It might not yet enjoy the celebrated status of the mighty beefsteak or the tango, but Argentine winemaking is fast winning an international reputation for excellence. And while most travellers follow the Argentine grapevines to the bodegas (vineyards) of the Mendoza wine region in the sunbaked foothills of the Andes Mountains, cool, cosmopolitan Buenos Aires also offers some fabulous new opportunities for creative wine tasting.
According to the trade group Wines of Argentina, Argentine wines
are in vogue worldwide. The star varietal is malbec, a red wine made from the malbec
grape that is native to Bordeaux but actually thrives better in the
high-altitude terrain of Mendoza than anywhere else in the world. A decade
after first taking the wine world by storm in the early 2000s, when burgeoning
foreign investment sparked a boom in Argentina’s wine exports, malbec is as
synonymous with Argentina as zinfandel is with California or sauvignon blanc
with New Zealand.
There are exciting emerging wines too.
Torrontés, an aromatic varietal unique to Argentina, is tipped to be the
world’s next high-demand white wine. The torrontés from the evolving Cafayate wine
valley in northwest Argentina balances amazing floral aromas with zesty flavours
of citrus and tropical fruits. Bonarda (a fruity red) and pinot noir from the
cooler climes of northern Patagonia are also whispered about as the “next big
thing” by wine industry experts. Argentine wines, it seems, are on everybody’s
In 2011, Decanter
magazine awarded more International Wine of the Year trophies to Argentina
than any other country. In the same year, worldwide sales of torrontés, which
pairs beautifully with Asian-fusion cuisines and is winning popularity among young,
female wine drinkers, rose by an astonishing 30%, outpacing even Malbec.
“Argentine wines tick all the right boxes,” explained
Andrew Maidment from Wines of Argentina. “They share Old and New World
qualities; they’re fruity but have backbone. In the US people see Argentinean malbec
as similar to the great wines of the Napa and Sonoma valleys, but at half the
price. It has fallen quite beautifully into a sweet spot.”
Paradoxically, in the ultra-competitive UK
market, which is viewed as a barometer for the wider European market, Argentina
positions its wines upmarket. “They are incredibly popular in the London area
among high-spending professionals, the type of person interested in vacationing
in Argentina. There’s been an explosion of Argentine restaurants in London,
some 25 at the last count,” said Maidment.
In the UK, where sales of malbec rose by 40% in
2011, Argentine wines command the second-highest average price per bottle,
after New Zealand.
The secret is clearly out, and as Argentine
viticulture flourishes, savvy entrepreneurs from Buenos Aires are busy
uncorking the creative potential of the degustación
(wine tasting). Deliberately distancing themselves from the city’s slightly
stuffy hotel-and-wine-club circuit, these new ventures emphasise the fun,
informal elements of urban wine tasting.
Tour Urbano is an urban wine route that invites participants to discover
great wines at interesting locations in neighbourhoods around the city. For a
flat fee of 130 Argentinean pesos, tour-goers receive an Italian crystal wine
glass along with a map indicating each stop on the circuit. They can then set
off independently to discover the route at their own pace. At each location a
different bodega hosts a delicious tasting.
Wine Tour Urbano currently takes place in the
historic Monserrat district, offering tour participants the opportunity to
taste velvety pinot noirs by a Patagonian winery in the lantern-lit cloisters
of a 1700s Jesuit church or rich malbecs by a Mendoza bodega at a frescoed, 19th-century
pharmacy. In September, the tour will relocate to the ultra-hip Soho neighbourhood,
where a circuit of fashion and design boutiques will host tastings, giving shopping-and-wine
enthusiasts a chance to quaff lush varietals while browsing funky designer
Still in hip Soho, Autre Monde is an independent bookstore
and wine dealer that organises inventive tastings with wine prizes. These take
place at the store’s chic loft space, where a sommelier invites guests to guess
a single rogue malbec, say, amid a selection of syrah wines. Autre Monde is also
planning more creative tastings on philosophical and cinematic themes, such as
combining complex wines (pinot noir, for example) with a night of art-house
cinema (like 1970s American New Wave) and hosting a discussion on the joyful complexities
of both; or toying with the Kantian ideal of universalisation alongside a
tasting of cabernet sauvignon, a wine recognised for its structure and
in Abasto, an old tango neighbourhood, British sommelier Nigel Tollerman hosts
memorable tastings amid the oak barrels of his private cellar. Regular themed
events feature the best of Patagonian
high-altitude wines and the whites of Argentina, led by the rising star torrontés
and finishing with playful guesstimates as to the cost of each bottle.
In the upscale neighbourhood of Recoleta, Prado y Neptuno is a boutique cigar bar
that hosts cigar and wine pairings. It marries Cuban cigars with complex white
and sparkling wines, complementing the hot, smoky notes of rolled tobacco with
The article 'Creative wine tasting in Buenos Aires' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.