MENDOZA – Huddled together in small groups, mentors rub backs and mop their wards’ brows, sommeliers easily distinguished from other revellers at a cocktail party thanks to perfectly pressed black suits and aprons. The tension and nerves crackled like an Andean electric storm around the Park Hyatt Mendoza hotel as 60 competitors from around the world chewed down cuticles, waiting to find out whether they’d earned one of 15 coveted places in the Contest of the Best Sommelier of the World Argentina 2016 semifinal.
In part five of The Real Argentina’s somms series, we meet Paz Levinson, the second of two Argentine sommeliers competing in the A.S.I. Concours du Meilleur Sommelier du Monde 2016 (A.S.I. Contest of the Best Sommelier of the World). Currently ranked number one in both the Americas and Argentina, and the only Argentine to qualify as an Advanced Sommelier from the UK’s Court of Master Sommeliers, Paz will be going for a titles hat-trick at the world championship, which is being held in Mendoza for the first time on 15-20 April 2016.
Sixty competitors, five days, one title; the world’s best sommelier.
Although the immediate thought is ‘football’ when mentioning Argentina and World Cup in the same breath, the world’s fifth-largest wine producer is about to host a very different championship next month: the 15th A.S.I. Concours du Meilleur Sommelier du Monde (Contest of the Best Sommelier of the World).
Few people beyond South American shores realise that Argentina is the fifth biggest wine producer in the world, making myriad varieties from vineyards that stretch from lofty Salta in the North West to the windswept river valleys of Patagonia in the south. From aromatic, spicy Torrontés to supple Pinot Noirs, by way of Viognier, Chardonnay, Cabernets Franc and Sauvingon, plus up-and-coming grapes such as Bonarda and Tempranillo, Argentina’s rich heritage of vines delivers a surprising wealth of styles.
In Mendoza, the grape harvest can start any time from the end of January and continue until mid-May, depending upon the varietal and wine a bodega intends to make. Many wineries used to be located in the city of Mendoza, but over the years they have dispersed in a bid to find new terroir, a move that has seen many wind their way south. I’ve travelled to the province three times since February and have compiled this collage of 2013’s harvest across some of the different vineyard areas of Mendoza.
San Juan province is a victim of Argentina’s embarrassment of riches. With so many better-known attractions on the tip of people’s tongues, it falls off the radar for most foreign tourists, which is a shame considering the caliber of its offerings. If you are feeling adventurous and want to see an under explored part of the country, a visit to San Juan can easily been tacked on to a trip to Mendoza. Here’s our guide to the hotspots.
It was at a 3,457 metre-high pass, somewhere way to the west of Salta city, after four hours on switchback, rubble-strewn dirt ‘roads’, that the extraordinary immensity of the Andean Alto-Plano really sank in. Admittedly the cocoa leaves that my native driver kept feeding me (for medicinal purposes) probably added to the sense of dizzying awe…
Juicy, brimming with fruit and generally packing a satisfying punch for your peso, Bonarda is emerging from the sideline as an easy-going alternative to Argentina’s flagship red Malbec. It’s perhaps no surprise. After all, the country is awash with the variety, this being the second most widely planted grape in the country.
Had the Americans put the democrat John Kerry in the White House instead of re-electing George Bush in 2004, things might have been very different. How different is impossible to say, but it certainly changed the life of Michael Evans, one of Kerry’s campaign managers. Desperate for a break after the election defeat, Evans bought a return ticket from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires. “I came literally for a vacation and just expected to be here a couple of weeks.” Eight years on, he’s still there.
As the second biggest wine region in Argentina, San Juan is the source of one in five bottles of Argentine wine and has around 50,000 hectares (120,000 acres) of vineyards. The first plantings were made by the Spanish soon after the city of San Juan de la Frontera was founded in 1562, and probably a few decades before vines spread further south. Its longest surviving winery…