Tag Archive: Wine

The Book Stack #2

jumbled books
What have we this time around?

You look at the title, Bread Wine Chocolate, and you’re already engaged. I mean, what’s not to like? Clearly three items selected from the book to grab our attention, since in reality, the book is, in order, Wine Chocolate Coffee Beer Bread Octopus. The book came highly anticipated, with suggestions being bandied about that this would be the next big, amazing food book. I clicked a link, put in my Kindle cue to be purchased when it was released, and more or less forgot about it until it showed up one day. I might have left my cursor hovering over the button rather than clicking, had I taken a moment to check out the author, Simran Sethi, a former MTV producer turned news anchor for, oh, MTV, who has gone on to continue work in the media world for various… how can I put this politely… touchie feelie outlets like Mother Earth News and TreeHugger. I’m not, at all, against the environment, sustainability, or anything else of the sort, don’t get me wrong, but it might have had me wondering about her bias in advance, rather than after the fact.

Though in truth, it’s not her bias that ruins this book for me. It’s her writing. I really wanted to like the book. There’s some great, well researched information in it. The problem is, it’s presented in a manner that ping-pongs back and forth between journalistic factual reporting and breathless golly gee whiz wow teen girl gossip style at a pace that would make the cut editors of Reality Bites envious. She also comes across as really, really, self absorbed, self indulgent, and self anything else you might care to insert, as she wings her way across the world with hand-grinder for coffee beans in one hand and an Aeropress brewer in the other, ruing that she isn’t back home with her Keurig machine (oh yeah, all those K-cups are just great for the environment) and her $13 designer chocolate bars. She spends the first couple of chapters of the book outlining what she’s going to cover and why she’s the one to do so, and how much we’re going to appreciate her having done so. Yes, yes, she got down and dirty with the folk who produce these various products, and sampled and tasted and learned to appreciate things at their source. And then promptly trundled back to her hotel to soak in the tub and anxiously write her next words on the balcony at sunset and then jet off to another exotic locale. If you like to hug trees, you’ll probably like this book.

I mentioned in the last book round-up that I had started working my way through a proposed list of the 51 Best Fantasy series. I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me, that if they’re rated from best, #1, to least best, #51, that progressively, I might like these series less, and less. I’m not sure that will hold true completely – after all, as I mentioned then as well, the Discworld canon wouldn’t even make it onto my list of good, let alone 7th Best. But there does seem to be a slight decline each round. I’ve started in on Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy, beginning with The Blade Itself. It’s a relatively easy read.

There are things about it I really like – it’s written in a light-hearted tone, with a bit of humor. The series is often compared to Song of Fire and Ice, the Game of Thrones inspiring stack of books, and in some ways, I can see that – the action sequences, the bloody, grisly, details. But in other ways, not so much – the political manipulations and intrigue are there, but more or less ho-hum, there doesn’t seem to be any big, sweeping vista – within the first few chapters it’s obvious that all the lead characters’ lives are going to quite quickly intersect, in a pretty predictable way. Some reviewers have said that that gets turned on its head as the trilogy progresses, and by the end of the third book, nothing will be as anticipated. I can only hope so. It’s interesting enough to continue forward.

One of the finest books from one of the early crafters of modern science fiction, Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination is a long time favorite that I hadn’t read in quite some time. Another list of “bests”, this time from io9, The Essential Cyberpunk Reading List starts off with this one.

Filled with Evil Corporations, interplanetary intrigue, bio-engineering, power, greed, revenge, and the obligatory Sub-Culture, this has all the elements that make for a great cyberpunk read. Given when this was written, in the early 1950s, it’s a brilliant precursor to that movement at a time when “cyber” didn’t yet mean anything and “punk” meant something completely different. Gripping story, fast paced action, and even it’s own “street” language that fits the genre perfectly. It’s a relatively short book (or at least in comparison to some of those I’ve been reading recently), and with its pace, it’s the sort you can sit down and read through on a rainy afternoon.

A couple of years ago I read the book Of Dice and Men, a look back at the early days of Dungeons & Dragons, and, those of us nerds who played it. I was an avid player of the game back in the mid to late 70s, and have continued a fascination with the world(s) created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the original duo behind the game. I’ve gone on to play computer based games, both early ones that were limited to being installed on your computer and played by one or a couple of people, and on, to MMORPGs, the massive universes created online like Everquest and Worlds of Warcraft.

