Steak and Identity

Drinks: Wines
Other: Venues

Themed food-and-wine evenings can be a great way to sell Argentinian wine… and pack out your venue at the same time. Chris Losh talks to five places about what they did and why it worked

Jo Eames, co-owner, Peach Pubs

I was lucky enough to get out to Argentina 18 months ago. We did Mendoza and went up to Salta, which was an amazing place – a varied desert landscape, if you can imagine that: from rock desert to cacti to sandstone. It was incredibly empty too.

We tried around 300 wines during our few days in the country, and though there was Sauvignon Blanc, Torrontés, Italian red varietals and Cabernet blends, the majority were Malbec or Malbec blends.
Our pubs run a steak night once a week, and when I got back we ran a promotion pairing Argentinian wines with Argentinian beef at three of them. It’s unusual for us, because we usually try to buy British wherever possible, but we did it for one night a week over the course of a month at our pubs in Oxford, Warwick and Woburn.

We didn’t do it as a ‘food and wine package’, but the prices were quite well discounted: the steaks from £16.50 to £21 for fillet and wines all selling for £19.50. If I’d marked them up normally, the most expensive would have been over £30, which is right at our upper limit, so that was a pretty good deal.

And it was popular. We had people phoning ahead to book to make sure that they got exactly the right cut of steak. Across the three pubs we must have done around 600 covers over the month. 

From the wine side, the key to success seemed to be getting the staff on board. Two of the three teams really ‘got’ it and sold a lot of good wine, giving the customers a real benefit in the process.

We have an Argentinian Malbec by the glass now, which we didn’t have before. It’s very popular, and sales are continuing to grow. We sold 1,200 bottles of it over Christmas. The challenge for Argentina as a country will be to move beyond entry level Malbec. We don’t sell a lot of wine over £30.

David Vareille, head sommelier, Bar Boulud, Mandarin Oriental

On my Argentinian trip we spent time in Buenos Aires, Neuquén, Rio Negro and Mendoza. The country certainly wants to be more than a producer of supermarket Malbec. They’re trying all sorts of stuff. Malbec is dominant but some of the Pinots were outstanding, thanks to some great winemakers.

When I was at the Bleeding Heart, we ran an Argentinian evening during London Restaurant Festival, offering our usual à la carte menu, with the addition of Argentinian options. We backed this up with 10 different reds and three whites from the country; some we already had on our list, others we got in, and half of the latter stayed on afterwards – it was a good way to increase our Argentinian representation.

I was in love with those wines, and it was a great way to share what I had learned in Argentina with our customers. I’d like to do something similar at Bar Boulud, but it’s currently top secret, and if I told you what my plans are I’d have to kill you!

Paulo Brammer, group buyer, ETM Group

I went out to Mendoza and San Juan with Wines of Argentina. It was a terrific trip, and it was great to see how open-minded the winemakers are. We’ve seen a lot of influence from the US market on Argentina’s wine style – a lot of oak and extraction – but overall what I tasted was great. I was looking specifically for a benchmark white between £5 and £7.50, as well as some reds with minerality and soil expression, and I found both.

During Restaurant Week we ran Argentinian nights at two of our eight pubs, The Botanist and The Gun. We picked a steak dish and suggested either Doña Paula Malbec or Shiraz/Viognier with it. We sold out both nights, doing 75 covers in The Botanist and 48 in The Gun, selling around seven cases of Argentinian wine in the process – way more than we would normally. The great thing was that we were selling the wines at £30 a bottle – way more than our usual average price, so the figures were great.
It probably helped that I really got the whole team behind it, explaining the country’s climate and the influence of altitude, and offering a free bottle to whoever sold the most wine.

I’ve seen a move upwards in Argentinian wine sales since. We used to have a basic Malbec on for £19 (£4.80 by the glass), but now we’ve moved it up to £30 (or £7.50 by the glass) and our sales are pretty much the same. There’s no reason that Argentina can’t sell more wines at this level, and the increasing versatility and flexibility of the country (with better whites and some lighter reds) means that you can easily match wines with a five course meal – it doesn’t just have to be about red meat. I’m definitely going to do a promotion again this year.

Stuart Holms, operations director, The Wells, Hampstead

We worked with Wines of Argentina to put together an Argentinian promotion during London Restaurant Week in 2009, and we were pretty happy with how it went.

We didn’t close the restaurant to our local customers, so it ran alongside the normal menu, but we offered a seafood starter, fillet steak and dessert, each with a glass of Torrontés, Malbec and dessert Malbec for £35. It was a pretty good price, so it’s not surprising that, looking at the figures, a lot of people went for it, even though our full menu was also available.

We took one case of each wine and sold most of it on the night. What we didn’t sell then, we just kept on the list and it sold through over the next month, so we had an extended Argentinian presence for a while.

Depending on how much help we could get from Wines of Argentina, we’d certainly look to repeat it. It was a really good event.

Clive Watson, operations director, Village London

Our company owns two pubs (we’re opening a third outlet this month), and a couple of years ago we did a promotion during London Restaurant Week to promote Argentinian food and wine. We had a whole selection of free food – fillet steaks, chocolate, dulce de leche and so on – and three new Argentinian wines. They didn’t come from our usual supplier – Wines of Argentina set them up for us.

Rather than recreate traditional Argentinian food and offer it matched with the specific wine as a package, we just used the country’s produce in our own menu, and then got our front of house team to recommend the wines. It was a pretty successful promotion. I’d guess that around a third of the covers sold that night were our Argentinian-inspired dishes, and the punters were certainly happy with it, not least because we were able to offer the food a lot cheaper than usual since Wines of Argentina managed to source the beef for free!

We didn’t keep any of the featured wines on our list after the event, because they came from a different supplier. We already use eight importers, so we weren’t looking to add to that, and we already have a good selection of wines from the country. But our punters are very positive about Argentinian wine.

Predominantly it’s reds, of course, (specifically Malbec) – particularly the fuller-bodied fruitier styles. But people aren’t scared of something a bit different either, and Torrontés is pretty popular, too. We’d definitely look at doing something similar again, but next time I’d prefer to be able to use our own suppliers; it’s a nuisance having to open an account up just for one night.

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