This is a very exciting time for wine drinkers in Argentina. The popularity of Malbec abroad has led to a boom in oenotourism while a well matured industry is producing an ever wider variety of superbly made wines. Terroir and local expression are gaining emphasis and winemakers are testing their new found liberty, making comparative tastings of the country’s inky superstar more interesting with styles encompassing everything from classic, high alcohol monsters to fresh and fruit forward.
These days it is also common to talk of Patagonian Pinot and Merlot, Cabernet Franc from Valle de Uco, Syrah from San Juan and of course those surprisingly good Cabs. White wines are definitely not getting left behind with plenty of classic varietals shining in the shadow of Argentina’s new white hope, Torrontés.
Wine lists throughout Buenos Aires have been primped, preened and renewed by an enthusiastic and talented young generation of sommeliers and wine stores’ shelves are teetering under the weight of hundreds of labels. This new found variety is a blessing, but it is easy for a newcomer to get lost between the superb and the mediocre. To help get a handle on this new bounty, let’s look at some of the best options for wine tasting in Buenos Aires.
0800 Vinos is a wine cellar run by Nigel Tollerman, an Englishman who gave up a career in finance to come and study at the renowned Argentine School for Sommeliers. He has since become a firm part of the local wine landscape and has an astounding grasp on the wines, wineries and winemakers throughout the country. He holds irregular Thursday tastings in the cellar of his shop in Abasto which makes for a great atmosphere. The wines vary depending on the night’s theme or can be a selection from a certain winery; the tasting includes 6 to 8 wines and you’ll usually get a stunner or two. Excellent value if you are around for one of his tastings and great mix of serious tasting and socializing within the local expat network.
Price: ARG$ 50 (Nigel also offers private, personalized tastings. At US$500 for a group of up to 12 they are pricey but aimed at serious wine people who simply want to taste the very best and plumb the depths of his encyclopedic knowledge.)
Date / Time: Irregular. Thursday evening, consult his Facebook page for up to date info.
Address: Anchorena 695, corner Tucumán, Abasto
Aldo Graziani, former vice president of the Argentine Sommelier’s Association, recently opened a restaurant in San Telmo. Along with his legion of nine sommeliers, he selected the 500 wines available in his store by blind tasting and now offers them for sale alongside his menu at wine store prices. Aldos offers tastings of 3 wines, one white and two reds along with an appetizer for ARG$90. They have a great selection of wines by the glass and a daily happy hour between 17:00 and 20:30 where selected wines go for 2 for ARG$40. A great evening to head over and plunge into their wonderfully thorough wine list (and take advantage of their very well informed staff) is Wednesdays when they have live jazz in the evening between 19:00 and 21:00.
Date / Time: Any time during opening hours – 11:00 until 12:00 (01:00 Fir/Sat)
Address: Moreno 372, San Telmo
Very often the name Casa Coupage is closely followed by the phrase “the best wine and food experience in Buenos Aires.” Although they host a tasting once a month, timing is irregular and it will be tricky for a foreigner to get in as places are snapped up by passionate regulars. Worth trying though as they present three wines (after a welcome champagne) which are tasted blind and then later paired with three foods prepared by their in-house chef; an experience designed to be both educational and a sensorial journey. Another option is a flight of wines (3, 5 or 7) taken along with dinner or a nine course tasting menu in “a puertas cerradas” (closed door restaurant, a home turned discreet dining location). Hosts and owners Santiago and Inés along with two other staff – all professional sommeliers – wait the tables with impeccable unobtrusiveness but with their superb wine and food suggestions they create an unforgettable dining experience well worth the cost.
Price: Monthly tasting – ARG$180
Wine tasting flights: 3 – ARG$110 / 5 – ARG$150 / 7 – ARG$180
Tasting menu: ARG$ 310
Date / Time: Flexbile / Restaurant – Wed to Sat 20:30 until late
Address: Soler 5518, Palermo
Anuva is a highly professional outfit dedicated to easing tourists into the world of Argentine wine. In their beautifully lit and spacious loft in Palermo they receive groups of 2 to 30 for tastings of five wines with pairings. The staff (local or foreign trained sommeliers) present an entertaining and educational tasting, keeping it light, but with plenty of information up their sleeves if necessary. The wines offered are interesting; a good range of varietals from boutique producers and the food pairings well designed although basic. Pours are generous and the atmosphere well suited to groups of friends curios about Argentine wines. Tastings can be completely tailored to and level and preference, but make sure to make your arrangements well in advance.
Price: US$ 48
Date / Time: Flexible
Address: Near Córdoba and Scalabrini Ortiz, exact address provided upon confirmation of reservation.
Eno Garaje is a chain of four wine shops around the city, small and passionate about wine. They focus on boutique wines and delight in digging up something new for a passing customer. Chatting with Julio, the manager of the Palermo branch is like sitting down to a good wine chat with a mate – a very well informed mate. Their tastings are generally held on Thursdays and the wines are tasted blind. This is a little wine tasting gem frequented by industry people and young sommeliers. Tastings are free with the purchase of a bottle, but may be tricky for tourists because although many of the people can speak English, the evening will most likely be in Spanish.
Price: Free with the purchase of a bottle.
