The wine of Argentina is a fascinating study. There are so many small producers there who make incredible wines, not only with mainstay Argentine grapes like Torrontes and Malbec, but also with grapes which are already household names to American wine lovers. Argentina does wonderful things with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay, too.
I recently had the pleasure of a wine lunch featuring the wines of Santa Julia Winery and the cuisine of the country, presented by Santa Julia's own Ana Rodriguez Armisen, chef of Casa Del Visitante, the winery's restaurant in Argentina. This media event was held at the esteemed Rivera restaurant, in downtown Los Angeles. The food was a collaborative effort between the Rivera staff and Chef Ana.
Santa Julia is not one of those small producers of Argentina. They are quite a large producer in Mendoza, actually. They are helping lead the way in Argentina's effort to get their wines known globally. It wasn't too long ago that 90% of Argentina's wine was consumed in Argentina. One doesn't need an MBA to realize that a marketing plan was needed. Argentina started aggressively exporting their wine in the 1990s and are now the largest wine producing country in South America - fifth largest in the world.
Santa Julia has not yet achieved the name recognition in the US of brands like Alamos and Trapiche, which you can probably find on your supermarket’s shelves. They are, however, producing good quality wine that’s priced to sell - the Santa Julia line of wines is priced in the $10 to $15 range. I have seen their label popping up from time to time over the past couple of years on a number of restaurant wine lists, and I expect to see it even more in the future.
Santa Julia was represented at this lunch by the lady whose name graces the label. Julia Zuccardi's grandfather, Alberto, founded the family's wine estate in 1963, and the Santa Julia line bears her name.
The Zuccardi family takes the family concept seriously. They appear to be a big winery with a big heart. Their 700 employees all have year-long jobs with the winery, not just at harvest time. The Zuccardi family supports the people who make the wine in more than a monetary way. They have created a community for their employees.
They also treat the land and its fruit with respect, evidenced by their commitment to sustainable, organic farming. Santa Julia’s line of organic wines - [+] - is what brought Julia and Chef Ana to Los Angeles for this lunch.
Their new line of sustainable wines are made with grapes taken from low-yielding, sustainably-farmed vineyards. Organica (100% organic) and their top-end Reserva collections were served in addition to the [+] wines.
Santa Julia is located in Mendoza - Argentina’s Napa Valley. They have Malbec, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon on the list, as well as varieties not so commonly found in Argentina, like Viognier, Pinot Grigio and Tempranillo. One of my tablemates called Santa Julia the United Nations of grapes.
The Organica line features Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Bonarda, Tempranillo, Malbec rosé, Torrontes and Chardonnay. Their Reserva wines inculde Tempranillo, Malbec, Bonarda, Syrah, Chardonnay and Tardio - a late-harvest Torrontes.
Appetizers - homemade empanadas and bread topped with beef slices and Chimichurri - were paired with a quartet of wines. Santa Julia’s Brut Rosé is made from 100% Pinot Noir and shows earthy, toasty strawberries. The Organica Chardonnay is unoaked and tropical. The [+] Malbec sees only 4 months of French oak for 30% of the wine, while the and Organica Cabernet Sauvignon is vinified in stainless steel. Both reds have rich aromas and finish long.
The first course of shrimp and watermelon mojito salad with cucumber and mint was a hit with the [+] Torrontes. The fruit salad nose and peachy pear palate paired perfectly with the shrimp and fruit.
Grilled lamb with crispy smashed potatoes arrived as the main course. The Santa Julia Reserva Malbec - young and fruity with earth and smoke - paired best with this dish. Their Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon offered plenty of earthy notes, too, as well as firm tannic structure.
As good as the preceding culinary delights were, the hit of the lunch had to be the dessert - a beautiful presentation of chocolate torte with drunken pineapple. The pairing with Santa Julia’s Tardio was a no-brainer. The Torrontes and Viognier grapes used in this dessert wine are late-harvest selections, so there are no honey notes you might find in a wine made from grapes affected by botrytis. This sweet wine is all fruit and very clean on the palate.
As a gift to the attendees, Chef Ana whipped up a little Chimichurri to show how easy it is to make. Here’s her recipe:
Chef Ana’s Chimichurri
Spices, herbs, pepper, olive oil.
Mix together chopped garlic, parsley, thyme rosemary, oregano, black pepper and paprika. Chili pepper may be added to taste, but be careful not to make it too spicy. Add 1 part wine vinegar and 1 part olive oil with a splash of torrontes and stir. It’s great for dipping with bread, and also as a topping for grilled meats.