The wine tasting is at 6 pm, and though I’ve been living in Latin America for over a year and a half, like a typical American I show up too early and decide to walk around the block a bit. This is Las Cañitas, and it’s a pretty section of Buenos Aires with a safe and neighborly feel to it. The address ending in the double digit-letter tells me it’s an apartment, rather than a restaurant or bar, and for a second I wonder if this wine tasting might be too intimate.
But a moment after ringing the buzzer, meeting my fellow wine tasters from Dallas and the founder and owner of Anuva Wines, Daniel Karlin, my mind is at ease. We enter one of those quintessential Argentine elevators with the manual-fold slide shut door and head up to Karlin’s apartment, office, and for the next hour or so, private wine bar. And it’s here where the dinner table is ready with our place settings for five wines and five food pairings ready to go.
Tonight it’s just the three of us plus our host, but an average tasting can have up to eight guests, though special events for 30-40 people can be arranged with anticipation. The entire experience costs U$40 per person, a great value. Any insecurities from the thought of it originally are quickly laid down as we chat and make ourselves comfortable–it’s clear from the get-go that this is a place for learning, differentiating, and most importantly, desgustación (tasting) of wine. Let the festivities begin.
Right away the presentation begins, but I really shouldn’t say presentation, because that doesn’t quite capture the essence of it. This is not a speech that has been rehearsed a thousand times or practiced in front of a mirror, but rather a conversation given from a man who clearly knows and loves his wine. For the next 90 or whatever minutes, we are not limited by a proprietor/client relationship, but rather it’s like a friend talking to old buddies who are visiting Argentina for the first time. Of course wine is the main topic of discussion, but at any moment the expat recommendation for a great restaurant or an explanation of politics is readily available.
The thing is, Daniel Karlin is an American who came here in 2004 with the intention to travel the world for two years, but somehow 36 hours into his trip met his wife and business partner Lourdes. Daniel fell in love and got married, but you see, it gets complicated from there with a little love triangle. That third party would include Malbec, the little grape that could from France which, like Daniel, found a new home in Argentina. And the rest, as they say, is history. Now, he opens his home to locals and visitors for an intimate and exclusive wine tasting in Buenos Aires as part of Anuva Wines, which is also a distributor to 32 states in the U.S., shipping wines that otherwise never would have seen the far north. This is the only service like this in Buenos Aires.
We start in on a sparkling wine, Hom, pronounced ohm like a Buddhist chant. This tart and fruity drink has strong reminiscence of green apple, which explodes on the scene in my mouth as I try the cream cheese and celery cracker pairing. We continue with information on the wine and its bottling, production, and taste. This is a boutique wine, and it seems as though hardly any is made at all. To taste it is to have a sneak peak into Argentine wine. Hom is produced by Cava La Carmela, and they’ve been producing sparkling wine since 2002.
Next is the Serrera Torrontes, another white wine with potential to bring up the taste of fruit and something sweet. They say it has aromas of orange blossom, jasmin and honeyed white peach, but since I’m not an oenophile, I just take Karlin’s word for it and enjoy the taste. Though it seems like it’s a dessert wine, it holds together on its own, and in fact this wine has been known to turn anti-white wine drinkers into Torrontes lovers. It’s just that good. And matched with a sorbet of two flavors, the berries and terroir are a part of it just as much as the history, originating in Spain.
Our third wine brings on the reds, and here we start in with the main character, the Malbec. Malbec got kind of a bad rep in France, but only because it never fit in until it found the Argentine terroir. Here it developed into what it is today, and those who know wine know that Argentina sits on a vast expanse of land in Mendoza, known as the Cuyo Region, which is maybe the best in the world for growing this grape. Thinskinned, Malbec requires the arid desert conditions to reach full maturity and grows into a stellar and supple wine with soft tannins.
Our first sample is the San Gimignano Malbec Roble, from the Mevi Boutique Winery. My first sensation is of butter, and breathing in air as I swallow and breath out of my nose, the bouquet opens up and a world of tastes pop in to my memory as if they’d been waiting to be tapped on. It hints of something special, but I just can’t put my finger on it. An assortment of cheeses and meats expand on this as we continue our conversation, and I really forget that I’m at a wine tasting. It seems like I’m just at a friend’s house, and he’s been kind enough to teach me about something he’s well versed on. There are no pretensions–this is very much so a house, and everything from the photos to the menorah on the bureau tell me that this is a family business, and not a faceless corporation. I’ve been to those large tastings where you, like a bottle in the assembly line, are pushed in and out so quickly that you don’t even have time to ask what you just drank. If that was odd, this is even. (HA!)
Mairena Bonarda is next, with an interesting history dating back to the dictatorship of the 80s, and for the first time tonight I taste a wine that belongs with steak, more steak, and potentially more steak after that. This wine speaks to me in terms of experience, with a full body and an after taste that doesn’t linger, but has the sense to know when it should slowly fade away. It’s a keeper alright. This one is paired with a delicious empanada stuffed not with just any old meat, but rump steak. That means it’s kind of like the Rolls-Royce of empanadas.
And last but not least we have Don Juan Reserve from Las Perdices, which matches with two kinds of chocolates, one from Ecuador and another from Cote D’Ivoire, which to me has a coffee taste to it, though it’s listed as having hints of vanilla, raspberry jam and tobacco as well. This is a sweeter wine and seems like a good choice for a night of light eating or munching. Once the five wines and foods are finished, we aren’t rushed out of the door. Instead, we casually converse and discuss options on joining the wine club and shipments of the wines, or whether or not even just one bottle is worth taking home in checked luggage. Because with Anuva, the idea is to bring quality wines to a market that is waiting for it. However, there is no sales pressure and no false pretense. If you didn’t like the wine, then no sweat.
Anuva’s website is set up user-friendly and with the X Generation in mind, aka for those who didn’t grow up with a lap top in their, well, laps. A helpful blog gives information on the company and wines in Argentina, and there are also sections on Argentine culture and life. In short, it ensures that you don’t show up, try wine, and then get left at the doorstep. Rather, you are taken through the entire experience and even given directions to a great restaurant to boot. These wines aren’t mass produced, and are rarely found on shelves or even in the best restaurants in Buenos Aires, so unless you know someone special, Anuva is the place to go for high quality, yet virtually unknown wines. And once the tasting is complete, you can look over options and see whether or not you’d like to receive the wines you tasted at home, choosing how many bottles and when to be sent to you.
Daniel travels around the three wine growing regions of Argentina (Cuyo, Patagonia, and Salta) four or five times a year, tasting and looking for the best wines to distribute and demonstrate. The theory comes across in their name itself. Anuva is not a word you’ll find in any Spanish or English dictionary. It’s a combination of both languages, using “An” from English and “Uva” from Spanish, meaning grape. A new word: Anuva. And from what I can see, a new way to present wine in a country that’s already known for the product. That goes down smoothly with me.
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