The earlier book I mentioned was mostly focused on the game itself, and the gamers who took it and ran with it. There was plenty of biographical information about the creators, but you couldn’t call it biography. Michael Witwer’s Empire of Imagination takes another run at it. As he says in the introduction, he couldn’t believe when he started researching the book that no one had ever written a biography of Gary Gygax, who, while not a household name except to those of us in the gaming world, created something that went on to be the foundation for things we take for granted in modern day life, everything from the use of computers for games, to the advent of social media. As he also points out, it’s telling, that in an episode of the pop-culture show Futurama, Gygax’s character is paired up with Lieutenant Uhura, Al Gore, and Steven Hawking – taking on the universe. The book is well written, completely engaging, and for anyone with an interest in the topic, a must read.


Second Time Around

Just shy of two years since the original edition’s publication, the second edition of my bilingual Spanish and English food and wine dictionary was officially published today and is available: Saltshaker Spanish-English-Spanish Food & Wine Dictionary – Second Edition

This edition incorporates many of the suggestions received over the last two years including making it pocketbook sized, decreasing the amount of “white space” (I’d originally figured on people perhaps wanting to make notes, but most seem to prefer a volume that takes up less room) and size of the typeface, as well as expanding the number of entries by around 40-45% to over 7,000.

Many thanks to those who contributed both suggestions and missing words and phrases over the last two years. Thanks in particular go out to Jean Strejan, who used a particularly experienced and critical eye on the formatting, and once again to Frank Rocca for his new and delightful piece of cover art and constant support.

dictionary 2nd edition cover


Masters of Food and Wine

Passport Magazine
December 2008

Masters of Food and Wine
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Masters of Food & Wine 2008It shouldn’t surprise anyone to find out that there are a whole lot of gay wine geeks and collectors in the world; and they were out in force at the Masters of Food and Wine 2008 in Buenos Aires. Upon arrival, I found myself amidst the swirl of hors d’oeuvres, flagons of wine, internationally acclaimed chefs, sommeliers, restaurateurs, and collectors who were willing to ante-up the air fare, hotel costs, and entrance fees-all of which added up to somewhere around $6,000.

The five-day extravaganza opened with a wine and cheese tasting at the Park Hyatt’s Palacio Duhau in Buenos Aires, a stunning, converted mansion that takes up half a city block. The Duhau’s staggered levels and twisting staircases gave a certain Escher air to the space. The courtyard and surrounding wine bar and salons were perfect for introductions and a chance to sample a range of some of Argentina’s most interesting cheeses and wines.

The next night’s “Rarities” dinner offered an exclusive group of wine gliterati tastes of treasures from the cellars of 25 Argentine wineries. Then next day it was off on flights to Mendoza, 700 miles west in the foothills of the Andes Mountains.

At the posh Park Hyatt on the town’s central plaza we kicked off a trio of days with a wine and hors d’oeuvres party, catered by two dozen chefs from all over the globe and wineries pouring hundreds of bottles, to a mere thousand attendees. The next two days passed by quickly as we broke up into smaller groups and headed out to Mendoza’s amazing countryside, each group visiting a trio of wineries per day, and dining our way through multi-course lunches and dinners cooked by the visiting culinary stars.

The event culminated with a Gala dinner back at the Park Hyatt where each of us vowed to return again next year.

The Masters of Food and Wine 2009 will be held February 10-15. For more information visit www.mfandw.com.ar

Passport magazine is a relatively new, ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay travel magazine. My friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who have owned and run QSF magazine for many years, launched this publication recently. It has received industry accolades. They asked me to come along and write the occasional article for this venture as well.


Flavours from France

Cuisine & Vins
June 2008

cuisine insider tips

cuisine & vins 200806
Buenos Aires offers up a wide variety of places where you can enjoy a French meal filled with the spirit of the wonderful haute cuisine.

There was a time when going out to dine pretty much meant going out for French food. It seemed to be ubiquitous in the Americas and throughout Europe that French food was automatically equated with fine, no, make that the finest dining. And, there’s no doubt that it’s true that the fancy end of French cooking is amongst the best of cuisines in the world – not the only, but one of. It should be remembered, as well, that French cuisine also tends to shine at the low end – rustic, simple, bistro or brasserie cooking is heartwarming and delicious.

