The New Kid

2006.Jul.05 Wednesday · 5 comments

in Books & Other Media, Drink

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.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

dan July 8, 2006 at 16:37

I’m in trouble now… the editor of the argentimes just registered on my site… 😉

editor July 8, 2006 at 16:51

hey there,

No hate mail! Actually we are really touched you found our paper interesting (albiet incorrect in your eyes) enough to write about it on this site. We arrived here in March and have produced two papers so far – the third will be out this Thursday 14th July. In answer to your comments, we decided to write about Bolivia for two reasons – we wanted to acknowledge Morales’ six months in power (especially as his stance on the gas issue is affecting Argentine politics) and the other is that we loved the article written by Jimmy Lloyd on the riots in 2003.

The review on the sports bar was written by our US staff writer and I don’t think it needs to be defended as it is a bar, located here, which both ex-pats and Argy’s go.

Also, in response to your comments on poor Lucy Barber’s article – she has several diplomas in Wine Tasting, and is currently studying to be a “Master of Wine”. I will pass your comments on to her, and perhaps you two can have dinner and discuss this further (would love to be a fly on the wall!). For my part, I thoroughly enjoyed reading her piece.

Finally, in all seriousness if you would like to be our Food and Wine writer we would love to have you.

So there! 🙂

Cheers! Lucy (co-editor) The Argentimes, editor@theargentimes.com

dan July 8, 2006 at 18:24

Really, I did find the paper interesting, as I mentioned in the beginning. And while I do find the choice of the sports bar odd – mostly just because I don’t find it to be particularly a part of Argentine culture – yes, it’s located here, but its ownership, management, menu, entertainment, etc., are all oriented around US culture – for me, though obviously much more fancy, it’s sort of akin to reviewing a TGIF or Planet Hollywood as somehow part of local culture.

The wine article, given my own background, obviously bothered me. I think it bothers me more to find out that Lucy B is somewhere on her track to Master of Wine, having been through a good portion of that program myself. Since a huge part of that process is learning to research, verify facts, and then write well about them, the lack of the former two seems odd for someone with that level of background.

Lucy B March 8, 2008 at 08:57

Hi Dan

Well, I have finally found your comments on my inaugural piece in TAT – many moons ago.
Thanks for the compliments on my writing style and I hope you still pick up a copy of the paper regularly.

As for your nitpicking. You must understand that that article was written for an audience without your wealth of wine knowledge and whilst, yes, there were some generalisations it was unecessary to include discussions about oxidisation, grape ‘geneaology’, volatile acidity and other wine geeky matters when the purpose of the article was to give people some confidence in choosing wines, to make good wines more accessible for all and for the wine world not to appear so snobbish!

I’ll also correct Lucy regarding my experience and qualifications so you don’t think that I am bringing the term ‘Master of Wine’ into disrepute! After all I wouldn’t want to mislead you. I am a linguist who happens to love wine and I work for a fine wine merchant. I am in the process of completing my WSET Diploma – in fact I should be revising at the moment.

So, keep enjoying life in BsAs, sharing your wine know-how and keep reading the Argentimes! It’s a fantastic city and an even more brilliant paper.
Lucy B

dan March 8, 2008 at 09:49

While I definitely agree that the various technical stuff didn’t need to be gone into, and I do understand the intent (and did then) of the article, I’m still of the opinion that if one is going to present information, regardless of how “dumbed down” it is for whatever audience, it ought to be at least accurate – and given your clear ability to communicate, I guess my point was that you could have gotten that info across to your intended market with style and ease, rather than giving them “facts” that either just aren’t so or are incomplete – even novices want to learn a little.

I know the paper still exists, though I rarely see it anymore. I must not hang out at the right locations.

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