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World Malbec Day 2013 at Gaucho

Published 6 April 2013

I enjoy my wine, but I’m no wine buff.  In fact that’s putting it mildly.  If you were to place glasses of completely different types of red wine on the table in front of me and subjected me to a blind taste-testing, I reckon I would struggle to identify the Malbec from the Merlot, the Shiraz from the Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, I just had to perform a Google search just to double-check that all four of those are in fact red wines. 

So it was with no small degree of trepidation that I set out to Gaucho Piccadilly to attend a Beef and Malbec Masterclass led by Phil Crozier, Gaucho’s Director of Wines. Don’t get me wrong, I am not expecting sympathy- there are worse ways to spend a Tuesday afternoon than being given an expert guide to which type of red goes best with each of Gaucho’s famed cuts of beef.

Gaucho is gearing up for this year’s World Malbec Day, which takes place on 17 April. On the day itself, the Cavas de Gaucho (wine boutique) at Gaucho Piccadilly will have 40 different malbecs to try. The wines will be available by the glass as well as by the bottle, and you can walk right in off the street to enjoy them.

bottles of malbec wine at gaucho

I have not done much wine-tasting before, and I could easily see it straying into the realms of pretension. But that’s only going to happen in an environment where people don’t really know what they are talking about, and in Crozier we had someone in charge who clearly knew his stuff. Not only that, but within five minutes of the start of the session, the passion he has for his day-job became all too evident to his audience.

Leaning right on the edge of his chair, Crozier described how fortunate he felt to be tasked with sourcing an all-Argentinian wine list for Gaucho just as the country was producing its first quality vintages back in 1999. Crozier does not think Argentina has had a bad season since 2006. Argentina, apparently, has a unique “terroir” which covers around 3000km, from the northern province of Salta, through Mendoza and down to the Rio Negro in Patagonia. Any rain or snow emanating from the Pacific will fall over the Andes, allowing Argentinian wines to benefit from an average of 300-320 days of sunshine each year, and from a weather system free of any nasty surprises.

Even I could identify an impressive diversity between the five different Malbecs on offer. As a general rule, Malbecs are an intense red wine with an inky dark colour and robust tannins (thank you Wikipedia). They have an usually long maturation period (the time from flowering to picking), which results in intense floral notes to the wines (roses, violets and lavender in our selection). In many instances these delicate tastes combine with earthier flavours such as olives, beetroots, dark chocolate and rich black cherry fruits. There was a lovely range of acidity amongst the Malbecs, given the great diversity in climate across Argentina. One of Crozier’s top tips for the uninitiated is that the warmer the climate, the more the malic acid in the vines is converted into energy and therefore the lower the acidity levels of the resulting wine.  See? Interesting, this wine lark.

malbec wine tasting session at gaucho

Another gem from Crozier was his advice that any wine containing over 12-13% alcohol content should be put in the fridge for an hour before serving; otherwise it risks being as temperamental as a “teenager on acid” when poured. It was the little tips like this which made the session so enjoyable. There was never a point during the session where I felt patronised or alienated as a wine newbie. As we went through the Malbecs, we were encouraged to try them with the five different cuts of steak on offer. Like I said, it really was an exerting afternoon.

Gaucho really knows how to cook a steak, and their chefs get just as much variety out of their cows as the Argentineans do out of their Malbecs. The meat is cooked in a V-shaped grill over the top of a water bath, and so is in effect being steamed and grilled at the same time. When you are making your selection, you are presented with a meat board and taken through the different cuts on offer by your waiter. You can opt for the richness of the rump, all intensity and sinew. At the other end of the spectrum comes the rib-eye, which is deliciously marbled with fat throughout and slips down as easily as a cow flavoured ice cream.  Grazing in between these two extremes is the sirloin, which offers a more balanced flavour and texture and an enticing strip of crackling running down the side. The only disappointment for me was the fillet; supposedly the tenderest cut on offer, but for me it lacked depth of flavour, and wasn’t particularly tender either.

gaucho grilled argentinian steak

As for the extras, Gaucho does an inspired mush-fest of a humita, elegantly served in a corn husk with roasted pumpkin and sweetcorn The chips weren’t bad either, finished off with deep fried thyme.  I didn’t have it on this trip, but I would be remiss if I failed to add in a little plug for the tuna tiraditos starter, served with soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, orange and avocado. Although perhaps the best fish dish I have ever tasted, my sources tell me that Gaucho nearly took this little beauty off the menu a while back. Thankfully they abandoned this idea, thus sparing themselves the impassioned one-man protest that would have ensued had they not seen sense.

Finally, a word on the prices: Gaucho’s steaks work their way up from £15.25 for the 225g cuadril rump to a cool £53.85 for the 450g chateaubriand fillet. Glasses of the recommended reds come in at roughly the £4 mark per 125 ml (if you count this as a glass). This certainly isn’t a cheap evening out, but then you should have sussed that one out as soon as you walked through the door to be confronted with cow hide on the walls and seats, and mood lighting in the middle of the day. Although Gaucho could fairly be accused of being slightly too in love with itself, it certainly deserves to be credited for embracing World Malbec Day. If it can make wine-tasting accessible to a wider audience and put Argentinian reds on the map, then it has done us all a favour.

gaucho piccadilly restaurant

World Malbec Day at Gaucho
Where: All Gaucho restaurants (Broadgate, Canary Wharf, Chancery Lane, Charlotte Street, Bell Inn Yard, Hampstead, the O2, Piccadilly, Richmond, Sloane Square, Smithfield, Tower Bridge)
When: Wednesday 17 April 2013
Website: http://www.gauchorestaurants.co.uk