Wines are like X-Factor contestants: some of them are good, some of them are crummy; the crummy ones are sometimes more popular than the good ones; and at the end of a Saturday night, you may feel like you’ve had too much of them.
However (and to drain the dregs from this analogy), it’s trickier to judge a wine than it is to judge a singer. While anyone can hurl jibes at a television screen, it takes a certain level of nerve and know-how to summon the sommelier to one’s table and tell them that the single-vineyard Malbec they recommended isn’t quite as well balanced in the mouth as one was hoping it would be.
Luckily, just as you don’t need to know the first thing about music to be a successful judge on a music reality show, so a few evenings (and afternoons too, if you like, though we can’t recommend mornings) spent at organised wine tastings can dramatically boost both your critical vocabulary and powers of discrimination.
Such events have proliferated in Buenos Aires over the past few years, and “attend a wine tasting” is now cropping up on tourists’ checklists just beneath “catch a tango show” and “eat most of a cow”.
Wine Tasting Venues in Buenos Aires
Daniel Karlin, whose company Anuva Wines has been in the vanguard of this trend since its founding in 2005, connects the current popularity of wine tastings in Buenos Aires with the growing penetration of Argentine wines in the global market:
“The wine tasting and wine export arms of our business complement one another,” Karlin says. “Looking deeper, you can credit the 2001–2002 economic crisis with the initiation of the Argentine wine boom. Once expensive Argentina became inexpensive, attracting foreign investment and star international winemakers. This led to a dramatic rise in the quality of wine produced in Argentina, generating international buzz and creating an environment for companies like mine to get started.”
Photo courtesy of Ashley Barnes via Anuva Wines.
Illustrating Karlin’s point, Anuva is growing. In January 2012 it moved into new premises – a gorgeous loft space – christened “Reserve” – in Palermo Viejo. Tastings, which are held twice a day, 365 days a year, follow a straightforward format: five wines, five tapas-style tasting dishes. (If that sounds like a non-excessive amount of booze, note that the English-speaking sommeliers who lead the tastings have the same attitude to top-ups as a friendly waitress in a neighbourhood coffee shop.) The wines, which Karlin describes as “hard to find, exclusive and interesting”, can be tailored to the requirements of each group but usually include labels from boutique bodegas such as Hom (whose sparkling wine kicks off most evenings), Carinae and Familia Blanco.
Where dedicated wine companies like Anuva have led, other enterprises that rely on the tourist dollar have followed. Scan the pinboard at a youth hostel and among the flyers for pub crawls and Spanish language exchanges, you’ll see one promoting a wine tasting. And at smarter properties with well-stocked cellars, such as the Fierro Hotel and Mansión Vitraux, guided tastings have an increasingly prominent position in the list of guest services.
Wine Tasting Tours in Buenos Aires
Even publishers are getting in on the act. Time Out Buenos Aires, whose Insiders’ Guide magazine is a kind of Baedeker for bobos, recently launched what it calls a “wine pilgrimage”. This tasting/tour hybrid is the brainchild of managing director Mark Rebindaine, who has essentially taken his own dream afternoon (“I’m naturally restless and have a penchant for a drop of wine,” he says) and packaged it for tourists. Under the guidance of a sommelier, punters are led around Palermo Viejo, dropping into various restaurants along the way to refuel on fine Argentine wines. These will vary according to the season – moving while sober is hard enough on a Buenos Aires summer day, let alone after five heavy Malbecs – but the most recent edition included an Antucura Pinot Noir, an Argento Pinot Grigio, an Andeluna Torrontés, and a Cruzat Larrain sparkling.
Photo courtesy of Time Out.
Such tastings are more than just booze-ups under controlled conditions. The best among them are educative, as well as epicurean. A sommelier like Nigel Tollerman, of 0800-VINO, who has probably spat out more wine in his life than Lindsay Lohan has swallowed, can use his expertise to help even the most clueless of punters understand the difference between a Malbec and a Cabernet, the importance of climate and terroir, the effect on the taste buds of acidity and tannins, and so forth. Absorbing such information isn’t essential to an appreciation of wine, but it will help you level-up from Abdul-esque sappiness (“you may be corked, but I still love you”) to Cowell-like conviction.
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