Walk into the Northwest Portland wine store Liner & Elsen someday and ask the clerks where Argentina is. They’ll point to their grand wall of bottles as if it were a Mercator projection of the world of wine. Argentina is right where it should be, on the leftmost shelf, overshadowed by famous French and Italian labels. And, at least on the day I went, the tiny section was almost empty.
That wasn’t because such bottlings aren’t valuable to the shop’s profit margin. “Oh, we do quite well with Argentina,” said the clerk—a bit of a shock considering the country excels in producing relatively obscure varietals (tannat, anyone?). It was just that Liner & Elsen couldn’t get its hands on enough to meet customer demand. Political and economic turmoil has largely prevented Argentina from developing any real export capacity, which explains why the world’s fifth-largest wine-producing country is seriously underrepresented in stores.
For those who’ve been scavenging for stock, thirty-year-old Portland-raised entrepreneur Daniel Karlin is helping uncork the flow of Argentine wine. After moving to Buenos Aires in 2004 and noticing how difficult it was to ship its extraordinary wine back to the States, Karlin started Anuva Vinos (anuvawines.com)—a direct-to-your-door wine club.
Each month, Karlin and a rotating panel of four to six sommeliers, distributors, importers, and brokers taste up to fifty wines, purchasing small lots of their favorites—90 percent of which, he says, are unavailable in the States. Karlin then makes quarterly shipments of six bottles (priced at $195 per shipment) to his growing club of more than a hundred members, who then get first crack at reordering the wines. The six bottles typically encompass the varietals most common to the arid foothills of the Andes: supple red malbec; spicy, leathery (and absolutely weird and wonderful ) red bonarda; and floral yet bracingly acidic white torrontés.
“I simply don’t think you can beat the price-to-quality ratio that you get from the wines in Argentina,” says Karlin, whose affection for the place is clearly biased (he met his now-fiancée just thirty-six hours after stepping off the plane in Argentina for the first time). If his club selections continue to be this good, he just might make Argentina lovers of us all.