By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
When it comes to wines, not every bottle is going to have the elegant balance and graceful aging of a Château Lafite-Rothschild magnum opus.
And, the truth is, not every meal merits a break-the-bank investment in a pricy vintage.
So while there will always be those special occasions when you want to go ahead and splurge on an exceptional Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon to accompany your profligate chateaubriand anniversary dinner, on a simple day-to-day basis, most of people will settle for a 150-peso supermarket brand.
But while you may not find all the multifaceted complexity and restrained tannins of a Premier Cru at your local Superama, inexpensive wines don’t necessarily have to be “cheap” wines.
It was the Europeans, who tend to serve wine with every meal, who first coined the phrase “vin de table,” and they have been indulging in the pleasures of inexpensive non-appellation varietals for centuries.
Here in Mexico, where the annual per capita consumption is less than a liter, most people who do buy wines tend to judge the bottles they purchase by their price tag, and as a result, often miss out on some of the secret gems of affordable sipping.
There are, in fact, dozens of amazingly good whites, reds and rosés available in Mexico that don’t require taking out a second mortgage on your house, and some of them are even polygonal and full-bodied enough to hold their own with haute cuisine food.
That is exactly the point Mexico’s IDI wine and spirits distributor director Antonio J. Mezher Rage and Argentina’s Bodega Santa Julia director José Alberto Zuccardi wanted to make when they offered a wine pairing gourmet meal to a select group of culinary writers at the upscale Estudio Millesime inside the St. Regis Mexico City Hotel on Wednesday, March 13.
Zuccardi – whose family has been producing affordable, drinkable wines in Argentina’s prolific Mendoza Province (where two-thirds of that nation’s entire output is produced) for three generations and who is currently the president of the Argentine Viniculture Union – came to Mexico last week to introduce his Santa Julia line, which is now being distributed by IDI and sold at self-service stores nationwide.
And to show the sometimes snobby, often finicky Mexican gastronomic press that value-conscious vintners can deliver exceptional quality and extraordinary taste without hefty prices, he presented a sampling of his twist-cap portfolio of budget-mindful vinos dichotomized against the epicurean artistry of superior French cookery.
The four-course dinner began with a succulently layered tart of caramelized pâté de foie gras with baked apple slices and a creamed shallots paste.
Zuccardi paired this dish with what had originally seemed like a humdrum, overly young 2018 Santa Julia Chardonnay with tart notes of green apple and a very subtle hint of apricots.
The wine, which was pale yellow in color, took a modest backseat to the pâté, letting the food assume the starring role.
But paired with the sweetness and complexity of the foie gras tart, the flavors of the Santa Julia Chardonnay began to open up, offering a pleasant contrast of acidity and acuity that interplayed nicely with the food into a very agreeable coupling.
A more dominant wine would have overshadowed the delicate nuances of the pâté tart.
The second course was a molecularized wild rice and mushroom risotto, which was served with a dark-fruit-forward 2017 Santa Julia Reserva Malbec.
Despite its young age, the wine was definitely juicy and heady, although short on dimension and pertinacity.
Frankly, the rice and mushroom amalgamation was a little too earthy and bland, and even the resiliently plump and smoky bouquet of the Malbec couldn’t invigorate it.
In this case, the wine took center stage, and was very drinkable, albeit not phenomenal.
The third and main course was a delightful braised filet mignon in smoked sage and rosemary brandy, and once again, Zuccardi’s pairing choice was right on target.
The meat was served with a 2017 Santa Julia Magna blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Syrah grapes sourced from high-altitude vineyards in the Valley of Uco that had been refined in a nine-month retreat in once-used French oak barrels, giving it a stately distinction of tobacco and leather with soft notes of black fruits and violets.
Here, the balance of flavors was flawless.
This silky, tannin-y wine, which could easily have passed for an older and more expensive French reserve (Magna is the top of the line for the Santa Julia brand and sells for under 400 pesos a bottle), accentuated the flavors of the charbroiled meat and heightening its vapory herbal zing.
It was hard to image any wine – affordable or otherwise – being better suited to this particular dish.
The dessert course was a pear upside-down tatin with rosemary and yogurt ice cream that was a little too sweet on its own.
But matched with a very aromatic, very dry, golden yellow 2018 Santa Julia Colección Chenin Chardonnay, the tatin became much more palatable, and the diametric dissimilarities of the sugary confection and the astringent wine created a delectable mesh on the palate.
All in all, the dinner was first-rate, and the wines presented proved to be remarkably high-caliber despite their modest price tags.
As Zuccardi put it during a brief press conference before the dinner: “The real secret to making good wine is putting your heart and soul into its production, regardless of whether you are making a premium wine or an affordable table wine.”
And the Santa Julia collection definitely reflects an arden passion for great winemaking.