The wine-ding road (3)

Peek through the porthole at Aldo's wine tasting.
Peek through the porthole at Aldo’s wine tasting.
It might feel as if I’m hopping, even skipping, back and forth across Argentina, but trust me – it is no mean feat backseat driving 1,100 km to Mendoza. That’s right, another trip to the wild west, another chauffeur to hold me steady around the vineyards. In fact this time (and the wineries were close to bursting during the six-day Easter break) I didn’t get to half as many bodegas as I’d have liked.

Taking to a two-wheel friend in Chacras de Coria, a leafy area within the more well-known Lujan de Cuyo, offerings are diverse. On the outskirts, you’ll find Carmelo Patti, a small boutique and seemingly ramshackle winery attended by the owner himself.

Although Carmelo doesn’t own any vineyards himself, his relationship with local growers is extremely close, and his wine-making process very hands on. Not to be passed up, his wines are much lauded and it’s worth stopping by for a chat and a glass with the winemaker himself. Tasting is free.

A more elaborate operation is French-owned Alta Vista, home to Le Parc, a stunning garden where wine-fuelled picnics are served under perky gazebos. A winery tour is included as is a three-glass tasting for 45 pesos. Upgrade to a glass of the top range for an extra 50 pesos.

Other stop-offs included Weinert, whose tasting takes place among the 8,000-litre casks in the basement for a nominal 10 pesos, and Gimenez Riili in Valle de Uco. A more upmarket affair with an Andean view, 80 pesos includes five wines plus tapas. At 80km from the city of Mendoza, needless to say I didn’t cycle there.

But back in Buenos Aires, poor Buenos Aires and the province that has taken a pounding from Mother Nature this past week, where can tasting time continue? For a 90-minute dip into boutique bouquets, English-only speakers can book into Anuva Wine, while 0800 VINO’s cellar sessions often blend Spanish and English. The Vinoteca at the Park Hyatt also offers top-end tastings.

But three others have led me into temptation of late. None is especially new, but each one of this trio will cater to your basic, mid-range or more advanced wine needs.

La Cava Jufré (Jufré 201), a wine bar nestling on a Villa Crespo corner that is run by Lito Galeano, ostensibly concentrates on offering the sacred grape although there is a short menu that includes delicious leek-and-mushroom empanadas.

This busy wine store does hold monthly tastings (check its Facebook page for updates as the last one was in December and cost a reasonable 50 pesos), but the real fun is choosing your own cépage from the wine tree.

La Cava is the kind of spot where you’ll share your bottle with the people on the next table, inadvertently creating your own tasting session. A wine bar that brings drinkers together thanks to its cosy ambience, friendly and knowledgeable host and ample selection of top vins, it’s little wonder that La Cava will turn eight later this year.

Lito’s cellar includes high-end and boutique bottles, such as the aforementioned Gimenez Riili or Las Arcas de Tolombón from the more obscure Tucumán province, and the similarity of plucking a full bottle as if it were a bunch of grapes straight from the vine is not lost.

Hidden inside a delicatessen in Palermo lies a mezzanine, the site of your tastingtr. This gourmet food store belongs to Taninos Vinoteca (Araoz 1227), where weekly tastings are held. Shield your eyes from the array of cured meats and semi-hard cheese as you clamber the stairs. There, an elaborate feast taken straight from the coolers downstairs awaits. It’s hard not to dive straight in and ruin a clean palette, but Taninos is a fun tasting, rather than a serious one – although some may spit rather than swallow, denoting otherwise.

A five-wine blind tasting is the order of the evening, and everyone is encouraged to speak their mind about smoky noses or black cherry mouths, and even guess the price. Ah, the satisfaction of correctly picking the grape and region!

Gathering around a picada to try out wines averaging the 80-peso mark is my idea of a good time, and it was a substantial and tasting cheese-n-meat board. For 110 pesos, Taninos’ tasting is great value, top-ups are liberal and as is the norm, the bottles of the day are on offer.

It’s only natural that Aldo’s Vinoteca y Restorán (Moreno 372) offers tastings in its glorious Monserrat space. With sommelier Aldo Graziani’s name above the door, the idea is to eat, live and breathe wine – and you can do so in the private dining room decorated by stunning stored vintages rather than works of art.

Tuesday is taste day and there is a more serious element than at Taninos or La Cava given that events are usually led by a specific winery – and most attendees use their spitter. In fact later this month, enologist Matias Michelini (winemaking consultant for Zorzal Vineyards among others) will be leading a sensory session, aimed at wine buffs with some prior knowledge.

With an emphasis on five higher end wines tipping the 100-peso mark, you could dip into Fabre Montmayour, El Porvenir de los Andes or Del Desierto from La Pampa; Aldo’s changes the bodega weekly. Although the seated group encompasses around 24 mouths – meaning there is little chance to proffer opinion – you’ll be in expert hands that will help nudge your palette up the learning curve. For 100 pesos, a small picada at the end is included and if Aldo is around, he might even drop in to impart some wisdom.

From the Buenos Aires Herald, April 7, 2013.

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