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If the quarantine has taught me anything, it is that it never hurts to confront existential dread with a glass of wine. I have also learned that it is not as difficult to discover new wines from small wine producers as I thought. Maybe I am just beginning to pay more attention, but the amount of naranjos, criollas, rosados, moscateles, bonardas, tannats, pinot noirs, cabernet francs, sauvignons and garnachas is seemingly infinite as soon as you find your small neighborhood wine shop and step away from the relatively uniform selection of Mendozan Malbecs at the grocery store. Here goes 5 wine pairings with my main pandemic eats:
Egg fried rice and Naranjo
Egg fried rice hits all of my quarantine needs: cheap, fast and infinitely adaptable. We eat egg fried rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner and often four or five times a week. For breakfast, we’ll cheat and throw a fried egg on top, for lunch we tend to make creamy risotto-style rice and fold in thin slivers of scrambled egg and for dinner we’ll fry up leftover rice, make a well to fry the egg and spread the fluffy egg clouds throughout. There is always lots of onion, garlic and cilantro, occasionally dollops of spicy, szechuan-funky lao gan ma or hot red gochujang paste and sesame oil if we have the budget for it, and some cabbage, plump zucchini or carrots if I feel like chopping things.
I have tried pairing a lot of different wines with this. If google is to be trusted, it seems like the go-to for fried rice are dry white wines like an offensively bland Pinot Grigio or a dry Chardonnay. BORING. If I’m adding something spicy (which is nearly always), I prefer a Rosé de Syrah by Lattarico, which has a sour grapefruit smell and spicy notes of peppercorn that pull out the salty, umami flavors I like to cook with. And when I don’t have the funds to do a haul in Barrio Chino, which has been a lot, I grab a bubbly Naranjo to add some peppery, fermented notes to my meal.
Grilled Cheese con Mortadella and Rosado
Grabbing food from Alberto at the neighborhood almacen is one of my favorite quarantine habits. When we are feeling luxurious we buy some potato chips and mortadella or matambre relleno to make sandwiches. Fresh bread is another favorite quarantine habit. We get it delivered twice weekly from Pan Pan (sourdough with black and green olives) and Centinela de la Luna (plain sourdough). The great tragedy of this country is that good cheese (read: sharply flavored / nutty / slightly acidic cheeses) is really fucking expensive and guarded away in far-away specialty shops. So I lay on the queso cremoso thick with slices of an artisanal danbo, a lick of mustard and a comical amount of butter.
Most dry white wines will go well with a grilled cheese sandwich but since we don’t have the funds to buy really robust cheeses, I like the fruity complexity that a rosado can add. We are stuck between two different ones: a really versatile flowery, slightly acidic rosé made with malbec by Guachezco which at roughly $350 is a steal. And if we have a little extra cash, for just under $500 we’ll grab a Malbec-Sauvignon Blanc Rosé by Maroma that is more citrusy than floral and has an acidity that lingers on the tongue and also gets extra points for being from the lesser known wine region of Rio Negro.
Pizza and Pinot Noir
I could happily eat pizza every single day and especially in a city like Buenos Aires where the variety of pizzas are never ending. Crunchy, oil-laced pizza al molde, thin-sauce heavy pizza a la piedra, the new napolitanas, the masa madre bready pizzas that became trendy last year and the long-ferment yeast doughs with wild flavor combos that are becoming trendy right now. Although not a hard and fast rule, what unifies Buenos Aires pizza is a love for fatty, milky cheese and a general aversion to sauce — call me a gringo but I’d have it the other way around. All that is to say, I like to choose pizza wine with bread and cheese in mind and not so much sweet, tangy tomato sauce.
If I’m hitting a traditional pizzeria, I try to pound more neutral muzza flavors with loud salty cantimpalo or anchovies or maybe a napolitana with charred tomatoes and lots of oregano on top. Otherwise, I seek out pizzas loaded with non-conventional toppings like Gordo Chanta’s nduja or earthy asparagus pies or FF Pizzas bright beet sauce and cucumber pizza. A Malbec or Cabernet Franc are often too tannin heavy but a smoother Pinot Noir works perfect here. I love the Pinot Noir by Zorzal which just has a perfect contrast of mineraly tannins and fresh blackberry, or a lighter bodied, more berry flavored Puerco Vin Puerco but for something as everyday as my pizza obsession bottles by Serbal or Alpataco work really well too.
Sandwich de milanesa completisima and Criolla
When I’m having a bad day I order a sandwich de milanesa completa. When I’m having a great day I order a sandwich de milanesa completa. When todo me da paja I order a sandwich de milanesa completa. A good milanesa de pollo speaks to my inner child that thought a six piece chicken nugget meal from McDonalds was the pinnacle of dining. I think I’ve tried every milanesa sandwich within a 10 block radius. I don’t discriminate but I’ll always choose chicken milanesa with lots of parsley and garlic and prefer a sandwich that is made to order, not those window display sandwiches at your local panaderia (that don’t even come with french fries que son claves!) The key here is that your spot doesn’t skimp on the meat (if it’s all bread crumbs, abandon ship!), ideally uses crusty over-sized baguettes and serves french fries that are greasy but crisp that can scoop up egg yolk and the gradual mix of tangy ketchup and buttery mayonnaise. All of these are more general life rules and have less to do with the perfect execution of this pairing.
A plum-colored criolla works great here — the lighter the better and preferably natural. Criolla is one of the Americas few native grapes and one that is experiencing a revival in Argentina. It yields different strains of red, white and rosado grapes and turns out wines that are light bodied and refreshing. The pops of strawberry, raspberry and blueberry are ideal for cutting through the bready-greasy-herby fat of a stacked milanesa sandwich. Although harder to find, I’m digging the natural or minimal intervention Criollas lately like Las Payas’ raspberry tasting Canela or their slightly funkier Cereza, or Paso a Paso’s Clarete, which is a wine style that mixes red and white, in this case Criolla Grande with Moscatel and Torrontes.
Arepas and Sauvignon Blanc
Pizza may be the reigning delivery deity but arepas are truly the unsung heroes of take out. The structurally dignified, celestial corn discs can handle anything you stuff them with without breaking or turning soggy. For a brief moment in October, we were struck with arepa fever and tried out a lot of different places, many DIY pandemic projects run out of people’s homes. My favorites are the arepas maracuchas (from Maracaibo) which are extra greasy and extra saucy like Sazón Zuliano but this wine pairing works more for a lush mayo-avocado reina pepiada or a more robust domino made with black beans and slightly sour queso fresco. The key is creamy, buttery flavors.
I always associated Sauvignon Blanc with fish or more subtly flavored dishes but I’ve learned that it’s a great wine for more tropical flavors too. Crisp and acidic, it can often bounce between a passionfruit and lime flavor and pairs really well with Venezuelan queso, smacks of cilantro and the toasted corn flavor of arepas. Mi Terruño has a great line of really inexpensive wines (under $300) and for a touch more Serbal makes a Sauvignon Blanc that is more herby and minty.
Support Your Local Wine Seller!
You are not going to find any of these wines at your neighborhood shop or grocery chain. And although none of these wines hit the $200 mark that you find at the local grocery, if you have the extra economy consider getting friendly with a local wine shop to support small wine producers and small wine vendors.