Here in Buenos Aires there are not a huge number of places to eat in the Gallic tradition. There are certainly some high end places – most of them in hotels, and they are fine places to go, but tend in the direction that fancy French hotel dining rooms do – a bit stuffy. Better yet, hit one of the few independent French spots for white tablecloth fare – Les Anciens Combattants, Maat, maybe Nectarine, or, my personal favorite, Lola, at the corner of Junín and Guido, in Recoleta. There, you can start your evening with a classic steak tartare, prepared tableside to your own personal tastes, and move on to a variety of beautifully presented classic dishes – duck a l’orange, salmon with duxelles encased in pastry, or stuffed, roasted quail – all of which have been updated to fit modern sensibilities.

Another great choice is Rabelais, a fancied up bistro in the heart of the wealthy old section of Recoleta, at Libertad 1319, where you can feast on perfectly prepared coq au vin, boeuf bourguignonne, one of the best classic onion soups you’ll ever have outside of France, and a dead-on tarte tatin.

In the mid-range are the brasseries and bistros – the best known is probably Bar Petanque in San Telmo. Its sister restaurant Bouchon Bistro, at Tucumán 400, in the Microcentro far outshines it with friendly, helpful service and decent Lyonnaise style cooking. Nearby at Tucumán 775, you can find Brasserie Berry, as classic as they come with simple dishes of steak or roasted chicken served with a side of potato or salad, a glass of wine, and perhaps a chocolate mousse or Crepes Suzette for dessert.

For my tastes in the middle price range and style, there are two Recoleta spots that garner honors for best of show – Granda Bistro, along Junín, at 1281. A small, cozy spot, with a regularly changing menu, a great wine selection, and friendly, helpful service. They serve up wonderful country style pate, delicious hearty rabbit and lamb dishes, and wonderful traditional desserts like creme brulee and apple strudel. The other is La Olla de Félix, at Juncal 1693, with its menu of only four or five items that changes daily – especially their filled crepes. No appetizers other than, perhaps, a salad or soup, and perfect, but simple, desserts.

Speaking of crepes, at the simplest end is an unusual entry, a small, cafe-like spot called Finistere, at Montevideo 973, in the Centro area, that offers up the traditional buckwheat crepes of Brittany. Some have been updated for local tastes, but their best are filled with classic combinations, like morcilla (blood sausage) and apple, or another filled with wild mushrooms and vegetables. Desserts are typical of the Breton region, and worth trying. The wine selection is limited but goes with the food, and the prices are easy on the wallet.

In the French vein, it’s hard to find wines of France here. There are certainly the overpriced top end Bordeaux and Burgundies offered up by some of the big hotel chains or fancier restaurants, and a few of the better wine shops, like Terroir in Palermo or Grand Cru in Recoleta, stock a limited selection of the same. But keep in mind that many of the grapes grown here in Argentina are French imports, be they Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, or Sauvignon Blanc, or the more popular, Malbec. Less well known would be the grape Tannat, which comes from the southwest of France in a region called Madirán, where it produces dense, tannic wines that often require a half dozen years or more of aging just to be smooth enough to consider drinking. While not Argentina’s star production, there are a couple of producers who have brought out excellent local versions. In particular, one producer stands out in my mind, Bodegas Quara, who produce both a light, simple, easy drinking basic Tannat, and also a earthy, medium tannic, hearty, oaked Tannat Reserva. Another good option would be the Bodegas Callia Magna Tannat, a rich, aromatic, and hearty bottle that goes great with red meat.

Rabelais, Libertad 1319 – Recoleta.
Bouchon Bistro, Tucumán 400 – Microcentro.
Brasserie Berry, Tucumán 775 – Microcentro.
Granda Bistro, Junín 1281 – Recoleta.
La Olla de Félix, Juncal 1693 – Recoleta.
Finistere, Montevideo 973 – Barrio Norte.
Les Anciens Combattants, Santiago del Estero 1435 – San Telmo.
Maat club privado gourmet, Sucre 2168 – Belgrano.
Nectarine, Vicente López 1661 – Recoleta.
Bar Petanque, Defensa 595 – San Telmo.
Lola, Roberto M. Ortiz y Guido – Recoleta.

