Celebrating Malbec World Day with a Big Mac

written by Michael Oudyn

The second annual Malbec World Day was celebrated on April 17. “One global superstar” was the slogan.

In a related story “Big Mac with Malbec” is McDonald’s latest value meal. You get a Big Mac, a beef empanada, and some Argentine red made from the Malbec grape. This innovation is probably NOT coming soon to an outlet near you.  Unless, of course, you are in Mendoza, the epi-center of the Argentina’s wine industry, where this burger-with-wine pilot is being launched during national Wine-Harvest Festival.

Malbec is the obvious choice of grape. Still going nowhere fast in its native Bordeaux and Loire, Malbec has adapted fabulously to the semi-desert, mineral soils, and high altitudes of Mendoza since it arrived in 1853 and is now Argentina’s signature export grape, like Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.  And it has achieved Argentina’s ultimate seal approval; it is one of only five food stuffs declared “Patrimonio cultural alimentario, and gastronomico argentino”.  This poor immigrant, “the French grape,” has come a long way.

Mendoza McDonald’s is pushing quality and “eating locally.”  The burgers and empanadas are made from prime Argentine Angus beef, which as any Argentinian will tell you is the best in the world.  Other featured “sabores mendocinos” (tastes of Mendoza) are local-favorite oregano bread, local onions, and globs of mayonnaise made with top quality olive oil.   And Malbec’s antioxidants are said to be among the most powerful of all red wine.  This subliminal health message is not a bad idea considering the suspicion that the famous “Big Mac attack” may just be on your heart.

Well, I wanted to check this special out.  But flying to Mendoza just isn’t practical.  But how about a virtual “Big Mac and Malbec” right here in Barcelona. Friends Ana Marin and Lander Muruaga were game, but the waiters at local Argentine restaurant “Que bueno que viniste” seemed a little skeptical at first.  Especially about smuggling in an authentic Big Mac from the Ramblas for a burger taste-off.  But, they came around; Tuesday is a slow night, after all.

The warm-up round:  beef empanadas, another of the five consecrated food stuffs,  with top-of-the line 2009 Malbec, Luigi Bosca from the heart of Mendoza. The empanadas were a little spicy for the Spanish palette, but I thought they were superb and great with the easy-drinking vino tinto.

The main event: authentic Big Mac versus the Que bueno que viniste house-special burger from grandmother’s authentic Argentine recipe, washed down with the rest of the Luigi Bosca and then finished off with a 2010 Neuquen, a Malbec from the emerging wine area of Patagonia.

In this corner, the Big Mac:

 Appearance: Ana jots down “Puaj” which I think means “not good” in Mexican.  “Flat and thin” says Lander.

On the nose: “Dead” and  “a slight whiff of cardboard.”

In the mouth: More cardboard and “tired cow.”

After-taste: “Dead beast” and the flashback of “an afternoon with my nephews.”

With the Malbecs: “Great improvement; with the wine the burger just disappears.”

In this corner: the house special.

Appearance: “Lively red, great.”

On the nose: Spices, cheese, and especially onions.

In the mouth: “More liquid, less straight meat” and “angel flavor”.

After-taste:  “Lots of spice, really nice.”

Unanimous winner.  The house burger.  “Had a sense of being alive, at least once.” The Big Mac? “Doubts if it’s really meat.”

O.K., so the fight was fixed.  So Big Mac never had a chance: it was fast food, did not have home-court advantage, and was cheaper.  And there were no Mendoza onions.  No oregano bread. No olive mayonnaise. So sue me, McDonald’s!

And the wine?  Well, my fellow tasters were Malbec virgins.  They were vaguely aware that Argentina made wine but had never actually drunk any of the stuff.  Just like the Italians or the French or citizens of any other self-respecting European wine area, no Spaniard drinks anything from outside their own borders, especially from the New World.  But as the night progressed unspoken skepticism was replaced by palpable relief which morphed into drink-it-down enjoyment. The Malbecs lived up to their reputations as crowd pleasers. Pricey top-of-the line 2010 Luigi Bosca was the big hit. Smooth and great with the meat.  The Neuquen was quite a good quaff and actually giving off a bit of  plum, banana, and wood according to one taster.

Burgers and red wine?  Red wine instead of beer? A no-brainer. Give it a try at your next cook-out. Big Mac and Malbec in Mendoza?  Maybe next year.  After all National Geographic rates the Mendoza Harvest Festival  as one of the five biggest festivals in the world, right alongside Carnaval in Brazil.  With local ambience, better beef, local onions, oregano buns, all in situ?  I’ll give it a fair shake.

And let’s give McDonald’s their due.  They are perfect chameleons when expanding overseas. They make good ole American burgers out of lamb in India, the land of the sacred cow. They put raw fish on the menu in Peru.  So, they can certainly replace fries with empanadas and chocolate shakes with vino tinto in Argentina.  I remember a McDonald’s just downstairs from my Plaza Real flat in Barcelona in the early 70’s. They served up the all-American three-course meal: burger, fries, and a rum and coke, the “Cuba libre.”  No doubt to warm the patriotic hearts of the American sailors who haunted the many neighborhood establishments seeking pleasant conversation with the attractive young ladies who worked behind the bars.

2 Responses to “Celebrating Malbec World Day with a Big Mac”

  1. BAD BUCKLIN Says:

    Enough to make a teetotaling yvegetarian hungry! The best steak I ever had was @ an Argentine. Restaurant. In Barcelona

  2. michael oudyn Says:

    The Argentines do love their meat, and they do make it good.

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