The marriage of Malbec and meat may be as famous as Maradona, but ask five leading Argentine sommeliers to champion any grape and its food pairing potential, and the results give lie to the versatility of Argentina’s diverse wine styles.
Alejandro Iglesias of Vinomanos
Alejandro Iglesias: Torrontés
Sommelier and consultant, Vinomanos
Torrontés is singular and unique, exclusively Argentine and unlike any other variety in the world.
Jasmine, lime and lemons, tropical fruits like pineapple, almost crystalline, plus a spicy note, refreshing, with intense acidity and a light body.
Nowadays there is a tendency to mature the Torrontés for long periods in barrels, which allow us to enjoy more complex and interesting styles of this wine.
Torrontés is a very versatile white wine, great as an aperitif, but perfectly adapted to different cuisines. It coexists in harmony with intense and hot flavors, working very well with Japanese, Chinese or Thai cuisine and the Peruvian ceviches or tiraditos are also fantastic parings. Mature goat cheeses are also good partners, as is charcuterie. The most traditional pairing for Torrontés are hot meat empanadas, typically from the North of Argentina, where some of the best examples of this variety come from.
A Perfect Pairing
As a challenge I propose Torrontés with some of the fatty cuts of Argentine asado (grill), like the sweetbreads, the chorizos and the black puddings. The fatty characteristics are perfectly matched by the acidity and character of Torrontés.
Nigel Tollerman of 0800-VINO
Nigel Tollerman: Chardonnay
Consultant & sommelier, 0800-VINO
Adaptable and capable of greatness, Chardonnay can be cultivated in diverse microclimates and terroirs and vinified in a wide range of styles, with or without oak.
As Argentina has such a diversity of terroirs it’s hard to pinpoint a particular Argentine style, but one could generalize as having generous, tropical-leaning fruit and being extremely adaptable to barrel ageing.
Chardonnay is a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc, and its name has been linked to a village in the Macon region of Burgundy, and is derived from Cardonnacum, meaning “place of chardons or thistles”.
It depends to a degree whether the Chardonnay is oaked or unoaked. A lightly oaked, tropical fruit-forward Argentine Chardonnay from Luján de Cuyo or Patagonia would pair well with roasted or marinated grilled chicken and vegetables, or a pasta dish with a creamy sauce where the wine´s vanilla-y richness and creaminess is in harmony with the rich, creamy sauce.
A Perfect Pairing
My choice with an oakier wine would be roast chicken, cooked with a generous dollop of goose-fat, mixed herbs, sea-salt and a lemon or two inside, served with garlic roast potatoes. Again the richness of the Chardonnay complements the fatty richness of the dish and the oak stops its semi-charred crispiness from overpowering, while the lemon citrus pairs nicely with the tropical and citrus characteristics of the variety.
Paz Levinson of Unik
Paz Levinson: Bonarda
Consultant & sommelier, Unik (Buenos Aires) and Unico (Paris)
The second most widely planed red grape in Argentina (after Malbec), Bonarda is typically fresh and fruity and great to drink young, but it can be more serious and intense as winemakers unravel its full potential.
Expect aromas and flavours of sweet ripe raspberries, while darker fruits like blackberries are revealed in wines from higher altitude. Typically very fruity, intense, and sometimes showing spices like nutmeg or liquorice, Bonarda also has bright acidity and moderate tannins.
This variety has an Italian name but its origins are in France! It is actually the Corbeau from Savoie but adopted the name of Bonarda in an era of ampelographic confusions. Today it is called Bonarda Argentina because the characteristics are unique and it has adapted so well to the different Argentine terroirs.
The young Bonardas with nervous acidity and no oak match perfectly well with the morcillas (black puddings), which we eat during the asado before the meat. Bonardas are also an excellent choice for a pizza with tomato and arugula or pasta with “bolognesa”, the typical meat and tomato sauce.
A Perfect Pairing
At Unik, Buenos Aires, chef Fernando Hara prepares a grilled saddle of rabbit with homemade bacon, fresh pine mushrooms and organic polenta. This dish works very well with the beautiful acidity and moderate tannins of a medium bodied Bonarda. The rabbit meat is lean and doesn´t need a big and structured wine, while the aromas of the red and black fruits are a wonderful combination with the earthiness of the mushrooms and the slightly sweet polenta.
Agustina de Alba of Aramburu Restaurant
Augustina de Alba: Cabernet Sauvignon
Head sommelier, Aramburu Restaurant
Cabernet Sauvignon is known as King Cab, the conqueror! You can find Cabernet Sauvignon almost everywhere where the sun shines, from Bordeaux to Australia to California, but in Argentina it tends to be a deep, full-bodied variety because we have a lot of sun and altitude so it ripens very well.
Deep ruby red, fragrant with typical aromas and flavours of red bell pepper, black pepper, tobacco, leather, black fruits, it’s also a grape with loads of ageing potential.
Most of our top blends in Argentina are Malbec-Cabernet Sauvignon based, with the Cabernet giving longevity to the wine because it has a great acidity and structure.
Cabernet is a full-bodied grape with deep and round tannins, which help to refresh the palate when combined with fatty foods, so I would suggest pairing it with pork dishes and rich, winter-warming meat stews.
A Perfect Pairing
One of the matches I love to offer at Aramburu is Cabernet with smoked sirloin, crispy sweet potatoes, smoked potato cream and mushrooms. The fattiness of this cut of meat pairs so well with the tannins of the wine, the sweet potatoes enhance the fruit of the wine giving a sweet sensation in the mouth, while the mushroom add a complimentary earthy touch.
Andres Rosberg of HG Restaurant
Andres Rosberg: Malbec
President, Association of Argentine Sommeliers, HG Restaurant at Fierro Hotel
Malbec can be round and smooth, but the sweetness should not be confused with lack of seriousness, as it can be strict and firm as well. Noble, fair, and ready to be enjoyed today, it can also be counted on to last.
Argentina has very diverse terroirs, so Malbec can be bold and concentrated in Salta in the Northwest; plummy and rich in the Luján de Cuyo area or sharp, structured and with notes of violets and sour cherries in the Valle de Uco, both in Mendoza; or more delicate and with a red, bramble character in Patagonia.
Malbec was introduced to Argentina before the vineyards in its native Bordeaux were wiped out by the phylloxera plague during the nineteenth century and has been adapting to the Andes (without this bug) ever since.
Malbec can be very versatile. A number of months ago, to celebrate Malbec World Day on April 17th, I prepared an eight-course menu paired exclusively with it: we had sparkling Malbec, white Malbec, rosé of Malbec, three reds of different parts of Argentina, fortified Malbec for dessert, and even grappa of Malbec to finish! In general, however, Malbec is brilliant with our asados, but also works well with game, poultry, lamb, pork, pasta and hard cheeses. Fortified Malbec, like ports, is amazing with chocolate and dulce de leche based desserts, too!
A Perfect Pairing
At HG Restaurant at the Fierro Hotel in Buenos Aires, we like to keep it simple. The best Malbecs are best enjoyed over a grass-fed sirloin steak, smoked with apple-tree wood, and served with a pinch of sea-salt from the province of Chubut in Patagonia…
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5 responses to “‘Take 5’ Food & Wine Pairings from Top Argentine Sommeliers”
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I plan to visit Argentina in the near future and would appreciate suggestions. Discovering Malbecs. Where to eat, plan to visit vineyards. Best tour operator to get me out of the tourist crowd.
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