In October 2006, I started writing for this Spanish language magazine, covering their English language section for travellers. I wrote for them for about two years. The copy editor, apparently not fluent in English, used to put each paragraph in its own text box on a two column page, in what often seemed to be random order, making the thread of the column difficult to follow. I’ve restored the paragraphs to their original order.


Wine and dine

Time Out
Buenos Aires for Visitors
Summer/Autumn 2008
Page 68


Wine and dine
Where can apprentice oenologists sample great glasses? Dan Perlman goes in search of great bars.

Although getting a decent glass of wine in a bar or restaurant is far easier here than getting a decent cocktail, but then ‘decent’is a relative term. Most places offer up no more than a couple of regular wines by the glass, and if you’re lucky the bartender may even know the name of what they’re pouring into your glass. So if you’re more into quaffing the grape than you are downing a martini, where should you go for a large selection with knowledgeable and friendly service?

The ‘gran-daddy’of the local wine bar scene is Gran Bar Danzón. Low tables, lots of gleaming chrome, and the constant beat of house music give you a sense of the style of the place. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is some spot for brightly colored cocktails (although they offer a good number of those), they also offer constantly changing wine lists of over 200 selections, many available by the glass. Not surprising given that the owners also stand behind top restaurants Sucre and Bar Uriarte, both known for their wines. Danzón also has a well-staffed kitchen that churns out creative sushi and twists on local fare. Expect to shell out a fair amount for a visit, but the quality makes it all worthwhile.

A true newcomer on the scene, Portezuelo (Vicente López 2160, 4806 9462, www. portezeueloweb.com.ar) is the hotspot for wine in the trendy, if a bit touristy, Village Recoleta. Still, after stopping to lay flowers at Evita’s tomb or wandering the Recoleta artisan fair, you may find yourself in need of refreshment. Here you can pop yourself down in a faux old-time pub, livened by pumping hip hop and electonica. They may be into partying, but they’re also deadly serious about their beverage offerings with a regularly changing list of 15-20 wines by the cuartino (quarter liter carafe). While the wines tend to come from the major players, the variety is good, and it’s a great intro to Argentinian wines. The food is mainly of the steak and chips bent, but a perfectly reasonable proposition.

If you’re into the modern art scene, you’ll no doubt find yourself at some point visiting the MALBA. Or perhaps you’ll find yourself across the street at Renault’s Museum of Art, Science and Technology, catering to your inner nerd. Either way, Club Museo (Avenida Figueroa Alcorta 3399, 4802 9626, www.museorenault.com.ar) is a must. Offering up creative international cuisine and sushi, it is a nice way to attract museum clientele, but the real draw here is the wide ranging wine choice that doesn’t stick to the usual suspects. Top that off with more than two dozen selections by the glass (AR$9-23) from a changing selection from lesser known lines as well as the major producers, and you’ve got a winning combination.

Quite possibly the most serious of wine bars is the nearly hidden Epicureos (Soldado de la Independencia 851, 4772 8108, www.epicureos.com). This casual restaurant – deck furniture and directors’chairs, and a beautiful little garden in the rear – also doubles up as a wine shop. It has two major things going for it: a truly great kitchen turning out creative, interesting and delicious food, and access to a well-stocked and well-thought out winery. [Note: I swear, my original copy said ‘wine cellar’.] A regularly changing roster of more than 20 wines by the glass, truly covering the range of varietals and regions of the country, mostly from real, boutique level producers not the commercial biggies. With prices starting at AR$5, it’s a better bargain than any other wine bar in the city.

And finally, for a touch of true elegance, it would be impossible to pass up the stunning Park Hyatt Hotel. Home of several restaurants and bars, wine aficionados ust hund down the wine and cheese bar. It stocks a major collection of international wines, with a good selection offered by the glass. Thankfully a sommelier is always in attendance to guide your tastes. They also offer regular tastings where you can work your way through a particular winery, or style, with the expert assistance of the hotel’s wine director. The bar also has its own cheese ageing room, and is one of the few spots in town where you can sample the best of Argentina’s and other countries’ cheeses along with a glass of the grape. Can you imagine anything better?

In mid-2006, I started writing for Time Out Buenos Aires. With changes in their way of conducting business, I decided to part company with them after my last article and set of reviews in mid-2009.


Libro Trio

“I never read a book before reviewing it – it prejudices a man so.”

