Mariano Braga is a wine writer and sommelier who has worked as a journalist, wine critic and judge, restaurant owner and wine educator over the last 16 years.
The wine list at his restaurant Pampa Roja, in Santa Rosa, La Pampa, is the most awarded wine list in Argentina, and he has over 6,000 students enrolled in his online wine educational program.
He has been nominated twice for the IWSC Wine Communicator of the Year award and is nowadays one of the most influential voices in the South American wine industry.
Which wine regions are you most interested in at the moment?
I’ve just come back from a trip to Madeira, and I fell in love with those amazing old wines. Their tradition and uniqueness is something that really touched me. And, talking about Argentina, there are some beautiful white examples taking place in Chubut and Santa Cruz, some unexplored regions in southern Patagonia; even though most of them are still tests, their potential is amazing.
What makes Argentinian wines so exciting?
In Argentina, we have a centuries-old wine tradition, but we’re quite new for the rest of the world. In the last 10 years, we have been exploring new terroirs up in the Andes, in northern Jujuy (above 3000m) and next to the ocean, something very original for an industry closely related to the desert. In this journey, we are finding more and more great places to grow Malbec, but also to develop a brilliant Pinot Noir in Rio Negro or amazing Chardonnays from Gualtallary. We have such a big and diverse country that sometimes I feel I won’t be able to see, understand and (most importantly) drink, the whole spectrum of wines that we produce in Argentina.
What are you looking for when judging wines at the IWSC?
I always stand up for the idea of that ‘x’ factor - something that excites you in some way. Of course, there are factual and technical factors that you expect to taste in a fantastic wine, but there’s a kind of magic related to balance and uniqueness.
How can awards from the IWSC can help producers?
We are surfing a very interesting moment in the industry: most consumers don’t know what to do when standing in front of a shelf of wine. The options are unlimited, and having an award is a way to identify yourself and give some extra information about what to expect. I’m a sommelier, but I’m a consumer above all, and I think that the decision of what to buy is easier when you have some kind of warranty.
What is your most memorable experience in the wine industry (so far)?
Luckily there’ve been so many that it’s very difficult to choose only one. But I’m now remembering those days in Madeira – an incredible experience was a whole-day tasting session of some very rare vintages at Henriques & Henriques, with my dad and Humberto, the owner of this legendary winery.