Yapp Brothers supplies wine to around 500 restaurants, hotels, bars, clubs and pubs in the UK, so wine lists in other countries is of particular professional interest to me. It also has a significant bearing on my holiday finances and choice of tipple. Three weeks in Colombia over Christmas and New Year presented me with ample opportunity to gauge its’ Bacchanalian temperature. Situated astride the equator, the Colombian climate is not conducive to wine production, so nearly all the listings derive from Chile, Argentina and Spain. My first week in Cali, home to sugar production and over 100 salsa schools, provided little of wine interest save my friend Santiago’s proffering a bottle of sparkling Bodegas Chandon rosé from LVMH’s Argentine estate. Otherwise I stuck to the national beer, Club Colombia, and Ron Viejo de Caldas – with tonic. Entry level wine in restaurants started at 75,000 Colombian Pesos, equivalent to £25. OK you might say, but for Casillero del Diablo, Santa Rita and Montes, all of which are offered at around £5 in UK supermarkets, it wasn’t enticing.
By the time that we had reached the beautiful UNESCO world heritage site of Cartagena on the Caribbean, and despite switching my beer allegiance to the local ‘Aguila’, I was gagging for a decent red. Robin and Judith Yapp had now joined us and over the following week we undertook some extensive investigation into the eating and drinking scene. We loved restaurant Don Juan, quite liked La Vitrola and didn’t dig San Pedro. Cartagena is just discovering the international recognition it thoroughly deserves, but this has yet to flow through some fairly ambitious pricing into the menu and wine list quality.
Our last weekend was spent in the capital Bogota, perched over 2,000m in the Andes where we stayed at the excellent JW Marriott that had been recommended by a London-based Colombian friend, Mauro. This first-class hotel housed a Martini bar that listed 73 different styles of Martini and a good restaurant, La Mina, where we feasted on steak. For the first time on our trip, the wine list featured some Rhône wines – Beaucastel 2006 and a solid (although too young) Bordeaux page. In fact, we settled for a bottle of Argentine Torrontes and then a 100% Petit Verdot from Chile, both under £30 and very respectable.
I would encourage any one to visit this fascinating, fun and widely mis-represented country, but it brought home to me (yet again) that the UK is fortunate to have the most extensive, best value wine market in the world.
Trip Highlights – wild Féria de Cali, exotic New Year in Cartagena, awesome Gold Museum in Bogota.