(The meat counter at El Boliche de Alberto in San Carlos de Bariloche)
The past week has been an amazing adventure of food, culture, history, nature and geological events. Though Argentina has a long and storied history beginning with the Spanish in the early 1500's, a war for independence, Juan and Eva Peron, and a dark period in the late 1970's through early 1980's called the Dirty War, my friends only asked me about two things: MEAT and MALBEC.
(The butcher at the San Telmo Market Place)
Prior to the trip, various sommeliers jokingly told me not to drink too much Malbec or my teeth would fall out (a reference to the wines being very fruit forward, bordering on sweet) and not to take too many "shots" less I get too drunk (Malbecs can be as high as 14.5% alcohol). Argentine Malbecs tend not to be very nuanced or complex, and have a reputation with some sommeliers as being boring, simple or just not very good. Many will argue with my claim that the wines are neither complex nor nuanced but in relation to other grapes such as Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, or Syrah, Malbec is fruit forward, and plays all its card on the first hand. And that is PERFECTLY ok! Not all wine needs to be a doctoral thesis or cause a bunch of wine geeks to sit around and contemplate the evolution of the bottle. I readily admit that I do not drink Malbecs from Argentina at home or would even think about buying one at a wine shop or off a wine list. But I love wine and am always looking to explore, especially when I am in the country of origin. At our first meal, a simple lunch, I immediately ordered a bottle, thought that it was pleasant and kept drinking, yet felt a little guilty and un-sommelier like.
But three days into our escapade I realized what Malbec was for me...a guilty pleasure. If you only drink wines that are challenging, complex and elegant you can become jaded and out of touch. Sometimes you just want to listen to Lady Gaga and not Radiohead. And sometimes I want to eat a big slab of beef and enjoy a rich, over-oaked, and "hot" (a wine with a high alcohol content) red wine. It was this epiphany that made me respect and appreciate "Meat-o-nism", the pure hedonistic experience of perfectly grilled meat paired with big rich red wine. We tried a selection of Malbecs that would retail in the States for $10 up to $65. They each provided me exactly what I wanted for what we were eating and experiencing. The wines from Mendoza tended to be the richest, most oaked, and highest in alcohol and were great with the bife de Chorizo (NY strip). The Malbecs from Rio Negro and Neuquen were best with the empanadas and grilled lamb. In the end, the beef was amazing, the wine was delicious, and the trip was a pure blast.
Here is a list of the Parrilla's (grills) we went to:
La Brigada - Great lomo (tenderloin), wine list is better than most for a Parilla.
465 Estados Unidos
El Pobre Luis - AWESOME is the only word to describe El Pobre Luis...this is one of the best! A bit of a long taxi drive but well worth it. We were the only non-locals there! Perfect morcilla (blood sausage) and ojo di bife (rib-eye).
San Carlos de Bariloche
El Boliche de Alberto - One of the best steaks I have ever eaten. The bife de Chorizo was sublime. It was so good we went here twice!
Bustillo Ave - the one we went to was a bit outside of town (go here!)
La Marmite - We had a quick lunch here and though it is not strictly a Parrilla the ojo de bife was good.
329 B. Mitre
More Argentinian dining up next!