Wine and Cheese amidst dimly lit chandeliers and gorgeously laid out dining table, a company of beautiful people and an evening full of discovery – a perfect setting for the most memorable evening. Quite naturally, I cannot describe my soiree at the Wine Club in Asado anything less than ‘Absolutely Memorable’! It was a beautiful evening of wine tasting, generously hosted by Asado’s Wine Club as our wonderful sommelier, Sarah Belanger guided us through a ‘journey of discovery’ as she calls it, through the world of Argentinean wines and the country’s wine history. Also, the perfect ambiance to meet some of the fantastic fellow bloggers from Fooderati Arabia for the first time. Rewinding the memories of the evening which had me interacting with the Fooderati bloggers – FooDiva, Girlieannyen’s Blog, Life in the Food Lane, The Hedonista, The Naihar Food Blog (in alphabetical order!) and a few others through the clinking of wine glasses over a table laid with savouries, cheese, fruits, nuts and Sarah’s passionate narration of the wine journey drifting through…
Wine Club at Asado in The Palace Hotel, The Old Town
Wine-tasting/Wine-Appreciation session; Minimum 6 persons; Prior reservation mandatory
Asado, most recently recognised by Wine Spectator, is home to the largest collection of Argentinean wines in the Middle East. The Wine Club offers wine appreciation classes for groups where guests can regale in the best of Argentinean wines.
The History of Argentinian Wine
Argentina is the sixth largest producer of wine in the world. During the Spanish colonization of the Americas, vine cuttings were brought to Santiago del Estero (the capital of Santiago del Estero Province in northern Argentina) in 1557. The cultivation of the grape and wine production first stretched to the neighbouring regions and then to other parts of the country. Traditionally, Argentinian wine was produced for the domestic market and it is only in the early 1990s that Argentina started producing good quality exportable wine. The major wine regions of Argentina are located in the western part of the country – all along the foothills of the Andes. Unlike the wine-growing regions in Europe where the climate is conducive to producing the best grapes, the Argentinian climate is semi-arid and resembles a desert climate. Then how is Argentina producing such good wines? This is an interesting point indeed. Argentinian viticulture rely on modern techno-savvy irrigation which captures the fresh water dripping down the melted snow caps of the Andes mountains. I wish that I could add similar excitement and the enthusiasm here that was reflected in Sarah’s voice as she so passionately harped on this ‘freshness’ point!
The high altitude and low humidity protects the Argentine vineyards from the factors that affect most European vineyards – the problems of insects, fungi, molds and other grape diseases. This allows cultivating with little or no pesticides, enabling even organic wines to be easily produced!
Important wine regions of the country are located in the provinces of Mendoza, San Juan, La Rioja, Salta, Catamarca, Río Negro and more recently in the Southern Buenos Aires. The Mendoza province produces more than 60% of the Argentine wine and accounts for huge exports.
As I walked into the inner parts of Asado into the room that hosts the wine tasting, the first glimpse of the well-stocked cellar through the glass door was a mini give-away to what was to follow in the rest of the evening. Wine and cheese always go hand in hand and the pairings are almost legendary. But I have often found myself stumbling while making the pairing decisions. Thankfully, this evening was going to be different. Though there are no rules as such and a lot depends upon individual preferences, a little note on this can be helpful. Generally the harder types of cheese (i.e. Cheddar or Parmesan) can handle more tannic wines (Tannins are components that ‘dries the mouth’). While creamy cheeses, such as Brie, typically pair better with wines that have more acidity, like a Chardonnay. Salty cheeses (i.e. Blue Cheese and Port) complement sweet wines like Dessert wines.
Sarah guided us through each wine – staring from the Sparkling wine, the Chardonnay, The Malbec and finally the Dessert Wine. She told us all about the food pairings, how different type of cheese complimented different wines and how each sip of a particular wine tasted different without it’s cheese pairing. We explored our own taste-buds – the acidity taste of the wine did change substantially when complemented with cheese. We learnt the ‘systematic tasting’ to check the quality of a wine – check-listing the ‘S’s – the Sight (checking the colour of the Wine against a white background), the Swirling, the Sniff or the Smelling, the Sip and the Slurp. So, next time you are drinking wine – please go ahead and make the expert swirl, the noisy slurp and the snooty sniff – it’s absolutely acceptable!
