In Argentina, Don't Put a Cork in It

Sunday, April 27, 2008

In Buenos Aires, the vineyards come to you. Though Argentina's wine regions are at least 12 hours by car from the capital, visitors can sample local grapes at any of the wine bars popping up around town.

Most vinotecas serve Argentine wines by the glass and bottle, accompanied by small plates or extensive menus, depending on the venue. Far from elitist, all of the places mentioned here are welcoming and hardly intimidating.

The Palermo neighborhood is thick with shops, restaurants and bars, including Lobby Wine Bar (Nicaragua 5944). Open from morning through night, this vinoteca is bright and cheerful during the day, dark and moody in the evening. The small room is slick and modern, with shiny black tables and boxy white chairs. The owners worked for one of the city's high-end wine-selling chains before setting off on their own. Lobby sells 12 wines by the glass and more than 60 bottles, which cost $4 to $130 (plus a $3.25 corkage fee at lunch and $5 during dinner). Malbec, which often comes from the Mendoza region near the Chilean border, is an Argentine classic, and the 2004 Ruca Malen Malbec is most likely the best $14 bottle of wine you've ever tasted. For an excellent malbec by the glass, spend $5 on the 2006 Altos Las Hormigas, produced by Italians who started a winery in Mendoza a decade ago. On the white side of the list, a glass of 2007 Humberto Canale Sauvignon Blanc from Patagonia is a deal at $3.25.

Near downtown, Gran Bar Danzon (Libertad 1161) has made a name for itself among travelers and locals, who enter by a narrow, candlelit stairway to a dim second floor. By 8 p.m., office workers in suits and tourists in more casual attire are bunched up against the long bar or huddled around tables. (To snag one of the few seats and eat a meal, it pays to book ahead.) Gran Bar Danzon offers 21 wines by the glass -- 13 reds, seven whites and one rosé -- and an incredible 450 wines by the bottle. If you're in the mood for a red, try the 2006 Saurus Patagonia Select Pinot Noir. The wine takes its name from the dinosaur bones found during the construction of the winery (the fossils are on display there). If you've never tried a late-harvest wine, plunk down $5.50 for a glass of one of Argentina's tastiest: 2005 Weinert Cosecha de Otoño. The Mendoza vintage is intensely sweet but stops short of cloying.

Diseño Líquido (Humahuaca 3853) sits on a quiet street in the middle-class Almagro neighborhood. With its low ceilings and slightly musty scent, the cellar makes a great setting for a meal. If you prefer an open space, the first floor offers tables by a nearly floor-to-ceiling window. Diseño Líquido opens at 4 p.m. and serves through dinner, which in Buenos Aires means past midnight. Bottles range from $6 to $200, with no corkage fee. (There are no wines by the glass.) The 2004 Luigi Bosca Reserva DOC Malbec, at $19, won't disappoint. Also consider the 2006 Escorihuela Gascon Viognier, a $12 white wine from Mendoza made with grapes that might win over even those who normally prefer reds.

A 20-minute stroll takes you to La Cava Jufre (Jufre 201), in the Villa Crespo area. The neighborhood is starting to hum with the night life that enlivens nearby Palermo, but most blocks are still quiet and low-key. Open in the evenings, La Cava Jufre feels warm and welcoming, due in large part to its owner, Lito Galeano, who prefers to focus on smaller boutique wineries. A few dozen bottles are available from $3.50 to $60 plus a $1.50 corkage fee. The wines by the glass depend on what's open that night. You're in for a treat if Galeano has opened a $12 bottle of 2005 Tomero Malbec or the $12 2005 Tomero Cabernet Sauvignon. If you're lucky -- or if you volunteer that you play the harmonica -- he might pick up his guitar and strum a few chords. A small bowl of olives, a beef empanada and a generously poured glass of wine comes to $4.50.

In Buenos Aires, nearly everything -- empanadas, ice cream, Happy Meals -- can be delivered. So if the idea of leaving your hotel room for a bottle of wine is too much to bear, you're in luck. Nigel Tollerman started 0800-Vino ( earlier this year to deliver wines and stemware anywhere in the city with a minimum order of $22. The entrepreneurial sommelier, who also arranges tastings, keeps 250 wines from 40 wineries in a climate-controlled cellar and a moped at the ready. For $7.50, try a tannat, such as the 2006 Callia Magna. Tannat is Uruguay's emblematic grape, but it is also grown in Argentina. At $18, the rich and silky 2004 Tapiz Reserva Malbec is another excellent option. Whatever you decide, you'll be uncorking it in less than an hour.

-- Daniel Shumski

For information on traveling to Buenos Aires: Tourism of Buenos Aires, 011-54-800-999-2838,

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