Everyone needs a hobby. To give a random example, my Argentinian father-in-law likes to humiliate me in public. His favourite routine involves asking the staff at whatever restaurant we happen to be in, whether they wouldn’t mind bringing him a demijohn of vino patero, or foot-pressed wine – the secret, he will assure our suddenly frightened waiter, of his longevity (he’s pushing 80) and all-round lust for life. Upon hearing that the establishment’s cellar doesn’t stretch to such exotica, Horacio will shake his head in a so-this-is-where-society-is-heading kind of way and settle for a bottle of Valmont; a standard issue red which, once freighted with ice cubes and soothed with soda, looks and tastes like flat Tizer.
That’s not to say that my father-in-law doesn’t enjoy drinking Argentina wine – far from it. He knocks it back with every meal. It’s his other hobby. What he abhors is the stuff he regards as – I translate loosely, and adapt for family consumption – “wine nonsense”, such as sommeliers (“I can sniff my own cork, thank you”), decanters, pairing menus, and so on. All so much bourgeois claptrap.
“I have a simple method,” he will intone after the third glass of plonk. And he does. If it’s cold, he orders red. If it’s hot, he orders red and adds ice. If it’s fish, he orders white.
And he never orders fish.
It’s safe to say that most Argentinians of a certain age (over 12, say) share Horacio’s wine-view. (As, incidentally, do most French and Italian people, fussing over wine being largely an Anglo-Saxon affectation.) But that still leaves a significant – and growing – minority of diners who think before they drink, and who, when choosing a restaurant, give as much consideration to what they want from the cellar as to what they want from the kitchen.
Here are some of the best Buenos Aires restaurants whose attitude towards wine would, in one way or another, infuriate my father-in-law:
Duhau Restaurant & Vinoteca
This comfy, clubby restaurant in the Park Hyatt is one of the city’s best high-end wining and dining options. The wine list, which runs to 650 labels, is a kind of love letter to Argentina’s de facto national grape, Malbec. Adjoining the vinoteca is a temperature-controlled cheese room run by the hotel’s full-time Cheese Master – a desirable job title if ever there were one.
Tel: +54 11 5171 1234
Address: Avenida Alvear 1661, Buenos Aires
The exterior of Don Julio – Photograph by Krista
In the average Argentinian parrilla (steakhouse), red wine is the first thing you order and the last thing you worry about: sometimes the waiter will bring a pitcher of the house plonk to your table before you’ve even got your coat off. Don Julio is different. Owner Pablo, a wine obsessive, has created a list featuring everything from sub-AR$40 bargains to iconic AR$1,000-plus labels like Cobos Malbec.
Tel: +54 11 4831 9564
Address: Guatemala 4691 and Gurruchaga, Palermo Soho, Buenos Aires, Argentina
This word-of-mouth foodie fave had the smart idea of dividing its wine menu into styles –light whites, full-bodied reds, etc. – rather than labels. This makes it easier to match a wine with your food choice, and is a policy more places should adopt. You can also bring your own bottle (there is a AR$20 corkage charge, though).
Tel: +54 11 4922 9671
Address: Beauchef 1204, 1424 ciudad autonoma de Buenos Aires, Capital Federal, Argentina
Casa Coupage is a puertas cerradas or ‘closed door’ restaurant – in other words, someone else’s dining room. These let’s-put-the-show-on-right-here-style places are increasingly common in Buenos Aires, but Casa Coupage stands out for the quality of its seasonal five-course tasting menus in which each course is paired with a different wine. For something just as good but in English, join the communal throng at Casa Saltshaker, the home-restaurant of displaced New Yorker and puertas cerradas pioneer Dan Perlman.
Tel: +54 11 4833 6354
Address: Güemes 4382 1 piso por escalera, 1425 Buenos Aires, Argentina
Inside La Brigada – Photograph by Krista
With his curly locks and drooping moustache, Hugo Chavarrieta looks like he should have played in midfield for Liverpool in the mid 1980s. Instead, fate decreed he should end up as one of Argentina’s greatest grill-masters and the owner of this, one of Buenos Aires’s most storied parrillas. Hugo is a wine buff as well as a steak baron and has put together a list that includes most of the country’s top brands.
Tel: +54 11 4361 5557
Address: Estados Unidos 465, 1101 Ciudad De Buenos Aires, Argentina
Meal at Casa Cruz – Photograph by Krista
I have mixed feelings about this restaurant, as I do about any business that has an ‘our philosophy’ page on its website. But Casa Cruz’s hit-and-miss menu is balanced out by its gorgeous interior design (this remains one of the foxiest spaces in Buenos Aires), the centrepiece of which is a floor-to-ceiling wine rack housing 300 well-selected labels.
Tel: +54 11 4833 1112
Address: Uriarte 1658, C1414DAR Buenos Aires, Argentina
Have I missed any of your favourite places to wine and dine? Drop me a comment below and let me know.
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