Some fair wine

You know that spring is in the air —and it certainly excelled itself on Wednesday what with that luxurious 25-degree heat — when the annual Vinos & Bodegas wine fair starts popping corks.

Although there are plenty of sommeliers, hotels and wine stores which can tantalize your taste buds all 12 months of the year in Buenos Aires, the urge to try a variety of rosés, among other wines, is a sign of warmer things to come.

Just last night the Wine Tour Urbano did exactly as it says on the tin and kicked off its first street tasting extravaganza in the heart of Palermo Soho, while the traveller‘s bible Time Out is set to launch its own drink ‘n walk tour next month. After the winter we’ve just had, no one is going on an outdoor tasting, now matter how large the glass.

Despite the 100-peso entry fee complete with tasting glass which is only valid for one session, La Rural filled up with more than 33,000 oenophiles over four days, all eager to try some Argentine cépages, unfamiliar or otherwise — some rather keener than others to get round all 70 stands. Trying out (and remembering to spit) 70 wines is near impossible, although I definitely saw a few people lurching about who had had a good stab at doing so on that first evening.

Back in April, I wound my way from north to south on the Salta and Mendoza Wine Trail, and the commuter belt opened up by Aerolineas Argentina a year ago, linking prime tourist destinations such as Iguazú with Ushuaia and erasing the need to connect in Buenos Aires, must have surely helped to increase the Trail’s popularity.

Over the course of a week, I must have tried more than 100 varieties at boutique and mass-producing bodegas, but one day stands out in my mind in particular when I worked my way through two dozen wines at five wineries. Starting bright-eyed and bushy-tailed one morning at Bodegas Renacer in Luján de Cuyo, the day ended full circle in that same area 24 glasses and a lot of squiggly handwriting later at the glorious Tapiz winery, complete with olive oil tasting and dinner for good measure.

As I tucked into some innovative regional cuisine, my palette simply couldn’t handle any more grape juice which had been selected by Ernesto Catena’s former winemaker and Tapiz’s current guru Fabian Valenzuela — I could barely bring myself to try its Decanter award-winning 2010 Torrontés — and my throat sealed itself shut. Never thought I’d see myself write that down…

Let’s return to Palermo in the spring. My heart beat a little faster when I found Catamarca had some goodies to taste. A quick chat with Guillermo from a producers’ co-operative revealed that the province’s market share is a mere three percent. “If that,” he added rather bitterly, and a verbal attack on the local government’s inability to support winemakers ensued.

A creamy Malbec from the La Riojana bodega captivated me long enough to listen to Guillermo’s many frustrations, and it certainly opened my eyes to tasting wines from a height which aren’t necessarily from Salta.

Some organic wines also made me emotional as it can be a mission to source such products. It was good to see it holding its own among the gimmicky pouring girls sporting giant eyelashes that God did not give them.
Although I can’t remember much about last year’s Vinos & Bodegas, given that I was working on the assumption I had to gulp down everything, American tour guide Chance Miller could, fortunately.

He says: “It was much easier to get around than at the Cuisine & Vins event. There were better wines than last year. Often you had to stick around at a stand and try everything before they’d let you try the good stuff. Then there was the extra level of ‘good stuff’ that you only got to sample if the server at a stand filled out a voucher and gave it to you.” News to me….

Regular readers will be thrilled to find out that this time round I managed to dump at least three awful Malbecs, thereby guaranteeing a reliable event comparison come 2012.

First published in the Buenos Aires Herald on September 25, 2011

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