Sydney Smith, Essayist, Clergyman

Buenos Aires – In the last couple of weeks a trio, or is it a quartet, or quintet, of books has come across my desk. They didn’t get there by themselves, I went to book launching parties and was given copies of them, which is a delightful way to acquire books, especially when there’s free food and drink, the chance to ferret out the three people at the party actually worth talking to, and no requests to do any work – i.e.,, no one asked me to review the books, they were gratis without strings. The 3/4/5 thing we’ll get to momentarily.

The 2008 edition of Viñas, Bodegas & Vinos was amongst them. Long time readers might hazily recall that I’ve reviewed the last two editions, and that I was a member of the tasting panels for the 2007 edition. Likewise this one. My thoughts from last year pretty much stand – I’m still disappointed that the book is being offered these days in Spanish only, and that it only covers Argentina now – I can’t vouch for the marketing and finances and what went into the decision last year to drop the side-by-side English translation and the rest of the continent, but I can tell you I’ve heard from at least a couple of dozen people over the last year asking if there was an English edition now because all they could find was the Spanish, and the 2006 and previous editions are simply out of date. There’s a market out there for a South American wine guide in English, believe me, and if it wasn’t the massive undertaking that it is, I’d be all over that. Beyond being an update, the book is very slightly expanded this year, with an increase in the number of wineries and wines covered. One fun little addition at the back, being the fifth edition, the editor/publisher had saved up bottles of the top wines from the first edition in the cellar, and we had a separate tasting of those to see how they had held up over the last 4-5 years. Some well, some not so well, but it was an interesting exercise that’s included in this year’s edition. The event, by the way, was held at the Museo Evita, which is worth a visit in and of itself, has a nice little restaurant on the property, and a beautiful courtyard. The top 60 wines were all arrayed for our tasting – one in particular truly stood out for me, the Valle Las Acequias “Rosedal” Malbec 2003, quite possibly the most elegant, delightful Malbec I’ve had the opportunity to taste.

Austral Rumbo guides 2008Apparently several years in the making, and perhaps another part of the reason why the wine guide has been cut back, editor Diego Bigongiari has been hard at work on a duo of Buenos Aires guides… Now, I realize we need more travel guides to Buenos Aires like we need another newspaper article extolling the amazing and wildly exaggerated cheapness and ease of moving to and living in this city, and it’s also hard to be critical of a couple of books written by someone I’ve spent the last two years working with and also consider a friend. Nor do I object that he included a mention of Casa SaltShaker at the bottom of page 146… Thankfully, I don’t have to be particularly critical, as I think he very smartly approached the guides in a different manner from many of them out there. The guides, first of all, are in Spanish only, and second of all, they come together as a set – tall and narrow and inserted into a plastic cover which is useful for packaging and marketing and protecting the books from dust on your shelves, but completely useless when you’re ready to use them. However, with no manual skills at all you can easily slip them out of the cover and use them separately – which you should. The first book, in big bold letters titled BUE, states it is a traveler’s guide to Buenos Aires and surrounds, from rumbo-austral, rumbo meaing “to get one’s bearings”, and austral being the publishing company. Coming in at 335 pages, it’s packed with ‘hood by ‘hood tips on things to do and see – and it goes well beyond the usual three or four barrios that most tourist guides bother to cover, gives detailed information on how to do things like navigate the bus and subway systems, and covers everything from where to get good coffee to where to find transvestite prostitutes. The maps are well thought out, there are lots of sketches to illustrate various monuments and buildings, and it’s well written. Each entry has a color coded bar along the margin placing it in a category such as “eating and drinking”, “architecture”, or “night and sex” – which would be truly annoying and useless given that color key is in the introduction to the book and includes eight different categories, except they very smartly didn’t just put the color bar, but also the category name in each bar, so you really don’t even need the key upfront after all.

The second book is more for the armchair traveler, or perhaps while you’re sitting in your hotel room, or whiling away an hour or two at a local café. It covers the same neighborhoods, in the same order, one by one, but instead of being a guide, this one is labeled in big bold letters BUE… oh wait, it’s the same, but in small print says it’s the traveler’s book, rather than guide… it’s designed for simply reading. Perhaps the best way to think of it would be as if you had a tour guide sitting right there telling you stories about this building or that monument, or an event that happened here, or one of those great anecdotes that make having a good tour guide a gem to find. While you have to read this rather than listen to it, you do have the priceless advantage of not having to listen to the identically dressed in tracksuits never set a foot on a track middle aged couple from Home on the Range Middle America complain about no one here speaking English and why don’t they learn it and why can’t they eat at 6 p.m. like regular people and do we really have to get off the bus and walk it’s just as easy to take a picture through the window as we pass by. My British readers will recognize the same couple as being from Outer Peasbody on the Marsh, but the rest of the details remain the same.

