Argentine Wine 101 – Yes, There is More Than Malbec!
Ask a wine expert in Buenos Aires who the best person is to talk to about Argentine wine and they’ll probably recommend an Englishman!
We generally seek out locals when we want to learn something that is inherently ‘local’ in a place, but in Buenos Aires one name kept popping up, that of wine consultant, writer, and sommelier Nigel Tollerman.
Once we learned Nigel had studied at the Escuela Argentina de Sommeliers in Buenos Aires for his international sommelier diploma and wrote a thesis for his MBA on ‘Premium Wine Service in Buenos Aires’, we knew we had to make an exception and have a chat to Nigel.
When did you become passionate about wine?
It was gradually over time. There was no Eureka Moment. Although I became interested in wine after I finished an MA in Philosophy from the University of St Andrews, and every year, the more great wine I taste, the more I love it!
Why did you move to Buenos Aires?
I was looking for new challenges and a fun new place to live – somewhere with plenty of sun, wine-related opportunities, and a lively social life. That was back in early 2002.
So you set up 0800-VINO?
Yes. 0800-VINO is a retail and consultancy business. The retail part of the business is a personalised top-end wine service, with instant home delivery included, focussing on hard-to-find, limited edition, super-premium Argentine wines that one wouldn’t find in the supermarket or conventional wine stores that have more of a mass-market focus. The consultancy side is targeted at foreigners, investors, the restaurant trade, and wineries looking to expand their presence into the international marketplace.
We noticed a famous director’s name on the shelves in your cellar…
Francis is indeed a client of ours and we also store his wines in our cellar. We offer this service to anybody who loves their wines and doesn’t have their own cellar. When the client is in town, we deliver their wines to their doorstep in time for dinner!
What makes Argentine wines special?
The sheer variety of styles and distinctive terroirs, from Salta and Mendoza – which itself has a wide range of distinctive microclimates and terroirs – to Patagonia; the consistency in quality of Argentine wines, vintage after vintage, due to the almost perfect climactic conditions – a dud year across-the-board is unheard of; the concentration of fruit, colour, and tannins of the reds, plus the fact that they’re generally easy to drink and at the top-end have excellent ageing potential; they’re the best wines in the world to pair with a steak; the excellent price-quality relation; and we have the combined know-how here of many of the world’s top oenologists who’ve helped the local industry develop leaps and bounds in the international marketplace, such as Paul Hobbs and Michel Rolland, and their influence is plain to see in the quality of wines being produced.
What makes Malbec in particular special?
The same reasons… the way it matches so well with steaks, and the price-quality relation especially. Also, Malbec in Argentina, because of the distinctive terroirs it has grown in, has reached a depth of expression that hasn’t been possible anywhere else in the world.
What other grapes and regions would you recommend to visitors to Argentina?
Pinot Noir from Patagonia, especially Río Negro province; try some of the outstanding Pinot made by Bodega Chacra. The Torrontés white variety, grown with most success near Cafayate in Salta Province. It’s crisp, refreshing and aromatic, a great summer wine. And for excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s a must to visit the Luján de Cuyo subregion of Mendoza.
What are the best wineries and winemakers we should look out for?
The wines made by the brothers Durigutti (Hector and Pablo) are one of Argentina´s greatest successes in recent times, bursting with fruit, massively drinkable, and keenly priced. Look out for the Durigutti, Sur de los Andes, and Lamadrid brands. Another interesting winery is Tacuil in Salta province, making exceptional wines from the world´s highest vines, incredibly concentrated fruit, and lots of alcohol too. Another winery to look out for is Viña Cobos from Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, made with the expertise of the Californian Paul Hobbs, they make some of the continent´s best Cabernet Sauvignons, as well as top-notch Malbec.
Favourite wine bar in Buenos Aires?
For a city so renowned for its restaurant scene and nightlife, BA has surprisingly few wine bars. For decent Bordeaux or Burgundy I go to the Tree House in San Telmo, which is a members-only bar above the Gibraltar pub, which has plenty of old vintages of Carmelo Patti and Weinerts in their cellar and very good ‘old-school’ Argentine wines in a Gentleman’s club type setting.
Best place for wine tastings to learn more about Argentine wines, and meet other wine enthusiasts?
The many wine fairs held in Buenos Aires throughout the year, most notably the Vinos de Lujo fair held in the Alvear Hotel every November. Also the many tastings organised by wine stores which tend to attract an interesting mix of locals and foreigners. The Escuela Argentina de Sommeliers and CAVE (Centro Argentino de Vinos y Espirituosos) has interesting short introductory courses. Also, an interesting restaurant is Casa Coupage, which specialises in tastings of wine paired with different dishes. And of course at 0800-VINO we do private tastings, although we focus exclusively on the top-end of the market and really premium wines. In Mendoza, stay in Cavas Wine Lodge, an upmarket wine-themed lodge, and check out the excellent Vines of Mendoza tasting room.
Best wine shop?
0800-VINO of course!
Restaurant with most interesting Argentine wine list?
Parrilla Don Julio in Palermo Viejo. Great steaks, attentive service, and a superb wine list to pair with any imaginable cut of meat.
Best wine to match with a steak?
Depends on the cut. For a Bife de Chorizo (sirloin steak) I’d go for a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, such as Paul Hobbs’ Bramare Luján de Cuyo from Viña Cobos. For a Bife de Lomo (fillet steak) it’s got to be Malbec for me – a single vineyard Achával Ferrer from Mendoza if you’re feeling sophisticated, or a Yacochuya from Salta if I’m looking for something a bit more masculine.
Best wine for a picnic of empanadas in Palermo’s parks?
I’m a big fan of Argentine Bonarda, a real up-and-coming variety here in Argentina, eminently quaffable and the price is always right too. The top exponent is Hector Durigutti, a true master of the variety.
Best quaffer from the local supermarket?
Callia Alta from San Juan is cheap as chips, available everywhere, and just-about-quaffable – you can dilute with soda or ice cubes without feeling like you’ve commited a cardinal wine-sin. Otherwise for a few more pesos try the Carrascal from Weinert – a Bordeaux-style blend at a giveaway price.
Best wine souvenir of Buenos Aires?
WINES of course! At least until I’ve finished my own guidebook to Argentine Wines that I’m starting work on next year!
Best wine bottle to take home to drink now?
The Amalaya from Donald Hess’ Colomé winery in Salta, a distinctive blend of Malbec, Cabernet, Syrah and Tannat, all biodynamically produced, ready to drink, and exceptional value. Has never given me a hangover.
Best wine bottle to take home for the collector?
Viña Cobos Nico. Breathtakingly good wine.
And if travellers become addicted to Argentine wines?
Order through 0800-VINO of course!
Nigel invited us around to 0800-VINO for an Argentine wine tasting where the knowledgeable Cara took us through some stunning wines. (Nigel had to dash back to the UK for a friend’s wedding.) More on that later.
Anchorena 695, cnr Tucumán
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