69, the magic number

AMALAYA Blanco 2013On a weekly basis, my knowledge is challenged by two pertinent questions bothering the randy and thirsty folk living in Buenos Aires. First, got any straight single friends? And second, what’s a good, cheap wine?

I’ve been considering the latter for some time, and it’s a question asked more frequently now that I’m in wine school.

But the reason it’s taken so long to come up with an exciting and acceptable shortlist is because I’ve been trying to establish a cost benchmark. Just how many half-decent bottles of plonk are there under 30 pesos? (A few.) Is it acceptable to take a carton to an asado? (Never.)

So in order to start a conversation with lecherous intent without breaking the budget, here are five wines for under 69 pesos, everyone’s favourite number.

This week, I gathered some boozers who like to dabble in wine but are relatively in the dark in general — their words. We sampled 13 wines, but no classic fruity Malbecs. After cunningly covering the labels with kitchen roll and tape so no one knew what was going down their throats, I then forced this motley cru (get it?) to take notes during the blind tasting. All wines came from my local crappy supermarket and cost less than 69 pesos.

And the aim? First, to shortlist these boozers’ five favourites suitable to take to a dinner party or a barbecue. And second, familiarize them with non-Malbec, thereby equipping them with a little knowledge that will lead them to woo over some unsuspecting soul and address question one.

A fusion of whites, rosés, reds. Here is my illustrious panel’s top five in no particular order, with comments from them all.

1. The wine: Bodega Amalaya 2013 white blend – 85% Torrontés, 15% Riesling. Calchaquí Valley, Salta. $55.
Sip tip: Great value, prize-winning white. The 2012 edition pleased the panel at the 2013 Argentina Wine Awards. This emblematic white grape comes from the heart of Torrontés terroir.
I say: Although this wine is officially a varietal given the percentage breakdown, it’s interesting for Riesling to partner up with Torrontés, as it isn’t a familiar grape in Argentina, and normally grows successfully in humid climes such as Alsace, rather than desert-dry Salta. I love the combo of floral Torrontés and minerally, fresh Riesling.
The panel says: “Very greeny-yellow colour. Sharp in the middle but less full in the finish, which I like. Tropical fruit, flowers – a sweet nose.”
Average score: 7 out of 10.

2. The wine: Bodega Salentein 2012 Portillo Rosé, Valle de Uco, Mendoza. 52 pesos.
Sip tip: This economical label has excellent pedigree and its grapes come from altitude-tastic Valle de Uco. Drink chilled, and mix and match attire to the hottest colour in wine this summer.
I say: Attractive strawberry and raspberry nose, a 100 percent Malbec.
The panel says: “Very drinkable, rounded. Eight out of 10. Lovely, pinky orange colour. Makes me think of summer afternoons and light cheeses.”
Average score: 7.5 out of 10.

3. The wine: Humberto Canale 2013 Marcus Merlot, Río Negro. 40 pesos.
Sip tip: The colder climate in the south is producing interesting wine, such as this young Merlot. Sturdy and robust, it will stand up well at a barbecue.
I say: Cheeky alternative to a Malbec, this has classic Patagonian fruits of the forest aromas that are then evident in the mouth. Surprisingly yummy.
The panel says: “Ruby red colour. Blackberry nose. It’s like a light Rioja. I’d have a beef salad with it. Acceptable.”
Average score: 6 out of 10.

4. The wine: Finca Las Moras 2013 Dadá Merlot, San Juan. 30 pesos.
Sip tip: Dadá is all over the place right now, with its self-styled “art wine” concept. Bargain price for a really young wine that’s been in contact with both French and American oak.
I say: Spicy and fruity in the nose, fruits of the forest have a marked presence, making this super drinkable.
The panel says: “A cinnamon or clove nose. Blackberry and raspberry mouth. Really pleasant.”
Average score: 7.5 out of 10.

5. Bodega Esmeralda 2013 Gran Rodas Petit Verdot, Rivadavia, Mendoza. 31 pesos.
Sip tip: Another Bordeaux grape less travelled in Argentina that has a delectable combo of forest fruits, spices and licorice.
I say: Petit Verdot is generally elegant and even this more economic one retains that reputation. Floral on the nose, young red fruits in the mouth.
The panel says: “Violet and red. Fresh, light, cherry nose. Smells like fresh grass. Jasmine scent. Very acidic.”
Average score: 6.5 out of 10.

Besides these top sips, I also want to throw a couple of other favourites into the mix. Using another grape that isn’t grown much in Argentina, Argento’s 2011 Pinot Grigio (45 pesos) is a refreshing lesson in tropical fruits and packed with pineapple and peach.

And if you’re headed to a brunch and are game on for Mimosas, pick up a bottle of Suter Extra Brut champaña. This beyond bargain box price of 23 pesos is ideal for mixing with orange juice, so take three bottles and make a day of it.

And as for the first question (“got any straight single friends?” dear wine-addled reader), the idea is this: simply rock up to your next party and with the most innocent of smiles accompanied by the cheekiest of winks, tell your object of desire: “I read about this wine – it cost less than 69 pesos, you know.” Wedding invites care of the Herald, thanks very much…

Buenos Aires Herald, November 3, 2013
With thanks to Gacs, Fork, Mr. Links, Chiara, Huge, Shop Hop and Bono.

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