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Tim Atkin

The Wine-List Inspector

Escape the beef in Buenos Aires: Oviedo has first-class fish, and a cellar to match

Tim Atkin | March/April 2012

If you’re suffering from a surfeit of steak—and in Argentina, that goes with the territory—Oviedo is a great place to reduce your intake of prime beef. This relaxed, Mediterranean-style restaurant in Barrio Norte serves some of the best fish in Buenos Aires, cooked with understated flair by Martín Rebaudino. For lunch or dinner, Oviedo is hard to beat.

It’s worth a visit for the wine list, too, assembled over the years by the owner, Emilio Garip. You can browse electronically, but I’d advise you to read and enjoy it in paper form. Or rather forms, since there are two selections: one of “everyday” wines from 85 to 200 Argentine pesos (£12-30), and another of rarer and more expensive bottles, up to 6,800 pesos (£1,020). By common consent, this is a fantastic collection, blending the best of France, Spain and Italy with a line-up of most leading local wines.

The physical list is rather traditional, as it is mostly arranged by winery rather than style. This could be unhelpful if you don’t know your Chacra from your Colomé, your López from your Lagarde, but the waiting staff are knowledgeable and happy to help you choose.

What Oviedo boasts is strength in depth: serial vintages of some of Argentina’s best wines. If you want to drink an older bottle of Catena Zapata, Achaval Ferrer Finca Mirador or Noemía, this is the place to come. In a few instances, not all vintages are listed—but a sommelier will check the cellar if necessary.

You can eat meat at Oviedo—many of the red wines are unsuited to seafood—but I’d recommend you eat fish and choose a wine to match. Perhaps there aren’t as many white wines on the list as there should be, given the style of cuisine, but there are 50 or so, listed—unlike the reds—by grape variety.

Though whites in Argentina aren’t as diverse as in Chile, there are still some good options, including Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs and the local speciality, Torrontés. I chose a delicious rarity: the herbal, textured, lightly oaked, refreshing 2010 Mendel Semillon from Mendoza, a bargain at 110 peso (£16) for a bottle. It worked brilliantly with both my ceviche and hake dishes.

One last tip: Emilio Garip is a sweet- and fortified-wine nut, so don’t miss out on dessert, or at least a bottle of something sticky—like the Terrazas Afincado Tardío Petit Manseng. The only frustration is that these, like the rest of the list, are not available by the glass. But no matter. Oviedo is the sort of restaurant where only 75cl will do. 

Around 260 pesos pp (£38) for three courses at lunch; oviedoresto.com.ar

THE COMPETITION

It has only been open a few months, but Aldo’s, a wine shop and restaurant run by the youthful Aldo Graziani in fashionable San Telmo, is already the place for wine lovers to hang out. The list, presented on an iPad, is almost exclusively Argentine, with more than 500 wines, many of them from exciting young producers. The largely meat-free menu is good, rather than spectacular, but it’s the wines that matter. Remarkably, the takeaway and restaurant prices are identical: around 40 pesos (£5) for a main course.

At Nectarine, Rodrigo Sieiro cooks some of the most innovative French food to be found in Buenos Aires, at around 120 pesos (£17) for a main course. The wine list is the responsibility of Paz Levinson, Argentina’s champion sommelier. It’s an international selection, carefully made and helpfully divided by grape variety and style. It’s educational, too, with paragraphs on different grapes and even a few maps. The foreign wines are appealing, but the diverse Argentine selection is even better.

Aldosvinoteca.com; nectarine.com.ar

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