uco Valley have a more mineral and earthy flavor.

Two fun facts we learned from our tour guide:

1. In Argentina it's actually illegal to add sugar during the wine-making process. Because the climate in Mendoza is so dry, the grapes naturally have a high sugar content, which leads to a higher alcohol content (usually between 13 and 14.5 percent).

2. Decades ago, the average Argentine drank about 140 bottles of wine per year, and that number is calculated by including all the babies and children in the population. Basically, one hundred years ago, Argentines drank a lot. And to keep up with all the demand, wineries focused on quantity over quality.

Now on to the wine tasting:

Torrontes Premium: The grapes for this wine are grown at 1700 meters at the vineyard in Cafayate. They are harvested at three different times and then blended together. The wine smells sweet, with notes of pear and peach, but is dry in the mouth. For that reason, the winery refers to it as a "mentirosa," or liar. It's good paired with spicy foods.

Bonarda Premium: The Bonarda grape is most commonly seen in blends, but in this case it's used as a varietal. Half of the grapes are aged in concrete tanks and half in oak barrels. It's light to the taste and pairs well with pasta and other Italian foods.

Malbec Single Vineyard 2007: Alta Vista has three levels of wine: Premium, the lowest level; Single Vineyard, the next level up; and Alto, the top of the line. This Malbec is produced in small quantities and isn't exported. The grapes are grown at the Temis Vineyard in Uco Valley and spend 1.5 years in oak barrels before being bottled. The wine's aging potential is 13 years. Our guide, who is a professionally-trained sommelier, said he thought it's one of the best-value wines on the market.

Alto 2007: The top of the line, this wine is 70 percent Malbec and 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes ferment for 40 days, then spend 1.5 years in oak and then 1.5 years in the bottle, where they need to be turned evenly everyday. The aging potential is 15-20 years and the wine retails for about 550 pesos ($125).

Temporal: An extra brut sparking wine that is 95 percent Pinot Noir and 5 percent Chardonnay. The wine spends only a couple of hours in contact with the grape skins, just enough to give it a pinkish coloring.


Bodega Pulenta Estate was founded in 2002, by the sons of Antonio Pulenta, who for decades owned Bodegas Trapiche, the country's largest wine producer. Pulenta Estate has a much more modern feel than Alta Vista and a smaller level of production. Its main export markets are the US, UK and Brazil.

Both Alta Vista and Pulenta Estate ferment their wine in thick concrete tanks, which help keep the temperature constant. After fermentation, the wines are moved by gravity to oak barrels (the more expensive wines at least, the less expensive ones are often unoaked). Most of the oak barrels are French-made, and a small percentage are American. American oak has larger pores than French oak, which tends to lead to more intense flavors.

The wine tastings:

La Flor Sauvignon Blanc 2011: This is their bottom-level wine. It has a strong citrus flavor, and like the Torrontes at Alta Vista, its grapes are picked at three different points during the harvest season to obtain a balance between citrusy flavors and acidity.

Pulenta Estate Merlot 2007: This acidic wine is good with food, and particularly with creamy cheeses, like blue cheese. Pulenta Estate is their second-tier wine, above La Flor and below Gran Pulenta. It spends 12 months in second-use French oak barrels. The vineyards import the barrels from France for about 1500 euros apiece. The top-quality wines are placed in the new barrels, which can be reused in future years, usually for progressively lower quality wines. After the fourth use, the vineyards resell the barrels in their gift shops for about 150 pesos ($35). Ben wanted to bring one home, but at about 75 kilos, it would probably exceed the airline weight limits.

Pulenta Estate Malbec-Cabernet 2009: The Malbec-Cabernet is a common blend to find in Buenos Aires. The Malbec, which makes up 60 percent, is sweet while the Cabernet is spicy, giving it a nice balance and making it a good wine to pair with traditional Argentine foods.

