What does one eat for their first dinner in Argentina? Parrilla, of course. On our first night as residents of Buenos Aires, my husband took me to La Cabrera, a typical high-end Argentine eatery that he calls “an institution” in Palermo.
A “parrilla” is a grill on which Argentines have asados (barbecues). In Argentina, “parrilla” is also the name for a restaurant which sells grilled meats. Typical parrilla menus include chorizo (pork sausage), morcilla (blood sausage), mollejas (sweetbreads, which are the thymus gland), a variety of organ meats (including intestines and kidneys) as starters; these grilled meats are followed up by a delicious bife de chorizo (sirloin strip steak), costillas (ribs), or vacio (flank: it is my understanding that there is not an equivalent cut in the United States). Needless to say, with all that meat on the menu, my first dose of Argentine cuisine was a fabulous one.
La Cabrera has an impressive wine list. We chose the Nieto de Senetiner, which is a bodega that has a long standing history in the Lujan de Cuyo region, a province of the major wine producing region of Mendoza. The first vineyards were planted by Italian immigrants in 1888; throughout the last century the winery passed through the hands of many families (including that of its namesake, the Nieto Sentetiner family) before it was finally purchased by Perez Companc in 1998.
I am fascinated by the background of Nieto Senetiner, not only because they were one of the pioneers of new wine making techniques in Argentina, but because the life of its current proprietor, Gregorio Perez Companc, is unbelievable. Born in Argentina in 1934, he was adopted by a socialite; he later married an heiress and made his fortune through his adopted father’s oil and gas conglomerate, Petrolera Perez Companc. At a net worth of $2.1 billion (US), Gregorio is the richest man in Argentina. Not a bad way to go, considering his humble beginnings.
Knowing the background of the winery might take away from the small, “family-owned bodega” feel that a name like Nieto Senetiner brings about, but as I always say with wines: let the taste speak for itself. And Nieto Senetiner’s 2009 Malbec DOC was phenomenal. It was tremendously fruit-forward, yet very well-balanced. The wine had an excellent consistency thanks to the 12 months that it was aged in French oak barrels. The tannins were incredibly soft, yet present enough to stand up against our meal, which consisted of chorizo (pork sausage), morcilla (blood sausage), and an entree of entrana (skirt steak). The berry characteristics of the wine went very well with the tapas, which included a pumpkin puree, marinated olives, boiled potatoes, and egg salad.
The best part? The wine was $20. AT THE RESTAURANT.
It was a fabulous welcome to the city that will be our home, and a fabulous introduction to the bodega Nieto Senetiner. And just when I thought that it couldn’t get any better… we were served complimentary sparkling wine as dessert. After such a delicious welcome to Argentina, I was one happy camper… not like there is anywhere to camp in this city of 15 million.