With the apparently unstoppable success of Malbec, Argentina is in the enviable position of having almost too big a hit on its hands. Almost, but not quite. In ‘value-priced’ entry wines, Malbec’s fruit-forward, very approachable style often as not over delivers for the dollar. And, not surprisingly, continues to be an unqualified hit with consumers.
However, dig a little deeper and you’ll find there’s a whole lot more to Malbec than meets the eye. Plus, you’ll usually be well rewarded for the few extra dollars.
Mendoza has become synonymous with Malbec—no surprise, considering the area accounts for over two thirds of the country’s entire production. However, as in most things to do with wine, it pays to look for regionality …
Within Mendoza, gaining plenty of attention over the last few years, are Luyan de Cuyo and Uco Valley—particularly for their high altitude plantings (ranging between 900 to 1200 metres, in the Andes foothills) which can yield more complex and intense wines. In fact, high altitude plantings are now part of the wine lexicon, with the abbreviation “MASL”—metres above sea level—commonly used.
Although Malbec rules, it’s by no means the only game in town, with no shortage of noteworthy Cabernet Sauvignon, other Bordeaux varietals, and Syrah, which are increasingly skillfully blended into middle and upper tier wines. (More on these later.)
Malbec comes in any number of styles. “It can be fresh, floral, ripe or even confected—although we tend towards a fresher, more food friendly style, with good acidity” says Mendel assistant winemaker and vineyard manager Santiago Mayorga.
Indeed, another point often overlooked, Argentines love their cuisine, which roams far beyond the perception of (excellent) beef, and more beef—and varies by region.
During our visit, we encountered dishes as varied as mildly flavoured mountain hare (substantial, roasted and served whole), sinfully rich blood sausage (morcilla) and perfect clay oven baked lamb empanadas—all proving worthy matches for Malbec and various blends.
A few notables, with more to come…
• Mendel Unus 2010. Luyan de Cuyo. Polished blend of old vines Malbec (70%) and Cabernet (30%) yields a combination of elegant, tightly wound structure and seductive plushness. 16 months in French oak. Deep garnet in the glass, with black fruit, oak spice and fennel notes, finely balanced with good aging potential. PWS, c. $45. 91 pts (Also highly rated, though apparently not yet in BC, Mendel Semillon 2012, from 1000m. 60 year old vines with partial barrel fermentation and judisious oak; distinctive mineral, textured, lime and honey notes, lengthy end. 90 pts.)
• Finca Decero Malbec 2010, Remolinos, Agrelo Vineyard (Luyan). The name means “from nothing”, literally, referring to the fact that this 1050m. foothills vineyard was started from scratch on alluvial deposits of clay and loams over gravely sub-soils. Vibrant red berries on the nose followed by complex layers of cherry chocolate and dark spice notes with a definite mineral streak. good acidity and well balanced French oak. Private Wine Stores incl. EW $25.99, 91 pts.
• Ruca Malen Kinien Malbec 2009. (Uco), Bright crimson, cassis, mocha notes with a vibrant but elegant mid-palate, darker, mineral hints, with good length and structure wrapped in elegant tannins and juicy acidity. A very good expression of the variety. N/A in BC but it should be… 91 pts
• Zorzal Malbec 2011. Tupungato (Uco) 1,400 metres. Vibrant red berry aromas, approachable, fruit-forward cherry and dark fruit layered palate before a gently spicy end. Good value at $23-25 PWS. 89 pts
• Alta Vista Premium Malbec 2011. Blend of Luyan de Cuyo and Uco fruit. Approachable, fruit forward style with good balance of floral and spicy notes and dark cherry chocolate layers wrapped in food friendly acidity. EW $24.99 89 pts
• Clos de Los Siete 2009. Higher elevation Uco plantings yield ideal conditions, including wide diurnals (the difference between day and nighttime temperature), that account for well balanced ripeness and acidity. With its lifted aromas of red and black fruit, juicy but not extracted fruit forward style, elegant mouthfeel, harmonised tannins and stony hints, this definitive Malbec dominant blend (57%) with Merlot (15%), Cab ($15%), Syrah (10%) and Petit Verdot delivers superb value. $BCLS $22.99. 91 pts.