Two Argentine whites for the holidays

Although it’s freezing cold outside,( in Europe at any rate, I’m still sunning myself in South America) there’s always room for white wine, whether as an aperitif or something to go with a roast chicken dinner, white wine is a lovely choice. Pinot grigio is often the go-to drink when people are looking for a light white wine but I’ve discovered a lovely Torrontes from Terrazas de los Andes, an Argentine winery situated in the wine region of Mendoza. Terrazas de los Andes has been producing quality wines since the 1980’s and have turned their hand at making a fresh and fruity yet dry white wine. Torrontes one of the flagship varietals of Argentina along with Malbec and is a hybrid that is unique to Argentina. A cross of malvasia and criolla chica, a native grape of Argentina, it has proven itself to be a real winner of a wine from the vines of Argentina. The Terrazas Torrontes Reserva 2009 is fresh and clean, a great wine with lovely tropical fruit notes, full bodied with great acidity and balance, it was refreshingly dry, an elegant wine which would work on it’s own or with Asian cuisine. Thai dishes, Japanese tempura, ginger, shrimp, all of these popped to mind while I was drinking this wine. Another of Terrazas wines I really enjoyed was their 2009 Chardonnay. Terrazas de los Andes’ vineyards are situated in the Lujan de Cujo region of Mendoza and the chardonnay vineyards sit at 1200 meters. This is great for producing fresh wines. Too much sun and not enough time to cool down at night would result in wines that are flabby and lack freshness and acidity. Terrazas does everything to ensure that their chardonnays are crisp and clean including NOT letting them go through malo-lactic fermentation to preserve freshness, while still exhibiting the true expression of Argentine fruit. So what does a true Argentine chardonnay taste like according to Terrazas de los Andes? A crisp, clean wine, tropical fruit notes with...

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A pinot taste-off at The Vines of Mendoza

They always say, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. Last week I tried a rather anemic pinot noir from Mendoza, Argentina. I wondered if this was the best that Mendoza could do and vowed to try and find a Mendozan pinot noir with a bit more structure, body and flavour. Well, I succeeded, perhaps a little too successfully. I found myself at the bar of the tasting room of The Vines of Mendoza in the city centre with Emily Camblin, the VoM Director of Marketing and my drinking companion for the afternoon. We were there to have a bit of a taste off. I had come to Emily with my “problem” and challenged her to find me a pinot that was no wilting flower. I had come to the right place as The Vines of Mendoza is the only tasting room in all of South America. What also sets it apart from a run of the mill winery tasting room  is that they source their wines from all over Argentina. So, besides the ubiquitous malbec, there’s syrah and cabernet franc as well as pinot noir and malbec and plenty of boutique wineries represented amongst the bottles behind the counter. They even serve up wines from Brazil. Emily offered me a taste but I’ve had them in London and let’s just say, I’m not a fan. The idea behind Vines is to not only showcase the best that Argentina has to offer but also to do their bit for wine education. They offer wine by the glass and also by the flight with little mini-tutored tastings given by the very friendly, knowledgeable bi-lingual staff. The staff were extremely enthusiastic about their wines and couldn’t wait to tell me all about them. I felt right at home and probably would have spent the entire afternoon there talking through their flights but first, there were other, more important matters at hand – the pinots. “I’m sure you’ll find these pinots are not...

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I really wanted to like this wine…Padrillos, pinot noir from Mendoza

The pinot noir was not a hit. What a shame. My Argentine friends asked me what ever possessed me to buy a pinot noir from Mendoza when I could have bought a perfectly good malbec or syrah from Mendoza. I guess curiosity got the better of me. I´ve had pinots from Patagonia but never from Mendoza so when I spotted it on the shelf I just had to buy it. That and combined with the fact that it had the name Catena on it, I thought it would be good bet. But sadly, it wasn’t. Padrillos is the handiwork of the son of Nicolas Catena Zapata, Ernesto. Going into the wine making business for himself, Ernesto sources the grapes from other growers and makes the wine. Visiting the website, there is a whole story about the Incas and lost treasures etc but it all seemed a bit too much. The back label of the pinot noir also seems to ramble on with a story about a stallion climbing the Andes mountains and some how relating it to the freshness of the wine. This is my rough translation but my friends said it didn’t make much sense in Spanish either. Honestly, if you have to make up such a story, is it a distraction from the wine? In this case, I think yes. I haven’t tried the other wines he makes but I’m not really tempted to based on the pinot. A simple wine with not many defining characteristics other then “tastes like fruit juice” as my friends commented. I thought it had lots of cherry on the palate but I think they were right, it was like drinking cherry cola minus the fizz. Light to medium bodied, it reminded me of Beaujolais but not as good. What a disappointment, I was so looking forward to loving this wine, especially after paying 40 pesos for it. Bear in mind, you can get a perfectly acceptable bottle in the supermarket for 12 pesos and a really good...

