How an Argentinian Sommelier Breathes New Life into the Wine Scene

Agustina De Alba, sommelier and winemaker
Argentinian sommelier and winemaker Agustina De Alba

Argentinian sommelier and winemaker Agustina De Alba traveled throughout Europe and Africa helping to create wine lists for restaurants in London, Spain and Africa at an age when most would have been in university. Now 29, she credits that experience with expanding her palate and enabling her to focus on more than just the big Argentine reds that so many of her colleagues use to fill their lists.

Her expansive palate, was one of the reasons she was named Best Sommelier in Argentina in 2008 and 2012. De Alba cofounded a wine brand, Blanc de Alba, aiming to prove that white Argentine wines are capable of aging. And with her short radio broadcasts about wine, she hopes to expand wine’s audience. One of a new generation of women working in the Argentine wine world, she tells Wine Enthusiast’s Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen that she considers her youth, rather than her gender, to have been the biggest obstacle at the start of her career.

How does your experience traveling and working abroad help you to create wine lists for restaurants in Argentina?

In Argentina, we don’t have wines from abroad, so I decided to go abroad to taste wines from all over the world. Most of that wine is [practically] impossible to get here, and if you can get them they are really expensive. From the age of 18 through 24, I traveled and lived abroad. Then I decided to come back to my country because I found that Argentine wine was becoming very diverse and exciting. Ten years ago, we mainly talked about Malbec and how long was that wine in the barrel. Now, we are discovering our terroir, we are talking about Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Bonarda, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sémillon. I am deeply in love with Argentine wine. That’s the reason that I decided to stay here, and not go away anymore, because here we have a lot of work to do.

How does developing wine lists for restaurants vary?

Each one is unique. For example, La Mar is the top Peruvian restaurant in Argentina, run by Chef Gaston Acurio. The producers and the products are very important to him, so I try to find wines from small producers that may not be distributed in Buenos Aires. On the other hand, I created the wine list for Gardiner, which is an exclusive Argentine restaurant with a focus on Argentine meat. So I created a bigger wine list to express Argentine wine in all its forms, with small, medium, and classic producers, special vintages, and verticals, with a focus on reds. I wrote the wine list as if it were a book, with my suggestions and my thoughts about the grapes.

What is the format of your radio show on Blue 100.7 FM?

I record 10 micro-sessions per month. I choose 10 topics and I have less than a minute to record my tips. Topics have included how to buy a wine … and why the Malbec is the star grape of Argentina. I present a topic, I explain it, and I finish with a tip for consumers. The micros are played five times per day, seven days a week.

What is your role in your wine brand, Blanc de Alba, which you created with Juampi, your friend Juan Pablo Michelini, the winemaker at Zorzal?

My friend Juampi is the person who really created the wine; he is the winemaker. I travel to Mendoza as much I as can to be involved in the wine process. However, my role is to “communicate” the wine. I created the label, but Juampi is the winemaker. When we created Blanc de Alba, we wanted to show the potential of Argentine whites, to show that you can age white wine.

Do you encounter any problems in the business world because you are young and you are a woman?

I never found it a problem to be a woman. What was difficult for me was to be young, to become a sommelier at the age of 20. Many people questioned my age, and it sometimes still happens that a colleague calls me “the little girl.” When I was younger, people would ask me, “How many vineyards have you visited in your life?” or “How many wines have you tasted?” Of course, it was very little at that moment because I was starting. I have found this is a strength: I was very lucky to find my passion at the age of 15 and go for it every day of my life.


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Published on April 3, 2017
Topics: A Day In The Life