Mendoza is the heart of Argentina’s wine country, and one of my favorite destinations in the country. On my recent trip south, though, I barely got out of Buenos Aires and, so, a tasting trip to vineyards and wineries was out of the question. I had to look elsewhere.
In principle, there’s no reason not to grow wine grapes in the vicinity of Buenos Aires – to the best of my knowledge the nearest commercial Argentine vineyard is in Sierra de la Ventana, 550 km to the southwest, but there is a substantial cluster of wineries in nearby Uruguay, just a short hop across the River Plate. In fact, if I recall correctly, vineyards used to form something of a greenbelt on the Argentine capital’s outskirts, until the military dictatorship of 1976-83 uprooted them for highways and suburban sprawl.
That said, there are plenty of places to sample Argentine wines in the city, without even having to hear it through the grapevine. One of those is the Bar du Marché (pictured above), in the Palermo Hollywood area, which purports to have 50 different wines by the glass. It’s a place to which this blog will return in the near future, but in a behind-the-scenes manner that its façade does not even hint at.
In early November, shortly after arriving in Buenos Aires, I described my experience at Vinos de Lujo as a “wine-tasting free-for-all” that left me more overwhelmed than enlightened. Later in the month, though, I was able to attend a more manageable tasting at Anuva Wines that I found far more satisfying.
Founded by US resident Daniel Karlin, Anuva (pictured above; the name comes from combining the indefinite English article “an” with “uva,” the Spanish word for grape) is about a 20-block walk from my own Palermo apartment. The inconspicuous streetside door – two Brazilians arrived late because they walked past the entrance without recognising it - opens onto a lengthy staircase that reaches a spacious tasting room that’s also suitable for more formal events. During a previous stay in the city, I had dined here at El Tejano, a “closed doors” restaurant that now operates its own venue for Texas-style barbecue nearby.
Anuva is not a restaurant, but it does offer tapas paired with a selection of five wines at each tasting. All its wines come not from high-profile Mendoza producers like Catena Zapata and Santa Julia, but from smaller, lesser-known wineries that reflect the industry’s geographical diversity, including vintages from the northwestern Andes around Cafayate and from the Patagonian province of Neuquén.
Our own tasting, beginning around 7 p.m., began with a sparkling wine from Viña Las Perdices, in the Agrelo district a short distance north of Mendoza. I’m personally not a fan of sparkling wines, but our sommelier, a fluent English-speaking Argentine named Florencia Campicelli, pointed out that small bubbles characterize the best and, by that standard, Las Perdices passed the exam.
The next sample, a Mairena Torrontés preceded by a cracker with fresh-sliced pear, basil and a walnut, was more to my liking. Torrontés is Argentina’s signature white grape (we almost always have some in the fridge) and, this one, from the high-altitude vineyards around Cafayate, was typically aromatic. I’d buy this one, but I’m not sure how objective I am, as I’d try almost any Torrontés, especially when complemented by raspberry and lemon sorbets (pictured below).
From there, we proceeded to the reds, starting with a San Gimignano Malbec aged six months in French and American oak. Malbec is my favorite red – we even named our beloved Alaskan malamute after it – and this Mendoza vintage is a worthy one. The tasting finished with two others– the Amauta IV blend of Malbec, Cabernet and Syrah from Bodega El Porvenir of Cafayate (the only winery of this bunch that I know personally) and a Mairena Bonarda from Mendoza. The Bonarda’s acquiring a certain notoriety among connoisseurs here, but it’s got a ways to go before it catches up with Malbec.
Throughout, we snacked on paired cold cuts and cheeses, plus a savoury empanada, and finished with a sample of bittersweet chocolate truffles. By the time we finished the two-hour tasting, I was more than satisfied and, despite the fact that this was never supposed to be dinner, it was all I needed for the night.
I’ve avoided sommelier-speak here, partly because I find it opaque and partly because I know more about wine tourism than I do about wine itself – I know what I like to drink, but I don’t presume to impose my tastes on others. Still, Anuva provides a useful introduction for wine-lovers just getting to know the options in Argentina.
Given the fact that the five wines and tapas cost US$52, it’s fair to mention that you could sample more for less at some wine bars and, at wineries, you might spend even less. Many Argentine wineries charge little or nothing for tours and tasting though, of course, you have to get to Mendoza, Cafayate or Chañar first.
Anuva, of course, wants to sell wine as well, and has a wine club that will ship two, three or four bottles per month to your US address. Even so, their tastings are sociable experiences, soft-sell events at which they will not pressure you to join.