Mixology in ArgentinaNow, lest you think I spent all my time at one party at the Evita Museum sipping high end wines and snagging delicious little hors d’oeuvres off passing trays, let me assure you that’s not the case. I also found myself inside a jam packed soirée at OchoSieteOcho, the “secret” speakeasy that’s not secret anymore, a faceless bar at 878 Thames with a guy in a suit out front deciding whether or not to unlock the door behind him and let you in. He pretty much let’s everyone in, at least when it’s a private event and you have enough wits about you to say “I’m here for the private event.” Here, the focus, at least in the free drinking and dining realm, was well made cocktails offset by iffy hors d’oeuvres that might have been thrown together by someone who’d just dropped into the kitchen and thought they’d “give it a whirl”. The event this time, the dual release of the Spanish and English language editions of Coctelería Argentina and Mixology in Argentina, by Rodolfo Reich, a local food and wine writer and editor. Though I don’t know Rodolfo, I do know his English translator, Brian Byrnes, the person who invited me to the event and reserved an English copy for me. I haven’t read through the Spanish language version, but I trust that Brian stayed true to the original. The book is by parts a history of the world of cocktails in Argentina – at one time a big part of the drinking scene here, not so much these days when everyone is into wine and micro-brewed beers – an introduction to some of the “top” bartenders in the country, and a cocktail recipe book. It’s beautifully laid out and photographed, and it’s well written, at least the English prose. The history part was intriguing and fun to read, no question. The recipes, a mix of classics, reinterpreted classics, and outright inventions, useful if not particularly exciting to read – but recipes rarely are. The introduction to the bartenders, for me, was a trifle odd… not that it wasn’t interesting, it was, but there is, perhaps, a conceit, not uncommon to someone in their early 30s, that the true innovators, masters, etc., are in their own age bracket. Of the twenty bartenders profiled, all but one, at least based on their photos and resumes, are not more than a few years out of college (their birthdates are given, and range from 1971 to 1982, with one from 1963) – and are, for the most part, the bartenders at trendy venues frequented by the club set. Now, not being someone who hangs out at bars, and these days I don’t drink many cocktails, perhaps there are very few over 35 bartenders here plying their trade and proving that they know how to mix a drink, and innovating – but if my experience in other cities around the world holds true, that’s unlikely to be the case, and it was notable that they weren’t included. The best part for me was a single page devoted to a local aperitif called Hesperidina, something that’s uniquely Argentine, though it’s a shame he didn’t spend a little time on others, like Pineral, Legui, or Hierro Quina. For cocktail aficionados, the book is a nice addition to the bar library shelf, and worth the investment.


Patagonian wines, Mítico Sur

Cuisine & Vins
September 2007, page 78

cuisine insider tips
Patagonia for beginners

Given the whole reversal of the magnetic poles, which direction it’s warmer and all that, one would think that here in Argentina we’d be looking for Northern charm, and Northern hospitality, and talking about the Deep North… but, it seems there’s just something about going south that brings all that out, even when south is a frozen glacier… Admittedly the glacier’s only a small part of Patagonia, which actually encompasses several provinces “down that-a-way”, and also offers up ingredients for cuisine that are unique in regard to the rest of the country – particularly in the world of game animals and seafood.

Mitico Sur - picada
Buenos Aires is home to a small, and growing number of restaurants that specialize in the cuisine of Patagonia, ranging from simple neighborhood hangouts to among the poshest of restaurants in the city. Easily the most fun to be had is at one of the former, Mítico Sur, hidden away at number 389 on the narrow cobblestone Pasaje San Lorenzo in the barrio of San Telmo. This rustic two-story converted home offers up a literal sampling of tidbits from the deep south in the form of what are called tablas. We might call them an antipasto if we were going Italian, but we’re not… Mítico Sur serves an array of different platters, ranging from vegetable and fruits, to cheeses, to seafood, to meat, and combinations of all four – smoked, pickled, cured, and fresh, ingredients that Patagonia is famous for are laid out in little dishes to be nibbled upon. Among the best, the smoked trout and the cured wild boar, or jabalí. You can order a tabla by yourself and have more than sufficient for a meal, or you can share with friends, the most fun – and wash it all down with a glass or bottle of one of the region’s excellent wines – and this spot offers up one of the best selections of Patagonian wine to be found in the city – and very well priced.

