Malbec is Argentina’s flagship wine, and it’s easy to see why. While malbec originated in France’s Bordeaux region – and is still the primary red wine grape grown in the Cahors region of south western France – it has come into its own in Argentina. In fact, malbec production in Argentina has surpassed production in France making up more than half of Argentina’s wine exports. For every three bottles exported, two are malbec.
With more than 109,000 acres planted in all of Argentina’s wine growing regions (representing about 22 percent of the total vineyards planted), malbec is the country’s most widely cultivated grape, which presents the opportunity for a diverse range of styles and flavour profiles.
Since the early 2000s, wineries and researchers began to study the relationship between malbec and terroir. Many studies have shown the impact of climate and temperature on aromatic and flavour components and profile. Today’s winemakers are breaking new ground, seeking higher-altitude, cooler climates to create malbecs of elegance and structure.
And so, the character of an Argentinian malbec ultimately depends on the terroir and climate from which it comes. Whereas warmer weather malbecs tend to be higher in alcohol, cooler weather malbecs tend to be higher in acidity.
No matter the circumstances of its environment, one can count on the fact that an Argentinian malbec produces a deep, dry, bold, inky wine, with medium acids and tannins that provide balance and allow for aging.
On April 17 in the year 1853, the government of Mendoza took the first steps to make wine production an important industry focus for the country, which led to the establishment of the country’s first agricultural school to focus on winemaking. It’s why each year on April 17, the world celebrates Malbec World Day – a global celebration of malbec. All these years later (168 to be exact) and with lots of hard work, malbec has become the global success that it is today.
Try these malbecs as part of your journey to discovering Argentina’s leading wine:
Don David 2019 Reserve Malbec
Located at an altitude of over 1,800 meters (6,000 feet) and virtually hidden in the North of Argentina, the Calchaqui Valley – where this wine is grown – displays some unique characteristics: poor alluvial soils; high sun exposure; and low humidity force this terroir into delivering highly concentrated wines with accentuated aromas, colours and flavours. This malbec underwent malolactic fermentation and 70 percent of the wine is aged for 12 months in American and French oak while the remaining wine is conserved in stainless steel tanks. What we get is a well-balanced result, that’s just a touch sweet, but soft and fruity, nevertheless. In fact, the fruit is quite expressive with its plum jam and dry raisin flavours as well as sweet tobacco and vanilla that carry on through to the finish. Should be a hit with most consumers. ($16.95)
Zuccardi Q 2018 Malbec
The “Q” stands for quality in this regional wine that is comprised of carefully selected fruit from micro regions within San Carlos and Tunuyán, two of Valle de Uco’s main sub-regions. Fermented with native yeast, this wine underwent complete malolactic fermentation and was aged in a combination of concrete and oak. It’s richly aromatic and fresh on the palate with bursts of plum, blueberry, cherry and spice – all balanced with a cooling acidity and a lengthy, consistent finish. A very good choice to begin your Argentine tasting journey. ($19.95)
El Esteco 2017 Malbec
Located in the heart of the Calchaquí Valley, El Esteco is a pioneer within Argentina’s northern region. This is an excellent malbec, one of the best in the bunch – structurally sound and deeply concentrated. It’s a wine that can be enjoyed now or, if patient enough, can be further developed with up to five more years of age in your cellar. Maybe buy a few bottles and enjoy the path it leads you on. ($21.95)
Luigi Bosca 2017 Malbec Terroir Los Miradores
From a single vineyard planted at 1,150 masl, this is a truly faithful expression of what this variety is able to provide in the Uco Valley. Average vine age is only 10 years, so this wine reflects the spirit of a new vineyard. It’s a deep, bright violet wine with intense and concentrated aromas, fruits of the forest, spices and fresh herbs. The palate is rich and ripe, well balanced against its full spectrum of complex flavours – which will only continue to build over the coming years should you choose to be patient with this. And it does deserve your patience. A statement malbec that impresses big time. ($34.95)
Alamos 2016 Selección Malbec
This 100 percent malbec is grown in the shadow of the Andes Mountains at elevations of more than 900 masl, where intense sunlight, cool evening temperatures and mineral-rich irrigation from mountain snowmelt translates into the rich, layered aromas and flavours of this hallmark Argentine grape. I like this for its heightened flavour profile of dark berry, almost jammy fruit that’s laced with lifting acidity and healthy tannins. Well-made and very nicely valued. ($17.95)
BenMarco 2018 Malbec
An unfined and unfiltered expression, this malbec is deeply concentrated and plush, coating the palate with juicy blackberry and blueberry fruit. There are savoury notes as well and beautiful aromas of violets and ripened fruits. Aged in neutral oak barrels for about a year, it comes as somewhat of a pleasant surprise that this wine has some real power to it, with good depth, pronounced acidity, firmly structured tannins and very good length. A perfect pairing for grilled meats. ($19.95)
Kaiken 2018 Ultra Malbec
Albeit a commercially styled interpretation, it can also be described as a classic example of Argentinian malbec. Fruit for this wine is sourced from three separate vineyards located in Valle de Uco sub-regions: Los Chacayes (Tunuyán), Paraje Altamira (San Carlos) and Gualtallary (Tupungato) all between 250 and 1,600 metres above sea level. Blueberry and blackberry aromas are typical of the varietal and also play out on the palate along with some mild spice notes and a bit of cedar chest. A trustworthy wine, if not consistent from vintage to vintage. ($19.95)