It’s finally here! After three long months of wine-free gloom, we arrive in Argentina, home of the world’s best Malbec and plenty more Bacchanalian delights besides.
Wine: We’ve been greedily awaiting this moment like vultures circling a wounded wildebeest. Argentina’s wines are many and marvellous. They are also inexpensive as long as you’re changing your money on the blue market (read about how to do that in our upcoming blog Argentina: The Debrief).
The Malbec grape was brought to Argentina in the 19th century at the request of Argentine statesman Domingo Sarmiento. They’re still naming streets after the guy in Mendoza, where wine is such a big part of the culture that they even have fountains of the stuff.
The city of Mendoza is the beating red heart of wine country and its dry, hot and mountainous terrain makes for some incredible Malbecs. From here you can tour the traditional wine-making valleys of Lujan de Cuyo and Maipu, or the Uco Valley, which is globally renowned for the art of high-altitude wine-making. Check out our post on Mendoza wine tours here.
It would take a whole separate blog to go into the glory of Argentinian Malbecs but here are some of our faves, either from tastings (in which case potentially unaffordable to buy by the bottle!) or meals out:-
Alta Vista Premium (any year)
Domaine Bousquet Gran Reserva 2011
Pulmary’s Donaria Reserva 2008
Gimenez Riili Gran Familia 2014
Altos Las Hormigas 2011
Malbec isn’t the only red wine in town. You can find good Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Bonarda. And while red wine is dominant here, we fell in love with Torrontes, Argentina’s only native grape. It makes a delicious white wine, sometimes nicknamed ‘The Liar’ because it is very sweet and fruity on the nose (reminiscent of Gewurztraminers or Muscat) but crisp on the palate.
I was partial to Sol Fa Sol and the Sylvestra (pictured below), but Alta Vista also do a nice Torrontes.
Remember, if you’re in Mendoza, you mustn’t miss out on the fantastic wine tours, which you can do by bus or by bike, visiting beautiful wineries set in stunning scenery. Tastings are cheap and generous, while there are also great places to have lunch along the way too. We did no fewer than three tours while we were in town – read about them here.
One last thing to mention… Argentina is the only place we’ve ever been where you can buy wine by the pinguino. This is obviously an opportunity not to be missed.
Beer: The omnipresent local brew is Quilmes, nothing too special but a cut above the watery pilsners available in neighbouring Brazil.
However, there is a delightful range of craft lagers and ales as well. In Buenos Aires, the Antares restaurant and brewery serves up bar-snack style food with a large range of brews such as Stout, Porter, Koelsch and IPA (pronounced ‘eepa’ here).
But the real highlight for beer-lovers is Patagonia. This wild and beautiful region is home to some amazing small breweries churning out cracking cervezas artesanales.
For the most part, you’re offered a simple choice of rubia (meaning ‘blonde’ but really just a golden ale), roja (red/amber) or negra (bock). The quality varies greatly as some of these places are really small operations out in the middle of nowhere.
The El Bolson brewery in the hippy town of the same name has an incredible malty red ale that I absolutely fell in love with.
The Berlina cerveceria, in the small village of Colonia Suiza near Bariloche, is another winner.
If you find yourself in the trekking and back-country skiing mecca of El Chalten, way down in the south, there’s a wonderful little bar called La Vineria that has a huge range you should check out.
But I’ll reserve particular praise for the Manush bar and restaurant in Bariloche. Unlike Antares, you won’t find their stuff selling for top dollar in Buenos Aires supermarkets. I didn’t see it anywhere but in the bar itself but my God was it good. Their IPA is rich, powerful and smooth, erring on the right side of uber-hoppy. My favourite though, German lager fanatic that I am, was the Koelsch. Smoky but fresh, it was the best example of the style I’ve sampled outside the Ruhr.
Fernet: Very popular among locals, this is an incredibly bitter spirit usually drunk with full-fat Coke, presumably the only thing sweet enough to render it drinkable. I can see how it might be an acquired taste but when there’s Malbec and craft beer on offer, I can’t fathom why you’d opt for this.
Top tipple: It ought to be a Malbec oughtn’t it? But that Manush Koelsch lager won my heart. Name your price Manush, I’ll have that stuff shipped over by the boatload when I get home.
Gourmet’s choice: Alta Vista Reserve Malbec
Bubbling under: Sol Fa Sol Torrontes
What to slur drunkenly: ‘Las Malvinas son Argentinas’. They are literally never going to stop going on about this so you may as well join in.