The following two reviews got left off the page, which, given the start of the column takling about a number of restaurants, made no sense. Reproduced here:

Divina Patagonia - venison
If you like a homey setting, but want something both a little less rustic and also more classically styled for dinner, head out to Palermo, at Honduras 5710, and grab a seat at Divina Patagonia (they also have a branch in San Telmo, at Balcarce 958), where you can treat yourself to a hearty and creative meal that again ranges the food world. Amongst the more interesting dishes, a roasted loin of wild venison served up with an elderberry and currant packed bitter chocolate sauce, a slow cooked breast of wild boar lacquered in a fresh raspberry puree, or crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside “meatballs” of smoked trout served with a Patagonian Dijon mustard sauce. The wine list carries a good selection of the major commercial brands from both Patagonia and other regions of the country and is fairly priced.

Aires de Patagonia - lamb chops
Possibly you’re in the mood to up the ante and head for one of the lugares de lujo, or ritzy, upscale spots. While everyone likes to make fun of the Puerto Madero refurbished warehouse district and its tourism oriented dining, one of the things to note is that that often means some pretty high quality food – lets face it, tourists can be pretty demanding. For a place that’ll live up to high standards, head on out into the Puerto and get yourself a table at Aires de Patagonia, Alicia M. de Justo 1798, a handsome room, done up in exotic woods from the south like lenga and rauli, that give the room a very classy feel. The food, likewise, with beautifully presented, creative dishes like a fresh crabmeat (centolla), zucchini, and apple salad stacked with phylo dough, or a rack of Patagonian lamb, cordero, leaning up against a slice of leg of lamb, and all juiced up with a reduction of Malbec and a delicious tomato confit. The wine list, strangely, focuses more on selections from Mendoza than Patagonia, but there are definitely some southern gems to be found – not surprisingly, given the locale, both food and wine here are expensive.

infinitus semillon chardonnayWhen it comes to wines, Patagonia isn’t the first spot that comes to most folks minds in regard to Argentina. It’s still a relatively new area for commercial wine-making, with three of the provinces, Rio Negro, Neuquen, and Chubut weighing in with selections. It’s a cool to cold climate for grape-growing, and so not surprisingly, grapes that do well in a chillier environment are showing up as some of the region’s best. On the white side, that has come to mean Semillon, bodega chacraeither on its own or blended, and the current reigning champ in that arena is the Infinitus Semillon-Chardonnay blend with its beautiful flavors of stone fruits, a touch of lanolin, minerals, and a mixed bag of spices. On the red side, unquestionably, Patagonia is producing Argentina’s best Pinot Noirs – in fact, the quality has been so superb that the owner of the famed Sassicaia super-Tuscan blend, NQN Picada 15Piero Incisa della Rocchetta, snapped up a vineyard planted to the grape and has started producing a small quantity of pricey but spectacular Pinot under the name Bodega Chacra. For those whose budget and searching patience doesn’t stretch that far, there are a wide range of lesser priced and more widely available Pinots and other grapes, including a personal favorite blend from NQN winery (Neuquen sans vowels), called Picada 15 – a ripe, fruity, spicy, and delicious blend of Pinot noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.

In October 2006, I started writing for this Spanish language magazine, covering their English language section for travellers. I wrote for them for about two years. The copy editor, apparently not fluent in English, used to put each paragraph in its own text box on a two column page, in what often seemed to be random order, making the thread of the column difficult to follow. I’ve restored the paragraphs to their original order.


Malbec or bust?

Time Out
Buenos Aires for Visitors
Winter/Spring 2007
Page 64


Malbec or bust?
Dan Perlman finds a bottle for every budget

To some, it’s a ‘full-bodied explosion of currant fruit and notes of cocoa with subtle toasty oak and a long finish’. To others, ‘it’s just grape juice’. Forget politics or religion; a topic that truly polarizes the average dinner party crowd is wine, especially when the discussion turns into long-winded, pedantic arguments that inevitably end in the suggestion that the group orders a pricey bottle. And in most restaurants, a hundred dollars will get you some pretty amazing ‘grape juice’.

