Beyond the cavernous, candlelit stairs that lead from Av. Libertad in Buenos Aires's upscale Recoleta district into Gran Bar Danzon - quite possibly the world's sexiest wine bar - a beautiful seduction ensues. She emerges amid the exposed concrete walls and air ducts of this dark and sultry haunt of urban sophisticates and pounces on the uninitiated armed with a single weapon: the sweet element of surprise. Her name is Malbec.The sweltering allure of the tango and the ridiculously passionate and attractive population are both well-documented world contributions of the European-leaning Argentina. And now, thanks to $1.2 billion in European investments since the mid-'90s, Argentine wines - marketed with significantly less savvy (and pesos) than Chilean brands, though every bit as tasty - and their signature grape, Malbec, are finally making a startling impact on the palates of New World wine lovers.
Not only that, but the country's famed grass-fed pampas steer, loved the world over by carnivorous foodies, provides a pairing so intimately perfect, you'll often find yourself daydreaming of your next meal - which will inevitably appear before you on any visit to these seductive streets. Best of all, though, are the prices. Due to El Corralito, or "Little Fence" - the local term for 2001-02's knee-buckling financial crisis that began with the freezing of accounts and ended with an eventual 73 percent devaluation of the Argentine peso - the country remains an astounding bargain.
The country's wine industry is centered in and around Mendoza (a quick hour-and-a-half flight west from Buenos Aires) and Salta (which is two hours north by plane). A few days exploring the capital is the perfect way for vacationing oenophiles to start their trip.
As I take the first bite of my bife de lomo, a popular beef cut served at the traditional steak house El Trapiche, located in the trendy Palermo Hollywood district, I think to myself that I must have died and gone to heaven. Doused with chimichurri, a mouthwatering accompaniment of many variations, frequently made from parsley, garlic, hot peppers, bay leaves, oregano, basil, and vinegar, the dish could turn any vegetarian into a cattle farmer by meal's end.
Argentines actually eat more beef per capita than any other people in the world - nearly 40 pounds per person per year more than Americans - so any trip to the country is sure to be a diet killer (though Atkins would have been proud). The local populace obviously knows a good thing when it's got it and sees little reason to eat much else. One dinner at the right parrilla (Trapiche, La Brigada, La Cabaña - there are more than 10,000 to choose from) and you'll see little reason to argue.
That night, I lay my head down at Buenos Aires's newest and hippest digs, the Faena Hotel+Universe, where Philippe Starck has created an übermodern Imperial-style design hotel - it's dripping with sultry reds and rich blacks - inside a former grain warehouse in Puerto Madero Este. I fall asleep wondering: Can one survive on Malbec and beef alone?