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What does boysenberry smell like? Malbec with lunch

Last week I was touring the vineyards of Burgenland in Austria as part of the EWBC and at one point we were tasting the wines of Eisenburg, eastern Austria.  One of the producers described his wine as having boysenberry fruit characteristics. At which point, one of the fellows in my group wondered aloud, “What does a boysenberry taste and/or smell like?” I had to laugh, as growing up in California, boysenberry syrup was one of my favourite toppings to pour over my pancakes. So what if it was grossly artificial, at least we knew what boysenberries were and we could pick them up from the local farmers market if we were so inclined. Much like I had no idea what a gooseberry was until I moved to England, so goes my friend boysenberry to my English counterparts. I only mention that story because I am now in Buenos Aires sampling all the wonderful wines that this country produces. I often say that I don’t really care for New World wines but Argentina really is stingy with their wines and keeps the best for themselves. Well, as to be expected from a country that consumes something like 80% of it’s production, why give it to the gringos? After landing, I went straight to my hotel in Palermo Viejo, the Craft Hotel, where one of best friends,Monika, was waiting for me to go to lunch. I should mention that I lived in Buenos Aires for couple of years last decade so I know it quite well. A lot has changed and a lot hasn’t. It was nice to take a walk down memory lane on the drive into town. Monika asked me what I wanted for lunch and I unhesitantly shouted – “Parrilla!” For the uninitiated, a parrilla (pronounced in the “Porteno” way,  as the citizens of Buenos Aires are called, pa-REE-sha) is a restaurant with a very large grill. Everything is grilled right before your eyes. The smell is fantastic and you can smell parrillas...

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Lunching at Malmaison

It is now midnight as I write this and I am still full. There used to be this commercial that ran on American TV for Alka-Seltzer, the tagline was, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing”. Despite the fact we didn’t “eat the whole thing”  as a matter of fact, we both took doggy bags home, we did stuff ourselves silly. We had 4 courses, which is not unreasonable, but there were some generous portions at the Brasserie of Malmaison. Malmaison is a boutique luxury hotel smack dab in the middle of Clerkenwell and their brasserie serves up tasty local produce all presented quite beautifully. The main draw for me and the reason I was there, were the bespoke wine flights that the restaurant sommelier, Stuart Fife matches with your dining choices. Stuart is new to Malmaison but he comes from Hotel du Vin in Glasgow and his matches were very well done indeed. While I was waiting for my lunching partner, Vintage Macaroon to arrive, I had a browse round the wine cellar and found some familiar labels, Spy Valley, Springfield Estate, Dinastia Vivanco, d’Arenberg Stump Jump, and Chapel Down, to name a few.  As I suspected, Bibendum Wines is the main supplier for Malmaison and they had some of their best on the list. We left ourselves in Stuart’s capable hands and didn’t regret it one bit. I had a very elderflowery, light and refreshing 2007 Bacchus from Chapel Down. I often find English wines to be a bit thin but Chapel Down make an excellent bacchus and it had enough body and elderflower/citrus flavours to match the trio of smoked blinis (haddock, salmon and mackerel pate) I had to start. The smoked fish was very tasty but I thought the blinis were a bit too soft for me, maybe blinis made of buckwheat would be better? I like the slight chewiness of them. I almost forgot to mention the pre-entree amuse bouche of intensely flavoured crab bisque, which would have...

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Malaysian cuisine, Argentine rose

I once had to spend 2 weeks in the (then) charming sleepy little beachside town of Georgetown in the Penang Peninsula of Malaysia waiting for my Thai visa. I had inadvertently flown into Thailand without a visa and they would only let me stay a few days without one so off I trekked with my traveling companion to the nearest Thai consulate, which just happened to be across the southern border of Thailand in Malaysia. There wasn’t much to do at the time but lay on the beach and eat. Every night we looked forward to the night market. After a long hard day lazing around the beach, it was the only thing that could refresh us for the next day’s beach tanning session. I loved those Asian night markets and the night markets of Georgetown were culinary Alice in Wonderland type scenarios. Various strange fishes and rice and noodle concoctions. Malaysian cuisine is a melange of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Thai, and Eurasian influences.  Mee Goreng, fish in spicy chili, sweet and sour crab legs, so many variations of veggies, noodles, rice, fish and meat. That was probably some of the best eating of my life but sadly after that experience, I never really had the chance to eat Malaysian food again. Until the other night. Rushing down Holland Park Rd, I was late for the launch of the Malaysian Kitchen passport at Kiasu (a restaurant in Bayswater) which translated means “afraid to be second best.” They strive to be as authentic as possible, making everything from scratch each day and sourcing their ingredients as freshly as possible, even going so far as to import what they can’t source here. Let me tell you, the food is incredibly spicy and tasty. A fantastic meal! I missed some of the starters but what I did have was very authentic. Malay chicken satay, special fried calamari – not rubbery at all, and stir fried radish cakes were some of the starters I was able to sample....

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