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Mariano Braga, Argentinian sommelier: 2011 wines tasted in 2011

Published:  11 January, 2012

I'm 25 and a sommelier, from Argentina and, as if that was not weird enough, a little bit crazy. Why? Because the past year I set a personal challenge: I had to taste 2,011 wines over 2011. It was a challenge, clearly, especially considering that maintaining an average of 5.5 corkages daily was a task, at least, daunting.

That was the idea from the very beginning. From January, 1t 2011 until December, 31, the road led me to taste wines from all styles and from all origins, with the only exception, of course, that these 2,011 wines should be all different.

I usually use a phrase that seems divine to me: "the best way to learn about wines is to drink them" and, while it may sound rather obvious, I am convinced that it is indeed the best way to discover interesting labels, meet the overwhelming people hidden behind the wineries and expand our wine knowledge.

The point is that The Challenge 2011 (or "El Desafío 2011", as it was the original name of the project) would have no meaning without sharing it. The experiences, findings and also disappointments are always more attractive (or less terrible, as the case may be) when we are not alone and, therefore, each Monday throughout the past year I shared on my web site each and every of the moments spent in the previous seven days.

There was a report, the complete tasting notes (which, in general, tend to be around 40 labels) and also a video conveying in words and pictures how the week was. The videos were, perhaps, the funniest things of all... especially when I think that they have already been played over 20,000 times. I sometimes cooked in them, sometimes I did live tastings and, also sometimes, I travelled around the world.

That's right. I confess myself not only as a wine lover but also as a travel one. Since I've been a little boy I had the fortune of travelling around 59 countries ... from diving with sharks in the sheer waters of Moorea to finding gold in Alaska's frozen rivers or crossing a street crowded with thousands of bicycles in the beautiful H? Chí Minh and, both wines and travel, have one thing in common: the infinite capacity of handing over millions of experiences.

That's why The Challenge 2011 had to show this other side that I like so much to explore and, with a suitcase in my hands, in 2011 I travelled along the most diverse geographies. Wander the world's southernmost vineyards in Argentina's Patagonia, visited one of the origins of wine in the beautiful Greek island of Santorini and discovered the outstanding flavors of Sangiovese in its native land at Montalcino.

These trips also allowed me to have a great perspective of Argentina's wine production. Our country drinks just under 30 liters per capita per year, which is a really big number... but local production is also extremely large. This makes that almost all the wine consumed in the domestic market is produced inside our borders and, unfortunately (unlike England), foreign wines are not so easy to find. That's why the fact of going through various wine-producing countries (and taste a lot in there, of course) let me compare each other, giving a clear testimony that the whites and reds from Argentina have not only a fair international furor nowadays but that the future that lies ahead promises to be even more propitious.

Everything flowed like a crazy idea, walking the streets of Buenos Aires more than a year ago. The number 2,011 came naturally, though I knew from the start that the idea was provocative. Not because a sommelier didn't taste that much each year, but because it was hard to keep up the framework that The Challenge 2011 required: weekly videos, consistency and jotting down one by one the exact origins, prices and vintages.

And the work was unwavering; against all odds every Monday there a new adventure appeared.

It was tiring, for sure, but you cannot imagine how great it felt when some winemaker tells me that he or she followed the weekly videos, or when I got a mail from Los Angeles, Milan, London or Rio de Janeiro telling me about this madness I never thought it would come this far.

Exactly 2,011 wines tasted, 60 videos that were played 20,000 times and about $37,000 dollars spent (or invested?). The thing is that, a year later, The Challenge 2011 has finished... but there are many good things more about to come.

* Mariano Braga is a sommelier based in Buenos Aires