Gran Pulenta Cabernet Franc: This is easily the most unusual wine we tasted on our trip. If you can find it in the U.S., it might be worth buying just for the experience of smelling and tasting it, because the main aroma is ... green bell peppers. Cabernet Franc is common in blends, but isn't usually used as a single varietal. It requires a lot of monitoring during the growing process and spends a long time in oak to soften the flavors.


The family-run Bodega Caelum was the newest winery we visited, with its first harvest completed in 2009. The family had previously used the land to grow pistachios and grapes, which it then sold to other wineries. In 2009, they decided to get involved in the wine-making part of the process. It's still a very small winery that's just starting to sell in Buenos Aires.

Caelum Rosado: A wine that's meant for easy drinking, it's a 50-50 blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. The juice spends only three hours in contact with the grape skins to give it a little bit of color. Good as an appetizer.

Caelum Chardonnay: This is an unoaked Chardonnay, which takes only six months to reach the bottling phase. The wine spends no time at all in oak, which gives it a more fruity flavor of banana, pear and citrus.

Caelum Reserva Cabernet 2009: This wine is from their first vintage. It ferments for 30 days, is decanted in stainless steel tanks (unlike the first two vineyards, Caelum uses only stainless steel, not cement) and spends 15 months in oak barrels. It has an intense, purplish color and firm tannins. Tannins are a chemical compound found in grape skins and seeds. The chemical makeup of the tannins changes during the wine-making process and the tannins contribute to the astringency and bitterness of red wines. The idea is that as a wine ages, the tannins mellow.

Caelum Dolce: Our favorite wine of the trip, and the only one we bought. It's a dessert Malbec and unlike any other wine I've ever had. It uses good quality acidic grapes, which are harvested and then left to dry for 25-30 days, before aging in oak barrels for 10 months. This dehydration process increases the sugar content and means that it take a lot more grapes to make even a small bottle of this sweet wine, as compared to a traditional dry wine. We can't wait to drink our bottle, but first we have to find a dessert that is worthy of going along with it.


ruca malen winery

Our final stop, whose name means "House of the Young Lady," in the indigenous Mapuche language. We didn't learn much about the winemaking process at Ruca Malen, instead we enjoyed a five-course gourmet meal with wine pairings as we looked out over the vineyards.

Yauquén Chardonnary 2010: An intense, unoaked Chardonnay. Paired with quinoa, white beans and green apple salad.

Yauquén Malbec-Cabernet Sauvignon 2011: A 50-50 blend where the two varieties are elaborated separately. Thirty percent of the wines are aged in oak barrels for six months, then everything is blended together. A fresh, fruity wine with high acidity that's good for cleaning the palate. Paired with leek, onion and bacon soup.

Ruca Malen Cabernet Sauvignon 2008: Aged 12 months in oak barrels — 80 percent French and 20 percent American. This is an intense and juicy wine with sweet and elegant tannins. Paired with iron-burned tomato and goat cheese on a pumpkin terrine.

Ruca Malen Reserva de Bodega 2009: 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 28 percent Syrah, 22 percent Malbec and 10 percent Petit Verdot. The four wines are elaborated separately and aged 14 months in oak barrels. Then all the separate wines are tasted, combined into the final blend, bottled, and aged in the bottle for another year. Paired with a grilled beef tenderloin medallion with Malbec pomace butter.

Kinién Malbec 2008: Their best Malbec, aged 18 months in new oak barrels and then aged at least another 18 months in the bottle. Also paired with the beef tenderloin.

We had a fantastic day and can't say enough good things about the tour, which was run by Ampora Wine Tours. We signed up for the group tour, but got lucky and it was just the two of us, our guide and a driver. Our guide was a trained sommelier who spoke perfect English and we enjoyed private tours and tastings at each of the wineries. It's pricey, but well worth it, and a million times better than the self-guided tour we did the next day in Maipu. If you are ever in Mendoza, take their tour. You won't regret it (we owe our friends Sean and Katie a big thanks for recommending Ampora to us).

- Steph