Wines of Argentina has been at the forefront of disrupting what the traditional wine tasting event is all about. Its ground breaking Cambalache event has set the benchmark that many others have followed. Andrew Maidment, its UK head, explains how he hopes its new Barullo event will challenge buyers perceptions about Argentina and showcase its new generation of cutting edge wines.
Why on-trade buyers and sommeliers should put October 25 in their diaries and get ready to re-discover Argentina with some its new cutting edge wines.
Lots of the trade’s focus this week has understandably been on South Africa with seemingly half the country’s winemakers in the UK attending specialists tastings leading up to the main Wines of South Africa Intrepid tasting at London’s Tobacco Dock on September 8.
Much of the interest in South Africa lies in the enormous changes that have taken place in the country over the last two to three years in better understanding their country’s ability to make wine, and pin pointing the best regions, and micro sites to plant and grow specific grape varieties.
Exactly the same can be said for Argentina. For the last three years Argentine winemakers have been going on the same voyage of discovery almost in parallel with their peers in South Africa.
Be it trialling, developing or using better viticultural practices, or, like South Africa, carrying out extensive soil and topography analysis to determine the best micro sites within set regions to plant certain vines, and ultimately make better wine.
Being Wines of Argentina we can be assured this will be a tasting to remember. As it says itself wine tastings are “ripe for disruption” and that is what it intends to do with its event, entitled, Barullo, which literally means making a racket or noise.
So we can expect lots of live trendy Argentine modern music, against a backdrop of art brought in from Argentine galleries and artists and spread across two floors of the unique JJ Studio’s setting. Normally used for film and fashion shoots.
There will also be some of the country’s most innovative and award winning food from top Buenos Aires chef Mauro Colagreco’s Mirazur restaurant, recently voted sixth best in the world with live food stations positioned around the venue.
Anything to help shake up the UK trade and make buyers fully aware of what the new look Argentina has to offer, says Andrew Maidment, the UK head of Wines of Argentina.
He is particularly hopeful the event will connect with and excite leading on-trade buyers to attend, as they ultimately hold the keys to putting the new styles of wine coming out of Argentina on to their lists and in to the hands and mouths of their customers.
It is why the first day, October 25, is being specifically targeted at sommeliers and on-trade buyers. But it is one thing hearing about Argentina’s new wines from the men and women who made them, it is another sharing the experiences of your peers tasked in selling them.
The world’s best
In April the world’s best sommeliers travelled to Mendoza and Argentina to take part in the Best Sommelier in the World competition. As well as taking part in all the stages of the competition, it was also a unique opportunity for them to see first hand the enormous changes that have taken place in the country, and perhaps challenge some of the perceptions many admitted to having about what kinds of wine Argentina is capable of producing.
Perceptions and experiences some of those world sommelier finalists will be sharing during the dedicated on-trade day. Up to 10 of the finalists are expected to take part in a series of tastings, masterclasses and debates on the day.
It will be an opportunity for them to share and talk to fellow sommeliers about what they discovered, and what they think is particularly relevant to the needs of the UK on-trade.
Paz Levinson, the Argentine sommelier who finished fourth in the world finals, will be traveling from Paris and Virtus, the restaurant where she works to lead the day’s events, confirms Maidment.
“We want to create a framework that gives sommeliers the chance to talk and debate with fellow sommeliers,” he explains.
He is only too aware that the image of Argentina with certain buyers and sections of the on-trade, and in particular the style of wines it is capable of making, is far removed from the reality of what is being produced.
“Argentina is light years away from where it was just five years ago. Yet we know there are a lot in the trade who have a perception of it producing over extracted, high in alcohol wines, that can put many buyers off in the on-trade,” says Maidment.
Particularly those who think offering a high alcohol wine will put customers offer ordering a second a bottle or glass.
Which is why October’s Barullo tasting is being designed to address and challenge some of those perceptions.
It is why Maidment is also so pleased so many winemakers will be on hand to tell their personal stories. “I have been talking to them about coming over and they really want to talk about all the other stuff that is happening in Argentina away from Malbec,” says Maidment.
“We are now seeing a much greater focus on organic and biodynamic winemaking and the research that has gone in to better understand all the different soil types and terroirs means there are grapes being grown in site specific areas far more than even two or three years ago.
“Winemakers are not afraid to take risks, some of which might not work, but is very much a new breed who want to move away from the old way of making wine,” explains Maidment.
Argentina is going through a bit of an image issue with Malbec, concedes Maidment. On the one hand it can celebrate the success Malbec has had in moving in to the mainstream, becoming a must have wine for all supermarket lists and most major pub and restaurant groups.
But on the flip side, the UK is seeing far more cheaper, less consistent Malbecs coming in to the market. Argentina also no longer rules the waves with Malbecs increasingly likely to have come from Chile or other major producing countries.
It is an issue Maidment hopes to face up to in the October event.
“Malbec is not just what Argentina stands for any more. That is why the focus for the tasting is on the cutting edge highlights coming out of the country.”
It also promises to be a much more focused affair with only around 35 to 40 wineries taking part. “We want to be able to cut through the noise and show what is really happening,” he says. “The producers who are coming are all at the front end of these change and will have something to say.”
Maidment admits the idea of such a tasting would not have been possible five years ago. Then the focus was very much about getting a Malbec, any Malbec, on to as many buyers’ lists as possible.
But now it has, there is a real danger of becoming pigeon holed on those lists at the entry level. “It has been great for visibility of the country, but we are in danger of finding it harder to get slots higher up the list. But it also demonstrates that as a country it is not prepared to sit still. It needs to challenge itself and move forward.”
It is though with Malbec they have reached base camp. The challenge now is to push on to bigger and better things.
It is not just in wine that Argentina is going through enormous cultural changes. Its food and cuisine is also being turned upside down. Whilst steak and meat is still an enormous part of its diet, there is a younger generation of chefs and restaurateurs that want to break out of that stereotype and create a whole new style of Argentine food.
That is why there is also such a big focus on food at the October event. The chef There will be food stations in different areas of the tasting specifically designed to match and work with the wines on offer. Food that also demonstrate the new styles coming out of Argentina, says Maidment.
“It all adds to the story. There is a such a link between Argentina, its food and its wine. But it’s not just about steak and red wine any more. There is as big a movement in restaurants in Argentina and Buenos Aires as there is in the wineries. There is big cultural shift amongst the younger generation. We want to show that as well.”
Barullo event: the facts
When: October 25-28
Where: JJ Studios, Hoxton, London
What: Two trade tastings on Tuesday, October 25 and Wednesday, October 26
On-trade day: Dedicted on-trade day on October 25 led by up to 10 of the finalists in world sommelier of the year competition.
Tasting: Each winery will only have six wines to show
Showcase zones: Specific areas to highlight Argentina’s cutting edge winemaking scene
Food stations: Four food stations run by Mauro Colagreco and his team
Consumer activity: Each night the venue will be turned over to consumer events with full meal from the restaurant team, live music, art exhibitions and DJs.