The Sparkling Wine & the Savouries – A supper effervescent Michel Torino with it’s eternal bubbles was the first in the list. Michel Torino does feature among one of the Classic Wines’ list and since 2006 all Michel Torino Vineyards have been certified organic. Situated at 1700m above sea level in the Salta province in north-east Argentina, along the foothills of the Andes, these vineyards are some of the highest in the world. This lovely sparkling wine was fresh, bubbly and citrus with a lovely balance of acidity. It did open up my palate, ready to take on more! I hate to admit this but by the end of the evening a little bit of Michel Torino was still there in my glass and believe me it had slow bubbles still coming out of it!
The White Chardonnay & the Brie – An Alamos Chardonnay 2010 introduced us to the famous wine producing Argentinian region of Mendoza. Alamos is labelled as the ‘Wine of the Andes’ and the labels on the bottles pay homage to that and much more. The grapes for Alamos wines are sourced from the high mountain vineyards which are situated at an elevation of 3,000-5,000 m above sea level. Half of the grapes come from the vineyards of the Catena famila estate. The Catena family has an illustrious association in introducing good quality Argentinian wines to the world.
The Brie that accompanied the Chardonnay was perhaps the creamiest of creamy Bries that I have eaten so far. It really did wonders in cutting the acidity of the Chardonnay, making it smooth and gentle. Alamos is oaked for 6 months in both American and French barrels – so it has a nice blend of both without being overtly oaked. Light pale in colour, Alamos is fruity and citrus with slight aroma of vanilla.
Enjoy the photo-journey while we sip the Chardonnay. Oh, in case you were wondering what my pink MP3 player is doing here – well, I recorded the conversations of the evening as I was very sure that I would hate to be making notes while I sip my wine and savour my cheese!
The Malbec & the Provoleta – I have to admit here that I do not have a palate for Red Wine. While everyone else in the room was waiting for this moment to arrive – the Star of the evening, The Malbec, I was hoping that I would probably force myself to a few sips and that’s it – the Red Wine moment would pass!
But, then I hadn’t tasted a Malbec before. We were served an Ique Malbec, 2011. Ique is the signature wine of Bodega Enrique Foster and Malbec is their specialty and has become the flagship of Argentinean wine. This fresh, young, unoaked wine, ruby-red in colour with a tinge of violet gave out a fruity aroma with slight spicy hints of white pepper. I fell in love with Malbec instantly.
As well as the hot baked Provoleta char-grilled and prepared by Asado’s Chéf. Provoleta is an Argentinian dish where the Italian Provolene Cheese is grilled to perfection to give out a nice smoky oregano flavor. It is a must have pre-meat dish for an asado (a standard word used now for barbecue but you can read more about it here.)
The story behind Bodega Enrique Foster’s Ique is equally interesting. Located in Lujan de Cuyo, the world’s premier location for Malbec grapes, the vineyards of Bodega Enrique Foster are over 80 years old and boasts of a state-of-the-art winery. A gravity-flow irrigation system has been crafted which eliminates pumping and is more gentle on the wine. This is the first purpose-built winery in the world to produce only Malbec varietals by gravity flow. Each grape that goes into making of the Malbec is hand-picked.
The Dessert Wine & the Blue Cheese - This was going to be ‘the cherry topping’ according to Sarah. Indeed it was. MONTES Late Harvest is a very special Dessert wine harvested in mid June with mild apricot and honey flavours. Coming from the house of Viña Montes which has made Chile internationally known, this is a premium wine which has been awarded the best of the best in this category.
I have a personal preference for Dessert Wine because of my genetic factors – the Bengali genes which always pull me towards anything sweet. And I loved the Montes Late Harvest. And it tasted even better with the salty Blue Cheese which seemed to reduce it’s sweetness quotient a bit – a litlle sigh for my Bengali palate!
Priced at Dhs 220/person, this wine wine journey offered by Asado is definitely something not to be missed. It is quite a deal really as Guests get to taste four different wines (and definitely the best names) that include sparklings, white, red, rose, dessert and fortified wines accompanied with an individual cheese and canapé platter. However, a minimum of 6 people are required and each journey lasts around 1.30 hours. There is a goodie bag at the end of the session which includes wine notes and a few other ‘surprise’ goodies that I don’t want to disclose, lest I spoil the surprise. What can be worse than reading a novel where you are already aware of how it’s going to end?
For more details click here or call +971 4 888 3444.
As our wine journey came to an end some of us stayed back over delicious grills from Asado, the lively Argentinean Grill so that the moments could linger on a bit more. A separate post on that in the future perhaps. Don’t forget to enjoy the pictures of Asado and hoping they tempt you enough.
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Disclaimer: The Wine Tasting part of our evening was hosted by Asado Wine Club. All my opinions are independent and based on my own experience. Don’t forget to read the reviews of the evening by FooDiva and Life in the Food Lane.