Raising the steaks

30 May, 2008

Argentina's rich culinary tradition sits very comfortably with its diverse wine offering. We all know Malbec is made for meat, but there are other matches to explore

A great big juicy steak, sizzling and crackling as it's pri sed off the barbie, served with a deep crimson glass of Malbec. For some people, this is as good as Argentine cuisine - or indeed, any cuisine - gets. Can you improve on perfection? Perhaps not. But you can certainly spend some quality time exploring what other food and wine combinations Argentina has to offer, and there are plenty of them.

Five hundred years of wine culture, and a considerable European influence (the Italians, the Germans and even the Welsh have left their mark) means that Argentina has a pretty strong tradition of combining its culinary and vinous talents.

The momentum is being continued by a new generation of kitchen wizards . In Mendoza, for example, Lucas Bustos is winning international acclaim for dishes such as arugula ice cream

with Parmesan cheese, rabbit cannelloni and a sorbet of green apples and parsley. The mind boggles at the wine-matching possibilities.

Malbec is traditionally matched with beef, but soft and sweet styles work beautifully with lamb, pork and

chicken. Fuller-bodied versions can be superb with game - as can most robust reds, particularly with a little ageing and distinctive secondary flavours. A San Juan Shiraz such as Gran Callia is one example.

Pinot Noir is a natural match for lamb, a favourite dish in Patagonia where this most picky of grape varieties is being vinified to increasingly impressive standards.

Argentina is mad about pasta, and fresh juicy Bonarda (as well as young Malbec) is a great partner for tomato-based sauces. But it's not all about meat: over half the population of Argentina lives in the port city of Buenos Aires. Yes, they like their steaks here, too, but seafood and pasta are staple elements of the diet. The Porteños like to wash down shellfish with clean, cold, floral and refreshing Torrontés, while with baked or roasted fish Chardonnay, Viognier and Sauvignon tend to be the order of the day.

Along the entire length of the Andes you will also find river and lake fish

that work well cooked simply and served with the whites of the region - which are not too heavy on the oak.

Argentina produces a massive amount of sparkling wine and, though it may be a slightly controversial claim, many believe it is the best of the New World producers. Wines like NQN Brut or Rosell Boher Brut are perfect with oysters, smoked salmon and the like.

An Argentine speciality is the empanada - a pasty-like dish with its roots in Galicia. You might assume these would be best accompanied by something red, but in fact they are universally served with Torrontés. It works because the empanadas are spiced and the floral, tropical quality of Torrontés partners this well.

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