More than a Malbec: Matching Argentine wines with food


There’s more to dining out in Argentina than rare steak and big reds. Our sommeliers pick out some of the food and wine matches that caught the imagination on their recent trip

Throughout the course of their travels in Buenos Aires and Mendoza, our team of sommeliers sampled a range of dishes, always on the lookout for attractive matches with local wines.

The diversity of the cuisine on offer in the country was striking – much like the wine industry, there are very good things happening in culinary circles in Argentina. While steak is ubiquitous, and for good reason, the team had plenty of varied dishes throughout the trip to stave off any potential meat-based monotony.

Fish was a particular highlight and, like the traditional dishes tasted along the way, it proved an ideal showcase for the food-friendly white wines that are being produced in the country.

Some pairings worked better than others, but all highlighted interesting aspects of the wine, the local food and the process of matching them.

Dish: Humita (sweetcorn paste with onion and bell peppers), with a pumpkin and carrot purée. Familia Zuccardi restaurant, Mendoza

Wine style: Chardonnay/Viognier, Mendoza

A simple but effective dish, based on a traditional recipe, and ‘a good food and wine match too’, suggested Matt Wilkin. With its freshness and distinct fruit, this style of wine proved an ideal foil for the light, spicy dish. As Christine Parkinson commented, ‘It’s a style that has enough body for the comforting, creamy corn, and a balancing freshness, and the lift of the Viognier is a nice counterpoint to the carrot purée.’

For Paolo Brammer, ‘the dish had an interesting creamy texture and a sweet character combined with a touch of pepper that highlighted the ripe stone fruits of the wine’. He added that Torrontés, with its ‘typical delicate perfume and balance between ripe sweet fruit and acidity,’ would also have performed well with spicy local dishes such as this one.

Dish: Grilled watermelon and rocket salad with an orange reduction dressing.
Almacén del Sur, Maipú, Mendoza

Wine style: Late-harvest Viognier, Mendoza

A controversial dish that sparked a discussion on the art of matching wine with sweet food. ‘When matching food and wine in general, I don’t think you need to match similar flavours – it just becomes a smorgasbord,’ said Matt Wilkin. ‘But with structural elements like acidity and residual sugar, you do need to match.’ Brammer considered this the most interesting dish of the evening to match with wine, adding: ‘The wine always needs the same or greater residual sugar than the dish, in general.’ And wines like these are certainly being made in Argentina.

Dish: Black hake with beetroot purée, saffron and vanilla sauce. 
Park Hyatt, Buenos Aires

Wine style: Single vineyard, barrel-aged Chardonnay, Uco Valley, Mendoza

Initially, this rather delicate dish was a touch overwhelmed by what was a substantial Chardonnay from Tupangato with about five years age on it. But Robert Graves thought this was a versatile food wine style, and liked the match. ‘The toasty vanilla from the oak complemented the sauce, while the ripe fruit picked up the sweetness of the beetroot and creaminess of the fish,’ he said. Wilkin also liked the versatility of the style, saying, ‘If it’s a touch on the big side for this dish, there’s plenty else it would go well with – pork confit or a dish with cinnamon spice. Or an aged Comté.’

Interestingly, this match improved with time. The Chardonnay noticeably changed as its temperature increased, reducing the perception of oak, and making it more amenable to the hake.

Eating in the Andes: First principles

  • Use of altitude for varietals such as Chardonnay in Argentina, and Mendoza in particular, results in wines with levels of acidity that make them ideal for matching with food. These work particularly well with local seafood dishes.
  • On the other hand, Chardonnays from Argentina with some oak ageing offer a nice alternative for more robust dishes.
  • Torrontés, most notably those from the more northerly Salta, are ideal companions for an array of asian food, owing to their aromatic character and accompanying acidity.
  • Producers have been experimenting with an array of other varietals, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio for example, adding to the food-matching potential of white wines from Argentina.
  • For desserts, or even dishes with some sweetness, there are some interesting late harvest, or even fortified, Viogniers being produced in Argentina.

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – September / October 2009

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