I’ve had my fair share of Christmas dinners in Argentina – and 17 years after my first, they still baffle me. It can’t be any fun for the asador sweating over coals on an invariably sticky Nochebuena, while just looking at congealing mayonnaise on vitel toné sends a little sick north. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fan of my native Brit navidad either: you can keep your mince pies (ick), Christmas pudding (double ick) and brandy butter – the bird, however, can stay. So let’s make the best of the situation and pair up these bad boys (and to be clear – that’s bad as in negative, apart from the meat).
A fishy tale
Fishmongers’ pay day comes but twice a year and your worst-case Christmas dinner scenario is dried-out cod (abadejo) or seabass (corvina), a lesson in bland. These will improve a million-fold with Bienconvino’s Pescados & Mariscos white blend, whose label sports a handsome fish just in case you get confused by the one with a cow on it. A brand-new collection for 2015 lovingly created by cook-cum-sommelier Mariana Achaval and sommelier Valeria Mortara with Monteviejo’s Marcelo Pelleriti doing the barrel work, this Chardonnay-Torrontés 2014 blend (AR $135) is unusual in all the right ways. Torrontés’ floral nose is spot on while the Chardonnay’s orchard fruit mouth with a hint of lemon is cleansing and refreshing in one hit.
Should Lady Luck be on your side and pan-fried trout or salmon fillets are on the menu, go Pinot Noir. Usually produced in Patagonia’s Río Negro and Neuquén provinces, Pinots from Uco Valley’s cool climes are also worth a look. Dip into Zorzal Wines’ Terroir Unico Pinot Noir 2013 (AR $120), where fresh red fruit, medium high acidity and a heap of minerality party on your paladar. Made by dynamic sibling duo Matías Michelini and Juan Pablo Michelini, this a superb introduction to their innovative style of winemaking. Also pairs well with cream cheese and cold rice rolls.
When in Rome…
Vitel toné won’t make it into my building, never mind for a ‘special occasion’ like Christmas. My mother says the vitello tonnato in Italy is pretty delicious but I’ll have to take her word for it. Best paired with Fernet and coke to mask any chance of tasting this bastardised Italian job made from peceto (eye of round of beef) slices topped with a tuna, egg yolk and anchovy mayo. Okay, fine, some real suggestions…
As this dish originates in Piedmont, what would the Italians do? A couple of tano food sites recommend rosé, medium red Montelpuciano and Prosecco. I’d go fizz for a positive spin with Viniterra’s Prosec (AR $110). While it’s not made from Italy’s Glera grape (Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Ugni Blanc make up this Argentine version), it does use the same charmat style production method as Prosecco, undergoing its second fermentation in a stainless steel tank. Ideal for those who enjoy chugging easy drinking, fruity bubbles without much thought.
Like Homer and Marge, Mickey and Minnie or Charles and Camilla, a beef ‘n Malbec pairing is a match made in heaven. While theoretically you can turn up to a parrilla party with all kinds of bargain basement Malbecs and the ending will be a happy one, these three will doubtless excite, either because you genuinely want a wine to talk about or you’re genuinely cheap.
When I visited Familia Zuccardi’s new winery in Paraje Altamira, Uco Valley, in March, one way of understanding the area’s terroir was to literally eat dirt. Okay, so I licked limestone. But that rocky, drying minerality perfectly comes together with vibrant red fruit, floral notes and berries that never met oak in Zuccardi Concreto 2014 (AR $415), a futuristic, complex Malbec by star winemaker Sebastián Zuccardi that breaks the mould.
A Malbec-based corte also works a treat with big barbecued steaks such as bife de chorizo and Nieto Senetiner’s Blend Collection Malbec-Cabernet Franc 2014 rises to the occasion for a well-priced AR $115. Ripe plums, violets, a hint of eucalyptus and a little dark chocolate (the latter from its eight months in French oak) make up the nose of this 60/40 corte.
As for a budget production, Viento Sur Malbec 2015 (AR $69) by Bodega Freixenet (the Spanish cava people) is a violet delight, all black plum and blackcurrants. Sourced from 1,300 meters above sea level in Gualtallary, Uco Valley, its youthful vibrancy and mineral notes are extremely appealing, and more so at that price.
This little piggy…
Lechón or suckling pig is a delicious Christmas staple of which I thoroughly approve – apart from the removing it from its mummy part, of course. While a Pinot Noir such as the aforementioned Zorzal’s Terroir Unico will do the trick, as will Barda 2013 by Bodega Chacra from Río Negro Valley (AR $360) for bigger spenders, truth is a classy craft amber or pale ale might work a whole lot better. (Remember, beer + pork = 80 million Germans can’t be wrong). Beagle’s Fuegian Red Ale (AR $50) is available in decent delis, while Berlina’s Colonia Suiza Strong Golden Ale (AR $37) is another good bet.
Sweet bread. Not sweetbreads…
As long as you purchase premium quality or a proper abuela has taken charge of making one, the panettone or pan dulce part of Christmas should be relatively problem free. Given that it’s probably close to midnight by the time you attempt to tuck into a slice, let’s end the night with the closest drink we can get to Champagne: espumante or espumoso.
Plenty of Argentine wineries produce sparkling wine via the traditional or champenoise method, where the second fermentation takes place in the bottle. Pampa Mía Blanc de Noir Extra Brut by Bodega Del Desierto in La Pampa province (AR $160) is one of your best budgets bets – and a talking point. Fizz, made the same way as French Champagne, from La Pampa? Yippety yip, and after 12 months’ ageing on lees, this delicate 100% Pinot Noir is toasty, strawberry and raspberry in one hit. Those toasty notes will work a treat with this sweet bread.
Beauty is in the eye…
If the best you can do is aesthetics, take these bottles with you to Nochebuena to get your fellow revellers talking (plus they drink pretty nicely too). No Star Wars labels, however, not in Argentina anyway…
Nothing like a superhero to save you from vitel toné or an over-friendly ‘uncle’ and Matías Riccitelli’s Hey! Malbec 2014 (AR $175) wine champion is the fellow to do so. In fact this is a go-to Malbec of mine, big floral nose, bright, bold, fruity, fun. A true Christmas saviour.
Another fellow features but in five wino poses on Ernesto Catena Vineyards’ Alma Negra 2013 (AR $189). Designed by beloved cartoonist Liniers, this cheeky chappy opens, sniffs and chugs back this five-varietal red, whose blend remains a secret. A collector’s dream, the long and short is snap up the series.
I never knew the Spanish phrase for Wanted: Dead or Alive was reversed – until now. For the gaucho in your life, all that’s missing from the Buscado Vivo o Muerto collection by Alejandro Sejanovich and Jeff Mausbach of Manos Negras fame is some tumbleweed. New for 2015, all five are Malbec blends sourced from Uco Valley then co-fermented with distinctive additions such as Cabernet Sauvignon-Cabernet Franc or Syrah-Tempranillo. I’d go La Verdad-Gualtallary 2013 (AR $750) as Malbec-Cabernet Franc blends are big, sexy news and this mineral fruit bomb is no exception. Available here.
As a note: All prices are wine store prices.