My plan was to work my way through some great beef and Malbec in Buenos Aires. I even had a cheat sheet of all the top-scoring Malbecs we published in 2006.
It began accordingly, with two steaks and two Malbecs within 24 hours. Then things started to go awry. What I discovered were some delicious whites and interesting red blends. And some fabulous lamb.
I had dinner at Nectarine and not only was there no Malbec, I discovered some of the best lamb I have tasted. Chef Rodrigo Sieiro’s main purveyor of meat and vegetables is La Biznaguita farm. The lamb in question is of the Scottish Black Face variety. It was tender and flavorful, an ideal foil for the Bodega del Desierto Cabernet Sauvignon 2004.
Tuesday at lunch, Sam Heitner of the Office of Champagne USA, who had moved to Buneos Aires two years ago with his wife Vanessa, a native of the city, filled my head with the names of several limited-production wineries that piqued my interest.
That night, I tried a number of wines to accompany a tasting menu at La Bourgogne. Most impressive was the Finca Sophenia Sauvignon Blanc Tupungato Synthesis 2006 for its pungent grass and citrus flavors and crisp clean profile, even with a touch of oak aging. And there was a Malbec too, the Valentin Bianchi San Rafael Stradivarius 2000, a big, mouthfilling cherry- and mineral-flavored red. A wonderful match with—you guessed it—lamb.
Wednesday was lunch at Oviedo, a personal favorite of mine with its bright, bistrolike room, tiled floor and warm wood interior. On the list I spotted the Angel Mendoza Mendoza Pura Sangre 2002, a blend of Malbec (80 percent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (20 percent). This is the current release, having spent two years in oak and 9 months in bottle. It was fresh and juicy, displaying intense blackberry, coffee, spice and mineral aromas and flavors. This washed down a succulent baby goat.
Before dinner that evening, I met sommelier Marcelo Rebole of the Palacio Duhau-Park Hyatt Buenos Aries for a tasting of wines and cheese. I was blown away by the freshness and elegance of Catena Zapata’s Chardonnay Mendoza Angelica Zapata 2002.
On to Sucre for dinner. Think New York’s Meatpacking district circa 2000. The big, industrial space, with its exposed ductwork and loud music, puts out tasty fare from its wood-burning oven. Assistant sommelier Fernanda Fazekas took the time to answer my endless questions until I finally decided on a Familia Marguery Malbec Mendoza 2002.
But while I was waiting for the Malbec and my main course, I quenched my thirst with a glass of the dry, floral and spicy Dominio de Plata Torrontés Cafayate Valley Crios de Susanna Balbo 2006.
Friday’s lunch was a bit further afield, at Frances Mallman’s Patagonia Sur in La Boca, but well worth the effort. The first taxi driver didn’t know the address and kicked me out of the cab. The next taxi took me on a wild ride down the perilously wide (20 or 22 lanes) Avenida 9 Julio, then past a motorbike fatality until I finally arrived and entered the sanctuary of the restaurant.
It was almost a Zenlike experience. The long, narrow room boasts only 5 tables. There, I enjoyed the delicate Bodega Colomé Torrontés Calchaqui Valley 2006 with empanadas from Salta. For the Patagonian lamb braised 7 hours in red wine and onions, I chose the Finca & Bodega Vistalba Mendoza Corte A 2004. It’s a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Bonarda, aged 18 months in French oak. It was lush, cherry-scented and powerful on the palate, sporting plum and oak spice notes.
Thinking back on the week, it was a whirlwind. Fortunately, my best-laid plans didn’t work out. My experience was richer for it.