But, it’s not all about the money. For most of us its about the simple pleasure of enjoying a bottle of wine with friends, over a nice meal. Fortunately for connoisseurs and casual enthusiasts alike, Argentina produces a range of fine wines to suit all palates and budgets.

The good news for wine lovers of little means (or those who just don’t want to deal with pretentious sales staff in the city’s high-end wine shops) [Note: that parenthetical was added by my editor, who has a vastly different view of sommeliers and salespeople than I do.] is that you don’t need to go into a specialty store to pick up a drinkable bottle of red. Most basic grocery stores stock San Felipe ‘Doce Uvas’, a spicy, fruity blend of twelve different grapes that’ll cost you AR$8 in a shop and around AR$15 in a restaurant. Yup, we’re talking about the quirky, squat oval bottle on sale alongside shampoo and instant soup at your neighborhood supermarket.

In the same budget range, there’s an entire line of wines from a subsidiary of the well known Bodega Esmeralda, that are bottled with an eye towards emphasizing the pure flavors of individual grapes. There are a dozen of them, and so far all worth trying, but the current standout of the Rodas Colección 12 is their Petite Verdot, which will set you back about AR$8-9 in stores and around AR$15-18 in restaurants.

It’s a shame that these wines haven’t picked up more of a following in the restaurant world, because they’re amazingly food friendly – a line of Shiraz (or Syrah) blends coming from Bodegas Callia out of San Juan province – but if you see one, grab it. My personal favorite is the Callia Alta Shiraz-Tannat, a bold, spicy wine that’s a great steak complement – at AR$10-12 in stores and AR$18-20 in the few scattered dining spots that carry it, it’s a steal.

There’s a lot of competition in the next price range up, in fact, something around the AR$20-25 mark, or about AR$15-18 in stores. We’re partial to the Finca La Linda line, which isn’t obscure, but certainly isn’t one of the usual suspects, either. Their Tempranillo is particularly good.

For those who like to allocate more of their budget to wine, lay down AR$25-30 for a bottle of Sur de Los Andes Bonarda. While there’s as much of this grape planted in Argentina as there is Malbec, it’s not nearly as well known, but ought to be.

We haven’t recommended a Malbec yet. Where does the Argentinian classic fit in the budget list? It’s not that there aren’t good ones in the lower price ranges, but for our money, Malbec tends to shine when you hit the mid to higher range bottles. Our top pick in the next price range up is Malbec de Ricardo Santos, which costs about AR$35-40 in stores and AR$50-60 in a restaurant. It’s a beautifully structured unoaked Malbec, exactly what the grape is all about.

If your group appreciates the finer things but still wants to keep a bit of a rein on the budget, try a relatively new wine out of Salta, a blend of Malbec and Cabernet from high-altitude producer Raul Davidos. Bodega Tacuil “RD” is a true stunner, packed with fruit and amazingly balanced. Coming in at about AR$65 in stores and AR$80-90 in restaurants, the bottle can still be considered affordable.

One of the best known Argentinian wineries is Escorihuela Gascon. A couple of years ago they introduced a line of limited production wines, each of which is exceptional. Our personal favorite is the Escorihuela Gascon “Pequeños Producciones” Barbera, which will set you back AR$80-90 pesos in shops, and around AR$120 in restaurants.

Dig deep in your wallet: we’re heading upmarket towards some of the best bottles in Argentina, or indeed anywhere. The top-end wines – AR$100-500 in restaurants – just keep getting better and better. If you’re up for spending around AR$90 in the stores and AR$125 or so in restaurants, Trapiche Ciento Viente Años is a great blend of Malbec, Cabernet, and Petite Verdot.

The grand prize of Argentinian wine goes to a bottle that sings Malbec, San Pedro de Yacochuya, a wine from the Michel Rolland stable, which, depending on vintage, will set you back anywhere from AR$150-300 in stores and AR$250-500 at the table. If that works for your wallet and ‘grape juice’craving, you can’t do much better.

In mid-2006, I started writing for Time Out Buenos Aires. With changes in their way of conducting business, I decided to part company with them after my last article and set of reviews in mid-2009.