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A drink with… Pablo Rivero

Argentinian sommelier Pablo Rivero has been awarded the title Latin America’s Best Sommelier 2022. He talks to Sorrel Moseley-Williams about Patagonian Pinot Noir, pairing Torrontés with steak and the thrill of finding perfect wines for guests at his restaurant Parrilla Don Julio.

Pablo Rivero is the sommelier and owner behind award-winning Parrilla Don Julio steakhouse in Buenos Aires. He was named Latin America’s Best Sommelier 2022 in the inaugural prize by the World’s 50 Best in November 2022.

‘Like many Argentines, I have family in Mendoza, so wine was always on the table, at lunchtime and over dinner, at home.’

‘When I started working at Parrilla Don Julio as a 20-year-old, I fell in love with the ageing and cellaring of wines, processes that would transform them into something better: I love playing with the effects of time. And, as soon as sommellerie became a career option, I was part of the first class to study at the Escuela Argentina de Vinos in 2002.’

‘My earliest drinking memory is my grandfather giving me a glass of wine and soda to try, and watching him squirt the fizzy water into the glass. I’d watch those hypnotic and tempting bubbles and always remember that beautiful intense red colour.’ 

‘It’s an incredibly joyful moment for Argentine wine to have one of its own named the first Latin America’s Best Sommelier 2022 by the World’s 50 Best. While I’m the face of a large team, there are eight sommeliers as well as numerous wait staff without whom there would be little success. It’s hugely satisfying because it validates all the important work we do in the salon and it also serves as recognition of Argentine wine, which is precisely what our work is based upon and it’s wonderful to know that our efforts are worthy of this prize.’

‘Three memorable vintages are the 1959 Trapiche Broquel from Agrelo in Luján de Cuyo, a red made in a gigantic 70,000-litre oak foudre. It’s highly complex, with oxidative ageing and veil of flor; it still has plenty of life in it.’ 

‘Then there’s the Bodega Tupungato Gruta Azul 1969; it was the first wine to name the Tupungato district on a label, although the winery doesn’t exist any more.’

‘As for contemporary vintages, I’m really thrilled by Per Se La Craie 2019 by Edgardo del Pópolo and David Bonomi, which comes from Gualtallary. This Uco Valley region is the one that excites me the most right now, especially the wines coming out of El Monasterio and La Cautiva.’

‘At home I enjoy opening Criollas, Moscatels and Patagonian Pinot Noir, as well as Pinot Noir from other cool climates. I tend to go for lighter, more simple reds at home with my family and friends.’

‘Recommending wines to guests at Don Julio is the most entertaining part of my work. We pay attention to what a guest is after, through their words and gestures, and combine that with what they are going to order. We decipher what they want, consider the possibilities we have in the cellar, and return to the guests with their desire in a bottle or glass. That game, the back and forth, the decoding, the vertigo that each situation brings and whether we can satisfy it, is the most beautiful aspect of our profession, and I love it.’ 

‘One pairing I always enjoy is skin-contact Torrontés with a really medium-rare bife de cuadril (rump steak). It’s a lean and tasty cut, and is simply perfect with the grip this particular style has. I have a lot of fun with it.’

‘To ensure that our hospitality at Don Julio is always fantastic, I stick to three rules. The key being love for what we do; the second, collaborating with the guests who come to dine under our roof; and the third is the continual attention we accord every detail.’

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