Our four sommeliers select the food and wine matches from their trip that really set the Argentine heather alight. David Williams reports
When you’re thinking of food matches for Argentine wine, your thoughts inevitably turn to the big and the juicy, whether that’s the wine (Malbec) or the food (steak). That’s fair enough. After all, it’s a proven classic combination.
But, as our group of restaurateurs and sommeliers quite quickly discovered while they ate their way around some of the country’s best restaurants and winery kitchens, Argentina’s wines are so much more than one-trick, Gaucho-mounted, ponies.
This was certainly Jo Eames’ experience. Eames, the wine buyer for the Peach Pub Company, lists a Malbec by the glass in all of her pubs specifically for that ‘Malbec and steak’ moment. But beyond Malbec and moo, what else inspired our sommeliers during their
week in Argentina?
Jo Eames, wine buyer, Peach Pub Company
Eames’ favourite food-and-wine moments of the trip didn’t involve Malbec, or even other red varieties. ‘We had a Petit Manseng dessert wine with a plate of exotic and temperate fruits and a coconut ice cream that was a moment of pure brilliance,’ she says. ‘The wine itself was absolutely complex and stunning, and quite unusual – it was hard to break down what flavours there were when it was on its own in the glass. Then the plate of fruit arrived and it seemed like a physical representation of all the flavours in the glass. The ice cream was a brilliantly mad touch in the middle – it brought the flavours of the wine and the dish together.’
Eames also rates the food-matching potential of Torrontés, although she’s no great fan of the way it is most commonly paired in Argentina. ‘They tend to put it with very salty things, like empanadas, which I think is more of a tradition thing. It’s perfectly valid, but if you were starting out afresh, I’m not sure that’s what you’d put it with,’ she explains. Instead, she suggested seafood or light-flavoured fish, such as whitebait.
Tim Gould, manager, Hawksmoor
For Gould, a combination of rabbit with beetroot purée alongside a reserve Malbec was the most exciting match. ‘The sauce added a bit of sweetness that matched pretty much perfectly with the long sweet finish of the Malbec. It was a great match,’ he concludes.
That sweetness of fruit is also the reason Gould reckons Malbec works so well with the steaks he serves back in the UK, and of which we tried surprisingly few in Argentina. ‘The bitterness of the char doesn’t marry well with more tannic or bitter wines like you find with Bordeaux,’ Gould says. ‘The hotter climate wines, such as southern Rhône blends, New World Cabs and Malbec, with their sweeter finish, work much better.’
Loic Avril, sommelier, The Fat Duck
The ‘what grows together, goes together’ idea rather fell down with Avril’s food match of the trip. We certainly didn’t spot any large marine fish languishing in the vineyards of Mendoza or Salta. But Avril, a sommelier at The Fat Duck, was pretty impressed all the same by the combination of a top-flight Malbec with black-pepper smoked tuna served at the Buenos Aires Hyatt.
‘The wine had very smooth tannins and the pepper of the dish brought out the pepperiness of the Malbec,’ he explains. ‘There was also high acidity in the wine, and a good finish; the match had a great balance between acidity, flavour and texture.’
Joseph Rorke, sommelier, Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons
Rorke is in the Eames camp regarding Torrontés, believing it will work well with light salads although he counsels caution. ‘With Torrontés, it’s got such a lovely, fragrant, light character, and you don’t want to lose that. I wonder if it’s not more of an aperitif wine?’ he muses.
Rorke was more impressed by an unusual blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Riesling, which paired superbly well with a dish of trout from Malargüe (in the south-west of Mendoza province) with crispy pistachio and herbs on mashed potatoes and dried ham chips. The pairing was sampled in a winery kitchen.
‘There were capers in there, which added a nice fresh acidity, and there was also a chutney which I was surprised to see on the side of a trout dish, but in the right quantities on a fork it went perfectly with the wine. It was really great food and wine matching.’
Generally speaking, however, Rorke believes ‘Malbec is absolutely a food wine’, and he was particularly taken by a paring of simply grilled duck with a reserve Malbec. ‘The duck had come straight from the lake nearby the winery, and it was a great example of what someone said at the table: “What grows together, goes together”.’
Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – November / December 2009