Gourmet Latino Vino: Sampling Offbeat Wines from (Way) South of the Border
If your idea of Latin American cuisine is tacos and a frosty Corona, you're missing out, amigo. From Mexico to Tierra del Fuego, Latin America offers up a stunning array of flavors and culinary traditions -- and all were on display recently at the Gourmet Latino Festival, a five-day series of events and tastings in New York City. There was Argentine barbecue, Mexican mole, and cocktails made with Peruvian Pisco, Mexican tequila and Brazilian Cachaca.
Being a wine lover, I was intrigued by an event that promised to pair Latin America specialties with wines from surprising regions like Brazil, Uruguay and Mexico. it was held at at Palo Santo, a Latino restaurant in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood, where chef-owner Jacques Gautier serves up unusual but authentic pan-Latin cuisine, often using ingredients from his rooftop garden.
"I like to showcase dishes I've come across in my travels but that are less well known," explained Gautier. The same could be said for the wine served that evening.
The six-course menu started with a glass of Saurus Extra Brut, a sparkling wine from Familia Schroeder in Patagonia. A Chardonnay-pinot noir blend, it was medium-bodied but deliciously full-flavored, with a toastiness that put it closer to Champagne than prosecco on the sparkling wine continuum (even though it was made in the latter style). That was followed by a glass of Miolo Millesime, a Brazilian sparkling wine comprised of a similar Chardonnay-pinot noir blend and made in the Champenoise method. It had layers of citrus and spice notes, and went exceptionally well with an eclectic Peruvian tuna cerviche that combined on one small plate sea urchin roe, spicy coconut milk, cilantro and a few puffy kernels of popcorn -- a traditional Peruvian flourish, Gautier told us.
Next up was a Chilean Riesling from Maria Luz Marin, a pioneering winemaker who crafts small production wines in the viticulturally challenging region of San Antonio, a chilly, windswept area north of Santiago a stone's throw from the Pacific. When Marin planted her vineyards there about a decade ago, people thought she was crazy. But the aromatic Riesling, with its stony edge, proved how wrong conventional wisdom can be -- especially when served along side a plump scallop in a rich reduction of fish stock and sofrito.
There was a refresher course of intensely-flavored micro greens from Gautier's rooftop garden, and then a Malbec from Mendoza announced that we'd be switching to meat, in this case, roast duck breast with garlic scapes, chimichurri sauce and roasted potatoes. The wine was nice, but not too complex, Gautier explained, because he didn't want to steal the thunder from the next pour, a Uruguayan red blend dominated by Tannat, an inky-dark grape often called the "national grape" of Uruguay. The wine, a Juanico Preludio Lot 77, is the winery's attempt at a Grand Cru style wine in the Bordeaux tradition (the other grapes in the blend are Cabernet, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Marselan). It was intense but sophisticated, with rounded tannins -- a voluptuous mate to tango with the rich Berkshire pulled pork served alongside.
Finally, we ended on a sweet note with a dessert wine from the Mexican Baja, Chateau Camou's "El Gran Divino." A mix of Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Chardonnay, it was sweet, but with an unexpected earthiness, tasting of salt and smoke, that added depth and interest. As we said our good-byes, I felt a bit like a stuffed tamale, but a very well-traveled one.