This delicious red wine got its start in the Cahors region of France, but now Argentine vineyards are producing the best and most interesting vintages.
WHEN YOU BECOME obsessed with malbec — as I have in recent years — all roads for further exploration lead to Argentina. Just as an obsession with pinot noir leads one to Burgundy, but somehow more special.
You certainly can turn to malbec’s native France, but you won’t find much outside the Cahors district. In fact, as interest declined in French malbec, Argentina’s interest and abilities in the variety began to soar, attracting European winemakers to Mendoza. This resulted in a curious mix of South American and European culture.
Not unlike the surge when Australian Shiraz became a darling among U.S. importers a decade ago, the market is growing for Argentine malbecs, which have gained a reputation for solid quality at reasonable prices. Today, more than 50,000 acres of malbec (that’s about as many acres of grapes as there are in Washington) are planted in Argentina.
Three to try
Here are three malbecs to try from Argentina. Pricing is approximate. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant, particularly those with good import selections.
Terrazas de los Andes 2015 Reserva Malbec, Mendoza, $18: Aromas of dark chocolate and blackberry cobbler give way to big flavors of ripe dark fruit, including black raspberry, plum and espresso, all backed by great acidity and firm tannins.
Saurus Select 2015 Malbec, Patagonia, $17: Rich blueberry, blackberry, vanilla and Aussie black licorice aromas are backed by notes of crushed leaf, dark chocolate and raspberry, with firm acidity and lively tannins.
Bodega Colome 2014 High Altitude Estate Malbec, Salta, $27: This wine is deeply flavored with notes of dark chocolate, fruit cobbler, vanilla, molasses, anise and alluring spices. The oak is tastefully handled, backed by bright tannins and assertive acidity.
If you look beyond the mass-produced bottlings and are willing to spend a couple more dollars, you’ll discover another level of malbec that is nothing short of astonishing.
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In my exploration, Argentine malbecs coming from high-altitude vineyards — soaring 5,000 feet into the Andes Mountains — are the most interesting, often bursting with bright blue fruits and relying on acidity rather than tannins for structure. This makes them much more approachable and food-friendly, especially when my tannin-averse wife wants a glass of red. It also gives these malbecs an opportunity to become more interesting with cellar age because the natural acidity is a key to longevity.
One other natural advantage Argentina has over domestic versions is the plant sources. Argentines have been tending their vineyards for more than a century. When a particular vine shows promise, cuttings are taken and propagated in new vineyards. This dedication to strategic natural selection results in higher-quality wines. When this happens repeatedly over the course of decades, it means the best hand-selected vines are brought forward, giving Argentina an advantage that is difficult for other regions to overcome.
As Argentina continues to dial in vineyard sources, plant material, vine age and winemaking techniques, malbec fans should prepare for years of exciting opportunities to taste great wine.