Malbec – Argentina’s Signature Red Grape.


Just as Argentina’s wines have rocketed onto the international stage over the past decade, so too has the country’s reputation as a world-class tourism destination. With its cosmopolitan flair, rich cultural scene, awe-inspiring natural beauty, delicious and robust cuisine, and of course the fabulous wines, it’s no wonder trendsetters the world over have their sights set on this sizzling South American hotspot.

April 17 is the official Malbec day for Argentine vitiviniculture.

Malbec, originally from Cahors, France, and used in Bordeaux blends for centuries, is the most popular red grape variety in Argentina’s 228,575 hectares of vineyards. Malbec in Cahors yields a highly tannic and unyielding wine, but in most parts of Argentina it produces a robust, deeply flavoured wine that can be enjoyed in two to three years with appropriate food, mostly beef, for which this large country is famous.

Argentine beef is naturally raised without antibiotics or growth hormones on the pampas, and is exported to many countries including the Untied Kingdom in large quantities.

Researchers have isolated 22 clones of malbec, most of which grow in smaller clusters, with thinner skins and sweeter tannins than those in Cahors, and consequently also yield smoother wines.

Argentina’s viticultural area extends from latitude 22 north to 42 south, and contains several climate zones.

The north containing Tucuman, Salta and Catamarca has four well recognized valleys – El Arenal (2600 metres above sea level), Cafayete (1600), Flambala

(1400) and Molinos (2500).

Cuyo encompasses Mendoza, La Rioja, and San Juan, and contains 14 valleys – Famantina (1000), Zonda (600), Tulum (850); Pedernal (1600); North (700); Lujan west (900 – 950); Lujan Maipu (900); Rio Mendoza south (1000); Maipuenas (800 –900): East (750); Uco Valley west (1000); Uco Valley Centre (1000); San Carlos (1000 – 1200); and San Rafael (750).

Patagonia, close to Antarctic, and much cooler than North and Cuyo has three valleys – Upper Rio Colorado Valley (300); Upper Rio Negro Valley (200); and San Patricio del Chanar (300).

The Mendoza region in Cuyo is the largest and oldest of al. Here, vineyards on high altitudes compensate for the hot climate on the plains, yielding fruit more suitable for wine.

Argentina is one of the largest wine producing countries of the world, but up to recently, consumed most of its production (80 per cent) with an average of 40 litres per capita. Only in the last 10 – 20 years, after investing considerable capital into equipment and education, have wineries started focusing on exporting.

Now the USA, China, Canada, the United Kingdom and other EU countries import considerable quantities at relatively low prices , despite the average price has been increasing in the last five years.

Although, well over 60 per cent of all wine produced is red (mainly using malbec, bonarda, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, merlot, pinot noir), several wineries also produce fine white wines using torrontes (a highly aromatic and floral wine), chardonnay, and pinot gris.

Some wineries blend malbec grown on different altitudes to achieve a desirable balance or fruitiness and texture.

Most age in small (250 litres) French wood barrels, some are now experimenting with American oak barrels, and large upright barrels.

Irrigation is widely employed and yields pending on variety, ranging from 10 tons/hectare to 15.

Patagonia is apple and pear country, and produces acid-driven “succulent” wines with alcohol levels of 12 – 13 per cent ABV.

Pinot noir wines are especially successful.

During a recent tasting, I found

Crios Torrontes, 2011, from Domino del Plata winery very appealing as a sipping wine while, and with light appetizers.

Chardonnay, 2010, Catena Zapata showed fine balance and fruitiness, another Chardonnay, 2011, La Mascotta from Bodegas Santa Ana stood out with apple/pear aromas and full body with a rich and round mouth feel.

But the highlights of the tasting were malbec wines.

Malbce Estate, 2010, Colome (a blend of 85 per cent malbec, 8 tannat, 3 cabernet sauvignon, 2 syrah, and 2 petit verdot) with its deep red colour and layered flavour was balanced and ended with a satisfying aftertaste.

Ultra Malbec, 2010, from Kaiken with a 15.2 per cent ABV was intense, had a great structure, and soft tannins.

Malbec, 2010, from Dona Paula Estate showed intense violet colour, smelled of violets, black fruits and spices. It is a masterfully balanced wine.

Malbec, 2009, from Saurus is a barrel-fermented version with 13.8 percent ABV and relatively low acidity (5.5 grams/litre) and 2.87g/Litr residual sugar. The wine smells of violets and plums and sour cherries reflecting the cool climate of Patagonia. A fine “juicy” wine, superbly suited for roast beef, or lamb, even roasted breast of duck.

Q- Line Malbec, 2009, from Zuccardi has an intense black fruit aromas with hints of spice, and chocolate. Silky palate, with soft mature tannins, and long pleasant after taste.


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