While eight Argentine restaurants were recommended last week in British quarterly publication The World of Fine Wine’s Wine List Awards, just two picked up the full complement of stars: Buenos Aires’ Oviedo – whose cellar is lovingly managed by renowned restaurateur Emilio Garip – and Pampa Roja.
While other local bell-ringers such as Elena and Chila also made the cut, little-known Pampa Roja has the pleasure of sharing such prestigious a space with international giants including New York’s Eleven Madison Park, Lima’s Central and London’s Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.
But if it sounds unusual that a 25-seater restaurant in Santa Rosa, La Pampa province, that only opened six months ago figures on this fancy list, the devil is in fact in all the detail.
Run by husband-and-wife team Mariano Braga and Florencia Borsani with a tiny kitchen staff of just three, Mariano is a sommelier and wine strategist whose eponymous website is the only one written in Spanish to be nominated best blog by the International Wine and Spirit Competition, making him one of Argentina’s top wine experts – and he’s still just 29.
Talking about The World of Fine Wine’s accolade, Mariano said: “It’s marvellous for us. This magazine first compiled such a list last year but Pampa Roja hadn’t yet opened — we started six months ago, so to receive this so soon after is great.
“They gave us three stars, which is the maximum possible, and that puts us in competition with restaurants that receive a lot of investment and are able to stock grand crus from Bourgogne, for example. No other small enterprises are featured, so to rank alongside Eleven Madison Park and Central is amazing recognition for us.”
Admitting he’s into details – from supplying the best vintage to ensuring the correct DOC or AOC is listed – this intimate eatery has a 141-strong wine list. Impressive stuff for a restaurant catering to 25 diners three nights a week.
And not only do most of Argentina’s grape-producing regions feature – La Rioja, La Pampa and Catamarca besides the usual suspects – but he also includes goodies from Chile, the US, Italy and his favourite regions in France, bringing wares back from his travels.
Talking to the Buenos Aires Herald on Tuesday, Mariano said: “You might find just one label from a winery on my list because that’s the one I find most interesting — it has a story to tell. For example, a lot of diners ask for the Bodega Del Desierto Malbec but I only stock Syrah and Merlot from that winery because I prefer them: they’re more exciting to me.
“However, I can only do that because I don’t work directly with any bodegas. That gives me a lot of freedom, as I don’t have to make any commercial deals.”
Besides diversity in denomination, a feat of which many Argentine restaurants would be envious, the price range might be the most diverse in the country. Again, because he only wants to place wines he cares about on the menu, Mariano has the freedom to choose between veritable bargains you can barely pick up in the chino supermarket to the most luxurious of Argentine vintages.
He adds: “While I only charge wine store prices, the most economical is the Etchart Privado Torrontés at 35 pesos and prices go up to 4,140 pesos with Catena Zapata’s Estiba Reservada 2007.”
Another pillar of creativity comes from three reference points that help diners through the lengthy list, which might appear intimidating to the untrained eye. DP stands for personal weakness (I heaved a sigh of relief when I saw that some of Mariano’s star choices fit my own palate), such as the Doña Paula Sauvage Blanc Brut Nature sparkler and Colomé Auténtico Malbec 2013.
GR-highlighted wines, meanwhile, are emblematic representatives of either a cépage or a region: GRs include Mendel’s 2013 Semillon and the Zuccardi Q Tempranillo 2011.
And of course, Mariano’s beloved La Pampa features as LP, highlighting wine made by Bodega del Desierto in the Patagonia province better known for producing beef and lamb rather than red or white grapes.
Besides offering a vertical selection of Bodegas López’ Montchenot red blend that dates between 1998 and 2004, the final pillar that will whet any eno fans’s taste buds is called Bombazos de mi colección privada (Smash Hits From My Private Collection). This is where matters get really juicy, and where Mariano strictly deals with the 10 rotating one-off vintages from his cellar. Gems include Matías Riccitelli’s República de Malbec 2012 and Finca La Anita’s Linea Tonel 200 Malbec/Syrah blend.
While I haven’t (yet) sampled the edible wares that focus on local produce such as lamb, venison and wild boar at Pampa Roja — a menu that changes up each month — I have just imbibed this fabulous wine list with my eyes. Perhaps I’ll simply go liquid when I finally make it to Santa Rosa.
Pampa Roja Juan B. Justo 65, Santa Rosa La Pampa Tel: 02954 422-149 Thursday to Saturday