Pairing the Pour

South American wines at Vaca y Vino

The vinos at Vaca y Vino were provided by Republic National Distributing Company, Pioneer Wine Company, and Virtuoso Selections, a local business. Virtuoso sent representatives from their organization to pour their wines and share stories of the winemakers. Out of everything offered, most bottles were from the Mendoza region. However, a few snuck in from Chile and from the Salta Province, a region 1,200 miles north of Mendoza known for its high-altitude vineyards and for Torrontés, a grape of the Muscat family and and most planted white variety in Argentina. Except for three bottles, all whites at this event were this varietal.

When I spoke with Greg Randle, and a certified wine educator for Josephine House and the new Jef­frey's, our conversation quickly veered toward Randle's favorite topic: pairings. He imagines wine and food interactions like relationships between people. Some, he says, are like your work buddies or like spending time with good friends. Some are reliable pairings, like fois gras and Sauternes: an old couple who have found their groove and don't have to prove anything to anyone. And some are the surprising true loves who make each other stronger. For him, Malbec and Argentine barbecue are just that combination. But Torrontés hasn't quite hit its stride for pairing – as in, it doesn't really pair well with anything. As a member of the Muscat family, it is floral and bursting with tropical fruit, but also heavy in the mouth and waxy like Semillon. In the high-altitude (over 5,000 feet above sea level), windswept, sandy soil vineyards, acidity is preserved, so it can stand in at a meal. Randle says there are "not bad" pairings, like Torrontés with Mexican food or even Chinese, but it doesn't work with the food to make each part stronger. That doesn't mean Torrontés is a bad wine. It just means there is more to be discovered by both consumers and winemakers. Malbec from Salta, on the other hand, is a sturdy pairing partner. LeeAnn Kocur­ek, head sommelier at Jeffrey's, recommends searching out these high-altitude, elegant bottles. She said, like the name Salta, they have a salinity about them and a solid backbone of acidity that stands up to food like beef and even rich cheeses.

The new sommelier team at Jeffrey's.
The new sommelier team at Jeffrey's. (Photo by Margaret Shugart)

Lastly, Virtuoso Selections offered a Malbec Rosé by Tapiz, and Pioneer Wine Company offered one by Crios, a woman-run winemaking operation. After attaining her oenology degree in 1981, Susana Balbo has been dedicated to expanding the number of grapes and winemaking styles in Mendoza and is recognized for her skill by Robert Parker, Wine & Spirits, and Impact Magazine, to name a few. She now works and consults in six wine regions around the world, but Crios – literally translated to "children" or "offspring" – is closest to home. The label shows three hands overlapping, one representing her and the other two representing her children.

Buckets of wine.
Buckets of wine. (Photo by Margaret Shugart)
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