Buenos Aires – There’s a new kid in town, a second English language newspaper, the argentimes. It’s written by and for the “youth market” with an emphasis on social and political issues and eco-tourism. I missed the first issue in early June, but picked up the second issue yesterday at the restaurant I’ll be reviewing next. It’s a well written, well edited paper, and definitely has a viewpoint different from The Buenos Aires Herald, the long term, staid English language paper here. For a paper based in Buenos Aires, and with its aims, I found some of the content odd – two of the three political and social issue stories were about Bolivia (maybe because the two editors have spent the last few years living in Bolivia and can’t get that beat out of their minds?). On the other hand, I got a solid sense of some of what’s going on there. There was also a fascinating piece about the history and some new social programs in Villa 31, which turns out to be the name of the shantytown behind Retiro station. The restaurant review was of a North American owned and run expat sports bar – possibly interesting news for any expats who don’t already know the place, but given the paper’s stated aim of “dedicated to increasing awareness of the cultural, economic, political, social and environmental sides of Argentine life”, I find it an odd choice.
The strangest for me was the fine argentine wine column, which included a side bar on Wine Tasting for Idiots and a responding sidebar of Idiot in Action – I’m going to tackle that column, since it’s kind of my specialty. I’m not familiar with the writer, Lucy Barber, and I have no knowledge of her qualifications. She writes well, but I’m going to pick a bit on the content. “The grandfather of all grape varieties in Argentina has to be Malbec.” Well, no. Malbec has become the darling of the wine industry because of its ease in growing and because during the last decade of the renaissance of the wine industry here, writers and marketers pushed it as Argentina’s flagship grape. As recently as 1992, the Slow Food Guide to Wines of the World only listed four Malbecs from Argentina as worthy of considering, other guides to South American wines were similarly sparse. In fact the first “varietal”, as in 100%, Malbecs in Argentina weren’t even made until the late 1980s (Weinert, Trapiche, and Flichman). She describes it as dark and tannic and producing wines of the highest quality – the latter is only just becoming true over the last few years – prior to that, much as in France, Malbec was just considered a local blending grape. As to dark and tannic – not really, in fact, other than those versions being intentionally made that way by a lot of modern technological techniques, most Malbecs are more medium in color and weight, and quite soft rather than tannic – one of the reasons it’s so appealling to a wide populace (much like Merlot in the U.S. over the last 20 years).
In regard to Bonarda, which is Argentina’s most planted red varietal (she says “there is now more Bonarda planted in the country than Malbec” – something which has pretty much always been true, in fact, Malbec is just finally catching up because of the marketing push), she states “It is believed that the grape is similar to a small handful of Italian varities – of which there are thousands!” Umm, Bonarda is related to, well, Bonarda. Sure it might be “related” to other grapes – but all grapes are. Bonarda is the primary red grape of most of the Italian province of Lombardia, especially in the Po River area vineyards, and is widely grown in Piedmont as well, along with smaller plantings in other parts of the country. A minute’s research on the internet or with a wine reference book would have uncovered that deeply hidden information. Torrontés, Argentina’s star white grape is “thought to be Mediterranean in origin” – well, let’s try Spain and Portugal, where it’s widely grown along the neighboring border regions, or Madeira Island, where it was at one time one of the mainstay grapes. In her sidebar on tasting and smelling wine, she mentions that wine that smells of bad eggs should basically be dumped – “do not go any further. Ask for something else” – err, no, wine that smells of bad eggs means it’s been treated with sulfur as a preservative – swirl the glass for a minute, or just let it sit open for a couple of minutes, the smell will almost always blow off quickly, it’s just a residual odor from the preservative treatment. Having just gotten through with the Austral Spectator wine guide tastings, we had literally dozens of wines that initially smelled of sulfur, 15-20 seconds of a little oxygenation and they were fine. She never even addresses the real problems that one smells and tastes for – corkiness, oxidation, maderization, aceterbacteria (respectively smells of wet newspaper, sherry, caramelized, and vinegar).
Back to the writing itself, which again, I’d emphasize is quite well done. It’s engaging. But while presenting wrong information well may be a talent, it’s not particularly a service. I await my hate mail.
I’m guessing they won’t offer me the job of writing about food and wine for them. That’s okay, I’ll keep reading the paper.