Date / Time: Thursdays, irregular, check their Facebook page
Address: Various locations
The Fierro hotel is a masterpiece boutique hotel created specifically with foodies in mind. It hosts the restaurant by chef Hernán Gipponi whose creative, playful and top quality menu has received almost unanimous praise. Once a week sommelier Martin Bruno gets creative with a superb wine list and puts together a tasting of five wines paired with exquisite tapas from the HG kitchen. (A pork and hummus with red pepper taster made an unforgettable pair with the Chardonnay he presented.) Martín presents a fascinating voyage through Argentina’s wines and he is a perfect host with impeccable knowledge.
Date / Time: Thursdays at 18:00
Address: Soler 5862, Palermo
An icon on the Buenos Aires wine landscape, Gran Bar Danzon has been serving up the best of Argentine wine for the last 14 years. A huge list of some 300 local wines is the focus of this stylish wine bar popular for its tapas and filling up for dinner every night – reservations are advised. Although they don’t offer tastings, they have 20 wines available to order by the glass which are rotated every season. The first two hours of every evening are happy hour and 2 glasses (which are changed fortnightly) go for ARG$56. Don’t miss out on their Patagonian oysters, huge and delicious and a perfect excuse to try out a couple of Argentina’s whites.
Price: Varies per glass
Date / Time: Daily from 19:00 till late. (From 20:00 weekends)
Address: Libertad 1161, Recoleta
Lo de Joaquin Alberdi is everything a wine shop should be. You walk in and someone hands you a glass of whatever happens to be open at that moment, and then you get down to business. The staff is great and the owner Joaquin is quite simply a legend. (Passing by the window of his store you may just find him on the other side of the glass, luring you inside with a grin and a glass of red.) Joaquin strives to invite customers into the world of wine; warm, human and romantic and will guide people through every step of a wine purchase, choosing according to your taste, when to open it and what to drink it with. They offer weekly tastings of wines from invited wineries (extremely popular with locals and again, a warning for non-Spanish speakers, you may get a little lost) or can arrange private tastings in the language of your choice and designed to fit your budget and tastes.
Price: Regular tastings: ARG$80 / Private: ARG$120 and up, depending on the wines chosen
Date / Time: Thursdays. Private tastings by reservation
Address: Jorge Luis Borges 1772, Palermo Soho
Another gem of a wine shop is Siete Spirits, little more than a nook off the street in Palermo, it is a little paradise for wine drinkers. An excellent and interesting selection of wines for sale (from seven continents, thus then name, but 80% local) is added to by Diego a young sommelier with top notch local and international knowledge. Every Thursday they open a wine for free tasting and have some great discounts on single bottles. (During the rest of the week these same discounts apply only to cases.)
Date / Time: Thursdays between 18:00 and 20:30
Address: Nicaragua 5942, Palermo Holleywood
Another refugee from corporate finance is Terroir owner Claudio Fontana. Set up in a beautiful old Palermo house, his cellar is extensive and focused almost exclusively on the very best wines and vintages the country has to offer. He has developed a client base of the city’s elite thanks to an extreme attention to detail and focus on 100% personalized service. Claudio is warm and expansive and with a grand passion for wines and the good things in life. His private tastings are generally restricted to regular clients as something of a respite from their high pressure life-styles, but tastings can be booked with him at any time. Customers simply pay for the bottles they want to try and he guides them through it. He will also design a tasting for lovers of fine wine but who find themselves a little lost in the Argentine landscape and as a firm advocate of wine and food pairing he can add an element of fine dining to the mix.
Price: Pay per bottle
Date / Time: Flexible
Address: Buschiazzo 3040, Palermo
Set in the lavish Palacio Duhau, Park Hyatt, the Vinoteca is something of a temple to Argentine wine. With over 500 labels to choose between (mostly Malbecs) sommelier Marcelo Rebolé has plenty of room to play and in combination with cheese master Maria Belén Franceconi they team up to offer a top class tasting. The cheeses are all locally sourced and paired with the wines that Rebolé has chosen for the tasting.
Price: 2 Wines – ARG$150 / 3 wines – ARG$180 / 4 wines 0- ARG$210
Date / Time: Flexible, daily 18:00 until late.
Address: Avenida Alvear 1661, Recoleta
Easily the most unique wine tasting offering in Buenos Aires, Wine Tour Urbano removes wine from its usual setting and makes it urban, social and fun. Ten to fifteen wineries are invited to present two wines in locations as varied as fashion boutiques, design stores, galleries or even historical monuments. Locations and wineries change every season, each season consisting of three events with distinct varietals as the focus. Some 100 – 150 participants gather at a meeting place and receive a map and an impressive crystal tasting glass. They are then set free to wander between tastings, each shop hosting one winery which is presented by someone with an in-depth knowledge of the wines and the industry in general. It makes a great social experience for a tourist and an unmissable opportunity to get a broad overview of Argentina’s wines.
Price: ARG$150 (Discounts for followers of their Facebook page and for participants who return with their glass.)
Date / Time: 3 Events every season, check the website for detailed info.
Greg de Villiers, a South African food photographer and travel writer, lives – for now – in Buenos Aires. To see more of his work, visit: gregdevilliers.com. To find out more about his life philosophy, sit yourself down in the most beautiful place you can imagine, with the best bottle of wine you can find, and drink it all; slowly, lovingly but all of it, down to the very. last. drop.