14 Nov 2012

Argentina’s Opus at Vinoteca

CHARLIE Young, co-founder with Brett Woonton of London’s ‘Vinoteca’ micro-chain, took 19 guests including his father and the former translator of Mikhail Gorbachev, on a culinary tour of Argentina at dinner. He introduced the territory: “It is the most dynamic country for wine production – one which has risen to the international stage with immense speed in recent years. Remarkable diversity and quality is to be found in the boundaries of it, the fifth largest wine producer.”Despite admitting to suffering jet-lag following a fortnight-long wine tour of Australia which was so intense that he only managed to speak to his young family once, Young’s talk proved taught and educative. Indeed, despite never having visited South America, he showed curiosity in its wines and food culture.

Young offered several vinous pairings alongside a menu researched and devised by Chesterfield-born head chef, John Cook. These included 2011 Torrontes/Chenin Blanc (Villa Vieja), 2011 Pinot Gris (Santa Cecina, Lurton) and 2011 Viognier (Santa Rosa) served alongside Dorset crab salad with roast red peppers, butternut squash and well seasoned quinoa. Of the fact guests generally preferred the freshness of the Viognier with the crab, despite the fact that he himself is allergic to the crustacean, Young commented: “Viognier is too often murdered in the wrong hands – impressive, but tiring to drink, whereas this example has brisk acidity.”
With perhaps slightly too lightly grilled rib eye steak with melted provolone cheese, brittle-crisp cassava chips, cosy sweet potato stew and paprika-spiked “chimichurri” (parsley, garlic, olive oil, oregano and vinegar), Young provided no fewer than four ISOs of reds. In an effort to move away from the potential stereotype of Malbec being seen as Argentina’s chief grape focus, only one of these featured any Malbec – the 2009 Paso Doble from Amarone producer, Masi, which was actually blended with semi-dried Corvina grapes. 
Other options were 2011 Sangiovese/Bonarda “Vida Organica” (Zuccardi), 2009 Carignan (Bodega Cecchin) and 2009 Petit Verdot “Remolinos Vineyard” (Finca Decero). While most guests rated the assured oak of the Petit Verdot, Young preferred the oak-free Carignan (which was £8.55 cheaper at £9.50 shop price) on account of its “simple, expressive, floral nature.”
With the most satisfying course, a generous pudding of dulce de leche (lethargically warmed sweet milk) ice cream with warm sauce of yerba matte (tea) and macaroon like “alfajores”, Young poured naturally botrytis-ed 2007 Late Harvest Semillion (Valentin Bianchi). He described this amber-coloured, marmalade-scented, lozenge like wine as “Monbazillac-like”.
Despite Vinoteca’s growing empire (the latest branch opened in Soho in May), Young remains a hands-on presence in the business, personally helping to overhaul the 300 bin selection twice a year.