Change from 100: La Viña del Abasto

The three main courses and their saucy variations keep bills simple with just three prices.
Tipping a hat to salute Malbec World Day with a vertical tasting a few days ahead of the celebration, the venue to try the grape of the moment hosted by François Lurton was obvious: the French Club in Recoleta.

Fifth generation from a well-known French wine-making family, Lurton and his brother Jacques have moved substantial mountains in Argentina to make some great wines, starting off with their Bodega J&F Lurton winery in Vista Flores, as well as in Chile, Portugal, Spain and of course France.

This being my second vertical tasting — the first was a most intimate affair led by Federico Benegas Lynch who owns Bodegas Benegas, at which we tried out four versions of the Benegas Lynch Meritage blend from 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2007 — I find that my nose comes on in leaps and bounds when tasting vertically. As long as I am sitting down.

There comes a point I find, as an amateur drinker, where a standard wine-tasting aimed at tourists doesn’t offer much in terms of soaring up the learning curve, but vertical tastings allow a certain fine-tuning if the senses have already been awakened.

Mr. Benegas Lynch was keen for opinions on his blend, and all I could muster was a preference for the older vintage and that I didn’t have much time for the 2004.

Adamant that we tried his wines after they’d been oxygenated for at least an hour, 60 minutes was all that 2004 needed to lose its mineral taste and become something altogether more special. Give a dog a chance, I learnt that day, and not be so quick to pass judgement.

Although François Lurton is usurped in Ian Mount’s The Vineyard at the End of the World by his Frère Jacques — who made wine for a British supermarket at Nicolás Catena’s winery 20 years ago, as Mount recounts, which proved to be an educational and mutually beneficial experience for both Old and New World parties — no matter, he is mentioned several times in what is bound to become a new Bible for wine lovers.

While Bodega Piedra Negra, which the Lurton winery is now known as, has a fresh line in Pinot Grigio, never easy to get hold of in my mind, this vertical tasting was all about three Malbecs.

Named after the black stony soil that lies at the bottom of the Andes next to the wineland, Piedra Negra is drumming up excitement over its Malbec, a well-rounded, deep-purple wine, a classic in its grape category which uses 50 percent Argentine Malbec, 50 percent French Cot. Bringing together Old hands with a grape which has found its niche in the New World is obviously working out well for them, be sure to check it out if you have the chance.

So if all this vertical tasting took place ahead of Malbec World Day, just what was the poison of choice on April 17? Cheap and cheerful was the order, and it was consumed in Abasto.

Also tipping its hat, albeit rather accidentally, to honour the most popular grape planted to make
Argentina’s national beverage is La Viña del Abasto restaurant.

Extremely far removed from being a Peruvian eaterie despite its location, La Viña is a living tribute to the golden age of tango when the thrush still sang his way around the neighbourhood.

Actually, we were gagging for some ceviche that night and accidentally stumbled across this joint, after stumbling out of a gig. Given a choice between a packed restaurant opposite or Viña’s fluoro strip lighting, we went for the latter without rhyme or reason.

Some post-dinner research shows that food critic Fernando Vidal Buzzi is a fan, given that it made the cut of his restaurant guide, which makes it good enough for me. After being distracted and confused by the various wooden chickens sitting on shelves, the food explained itself.

Besides minutas, the menu essentially consists of three items: chivito, chicken and pasta. Of course, there are different sauces to accompany each one (verdeo, bolognese, four cheese), but what is remarkable is that the price is the same for each dish. A whole chivito kid is 90 pesos, a whole chicken 80 pesos and pasta for two 43 pesos.

Eager for a speedy turnaround, we went for mostaccioli a la scarparo, the oval metal dish overflowing.
A simple sauce of tomato, cream, garlic and onion, scarparo lures you into a false sense of dietary security given its tomato base. But it was so very tasty, and the little mustaches were the perfect companion to this delectable dish.

The service was also delightful — yes, by 11.45pm the waiter was keen to leave but he was charming with it, hurrying us along in a friendly way to order before the kitchen closed. And there is nothing like someone serving up food onto your plate — it’s rather intimate and shows the waitstaff has a certain affinity with the food.

We only tucked into wine given the nature of day, and it was a pretty rubbish yet drinkable San Telmo Malbec costing 32 pesos.

But if we’d stuck to soft drinks as is required on the “getting change from 100 pesos” mission at a dinner for two, we would have got 35 pesos back — enough, in fact to include a bottle of vino colapso.

La Viña del Abasto
San Luis 3007, Abasto
Tel: 4963-4890

Photo by Diego Kovacic

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