The Sport Of Kings, an Absolut Enchantment

The Royal Salute Argentina Polo Cup Final.

22 JANUARY 2013,

My flight is a late evening one. I’m hoping she will be sleeping or out all night distracted by her shiny lights and pretty people, and perhaps not even realise I'm not there. My feelings of anticipation and anxious excitement are palpable. I am nervous but looking forward to something fresh, something new, perhaps even something to learn from. I’m not expecting much, just another shallow, brief encounter. In and out - or so to speak. I have had several of those in the past. Unmemorable, blurry, wouldn’t recognise you again if I tripped over you. Quick- fixes that were fun while they lasted and with no lasting emotional resonance. At home there was never any suspicion as I hadn’t relinquished my heart. Perhaps she turned away from my indulgent absences. Yes, I placate my conscience, that my journey will end in the way instant gratification always does.

It is around 10pm in London. I am ensconced in my Club seat on British Airways direct to visit the soon to be thief of my heart - Buenos Aires, my first visit to the Queen of Latin America. Looking forward to hours of pampering, which I have found only British Airways provide to a faultless standard. Six hours into a fourteen hour flight and I am BORED. I am a like a child who just wants to get there - and after a few Champagnes a rather tipsy and impatient child indeed. Argentina is so very far away, I hope it’s worth it and not full of hirsute corpulent residents wandering around dusty roads and tumbleweed. My eyes begin to itch at the unpleasant visual. Ostensibly,the purpose of my visit is to attend the Royal Salute Argentina Polo Cup Final. I am a guest of Royal Salute, the incomparable premium whisky brand which is under the Pernod-Ricard umbrella. Familiar with the reputation and prestige associated with Royal Salute and other Pernod- Ricard labels, I know I am in for an elegant experience.

In the limo from the airport I soon forget any travel weariness as this city looks absolutely alive. It is summer here and people are abuzz with smiles and joy. I spot huge murals and building-sized pictures of Madonna everywhere. I am told that, in actual fact, it is not the Queen of Pop, but Argentina’s former First Lady, Eva Peron, oh well. I am staying at the Four Seasons, and my corner suite is on the top floor over- looking the city and port. I spend my first day pool-side and obtain a lovely lobster-red hue for my efforts. A stroll through the boulevards near my hotel I am transported to Paris, Madrid, and Milan – all rolled into one. The architecture reflects so much of the cultures that made Argentina. Everywhere I look is a feast for the eye. And the people are very well-dressed, sophisticated and with relief no obvious hairy corpulence or undulating dust and brush.

My hosts at Royal Salute have planned a rich itinerary which begins on the first evening with a ‘Gentlemans Supper’ hosted by His Grace, the Duke Of Argyle or as I eventually end up calling him ‘theduke’. The supper is held at the hotel in ‘The Mansion’ an original piece of opulent and grand architecture. The guests are a mixture of champion polo players, press, nobleman and a fascinating Korean man who is responsible for bringing polo to Korea, where it has been embraced by the nation. We feast on traditional Argentine fare and partake with each course a more rare, vintage and celebrated Royal Salute whisky than the next. Each bottle exquisitely crafted to enhance the precious nectar it encases. It was a surreal but jolly dinner as it was just men and some rather eccentric ones at that. Entertaining though for sure.

Everyday we have excursions which are polo related. For the Argentines ‘the sport of kings’ is a sport revered by the nation. It is inclusive and not elitist and the whole country gets involved. We go to a polo boot maker, he who does the boots for the British royal family and see the shoe ‘lasts’ from which the new ones are crafted. We go to where the mallets are made and we eat very well every evening and Royal Salute of course is on tap. One memorable evening we attend an amazing tango show. I am seated next to the head of Pernod-Ricard, Christian Porta. He is a gracious man that just oozes taste and refinement – and one with an apparent patient sense of humour, as I ask him annoyingly random questions about pop culture and Cher vs Lady Gaga. It is the first year that Royal Salute has sponsored polo around the world and he is responsible for putting together this perfect union between a sport with history, integrity and tradition and a premium whisky brand that shares those values. It is a perfect match.

We visit a rural utopia outside Buenos Aires called 'La Aguada'. It is a kind of polo retreat with hotel, pool, restaurant and polo field. I arrive a bit late, missing the polo clinic with one of Argentina’s top players, but in time to jump on a horse and have a go. It looks easier than it is. After whacking my poor pony, Hombre, in the head with the mallet a few times I give up and just ride around. The sun is baking, I am on a polo horse and a glass of rose wine by the pool awaits – I think to myself what a lucky guy I am. During my stay I made some wonderful friends, residents of Buenos Aires, and they were more than happy to take me around and see more of what the city offered. The nightlife is dazzling and the ambiance in general very Eurpoean and incredibly glamorous.

The last event is of course the Polo final. Royal Salute erected a very chic two-story structure for guests and served lunch and refreshments throughout the day. The match was exciting and rather sweltering. The atmosphere was electric though and you felt a part of something grand. After a final evening out, taking in as many parties and clubs as possible, I slept little and raced to the airport the next morning. This trip was outstanding and the organisation by Chivas Bros and Synergy seamless. I begin to plot my return to Buenos Aires and investigate a flat rental. I have most certainly betrayed my first and loyal true love, London. For Buenos Aires is a worthy competitor for any jaded traveller and I am rather crestfallen to return, my life enriched by this brief yet pivotal tryst.

May my love affair with Buenos Aires live on.