Anthony Gismondi on Wine
Thursday, April 14 2016

Grapes : Malbec

By: Treve Ring
Malbec World Day from Argentina and elsewhere.

Marking its sixth instalment in 2016, Malbec World Day will be celebrated April 17th.

While malbec is grown the world over, the day was established by Wines of Argentina to celebrate the country's flagship grape, as well as to raise global awareness about the quality and variety of wines produced by Argentina other than malbec. Though the black, densely flavoured grape is native to the south west of France (you may recall it as one of the six players in the Bordeaux blend), it has fallen steeply in plantings and popularity in France; today the black plum, savoury and tannic wines of Cahors are the main centre for the grape in its native homeland.

Malbec’s star has risen at a comet-rate as of late, propelled into superstardom by Argentina’s thriving exports. Here, tucked against or astride the sunbaked Andes, the grape typically showcases full-bodied, intense fruit-forward flavours of blueberry and black plum, backed up by cocoa, smoke and spice and laid out across a velvety texture. Over the past decade, the approachability, ripe fruit and low price point of Argentine malbec rapidly gained it many fans in North America and around the globe. So much so, that today malbec is almost entirely identified with Argentine wine – to the detriment of other red grapes that are also successfully grown, read bonarda, tannat and cabernet franc.

Today the push towards quality has lead many in Argentina to investigate new terroirs often at great heights. As a result Argentina has more high-altitude vineyards than anywhere else on the planet. Malbec benefits from the cooler evenings at higher elevation, with the greater diurnal shift increasing acidity and preserving fresh fruit. Approximately 75 percent of the world’s malbec plantings are in Argentina, with the majority planted in and around Mendoza. As our collective shift towards place and provenance continues, we are seeing more and more producers identifying site and altitude on the labels, vs. the catch-all Mendoza – too large and generalized to provide inquisitive consumers with useful details. Watch for labels denoting sub appellations of note including Uco Valley, Maipú, San Rafael and Lujan de Cuyo. Outside of Mendoza, keep an eye out for San Juan and La Rioja to the north, the high altitude plantings in Argentina’s far northeastern corner of Catamarca, Jujuy and Salta, and the southern regions of Patagonia, the Río Negro and Neuquén – the latter trio especially promising for cool climate grapes and sparkling wines.

This year, Malbec World Day celebrations will include more than 70 events in 70 cites and 54 countries worldwide. Here are a selection of our favourite malbecs tasted at GOW over the past year, some of which were in Argentina and not available in Canada (ask your local private wine shop about seeking them out). *Prices were correct at time of publication. 

 95. Viña 1924 De Angeles Gran Malbec 2012, Vistalba District, Luján de Cuyo, Northern Region, Mendoza, Argentina. NA in Canada

Old vines are a big part of the story at Viña 1924 De Angeles Gran 2012 Malbec. The fruit here is 100 percent malbec and it comes off Parcel 3 at Vistalba, a site planted in 1924. Density is a medium 7,200 plants per hectare and the irrigation is old school by furrow. This wine never ceases to amaze from its big black licorice, black cherry, earthy, smoky nose to its savoury, intense palate awash in black cherries, smoked licorice root, tobacco, orange peel and vanilla flavours. A wonderful expression of old vine malbec made with just the right touch of modernity. The farming is organic and the fruit picked for the Gran Malbec is picked a week later than the regular. AG

95. Zuccardi Aluvional La Consulta 2012, La Consulta, Valle de Uco, Tunuyán, Central Region, Mendoza, Argentina. $83.00
At 15% alcohol you might expect it to assault you but after 12 months in concrete vats using indigenous yeast there is an electricity and freshness to Aluvional and its fruit that is almost overwhelming. Aluvional is made from several sites, all hand-picked by winemaker Sebastián Zuccardi in the La Consulta, San Carlos region. At 990 metres above sea level, some 130 km south of Mendoza City, this is the mother lode. The vines were planted in 1974 on poor alluvial soils of sandy-silt-clay mixed with rock. Love the tension and the acidity of what is a complex, rich, powerful red, full of floral fruit. All hail Sebastián and his relentless fire to find the true home of malbec. AG

94. Dominio del Plata Nosotros Vista Flores 2012, Vista Flores, Valle de Uco, Tunuyán, Central Region, Mendoza, Argentina. $125.00
Edy Del Popolo’s departure from Dona Paula was feisty winemaker Susana Balbo’s gain. Upon his arrival at Dominio del Plata the first thing Del Popolo asked Balbo was to consider taking her signature Nostros and set it free to travel to the best vineyard (fruit) each year. Originally the best vineyard in Agrelo it is now a Single Vineyard Nomade a name meant to celebrate its journey every year to the best grapes they can find. Enter Dominio del Plata Nosotros 2012 Vista Flores, Uco Valley, Mendoza. In 2012 Nosotros is sourced from selected parcels in the region of Chacayes at 1200 metres, along the far west, high side of Vista Flores. The soils are complex, colluvial-alluvial origin with a sandy-loam frame in the first 10 inches. The second layer of calcareous soil and white gravels goes down two metres. Clearly more and more limestone sites are being planted to vine. More vertical more linear, Popolo likes minerality and freshness while winemaker Susannah Balbo likes sweetness and roundness with toast. So far it’s a fine match. Wow what a delicious, intense juicy vibrant red wine made with intensity and balance. A star is born. AG

94. Mendel Finca Remota 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. $100.00 QC
Next door to Zuccardi’s Aluvional, the Mendel Finca Remota 2011 offers another look at Altamira, surely one of the finest pieces of terroir in all of Argentina. The 2011 was a little cooler than 2012 and the wine is a bit tighter. The vineyard is older, (thought to be planted in 1950) the alcohol is a little lower at 14.3% and it spends 18 in new French oak. Easily the most complex of the bunch No doubt one of the most important characteristics of Mendel La Remota is the intensity and complexity of the fruit. This is the sixth time La Mota has made the wine that is very classical in its manner. Like the Angelus it presents its old vines in the texture and viscosity that you don’t get in younger vines. It presents as a polished river stone not one you have just cracked open. AG

93. Doña Paula Los Indios Parcel Malbec 2012, Altamira, Valle de Uco, Tunuyán, Central Region, Mendoza, Argentina. NA in Canada        
The Los Indios Parcel is a tiny sub-section of Altimira in San Carlos area of the Uco Valley. The fruit here is grown on sandy, silty colluvial soils with small brick-like stones in pink and orange scattered about. Yields are only four tons per hectare. Microvinification takes place in second-used 225 liters, French oak barrels filled with 170 kilograms (375 lb) of pure-clean berries. The barrels are closed up and sent to a temperature controlled room where the alcoholic, wild culture and malolactic fermentation takes place. To make a soft extraction, the barrels are rolled daily for 10 to 15 days. After that the wine is racked to new French oak barrels where it is aged for 18 months. This artisanal vinification method ensures that grapes are handled gently and all the process is carried out by gravity. Only exceptional years can spawn a Los Indios Parcel Malbec limited in quantity to 2000 bottles. Like the Aluvional the spice and violets dominate the nose with impressive acidity and or freshness followed by texture, texture, texture. Impressive to say the least at this young age. AG

92. Catena Alta Malbec Historic Rows 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. $49.95
After tasting all the pretenders it’s great to encounter the real thing. The Catena Alta is an elegant mix of single vineyards sites set at 3018, 3117 and 3593, and 4757 feet elevation at Lunlunta, Agrelo, La Consulta and Gualtallary. The fruit comes off individual rows that ‘historically’ produces the best fruit. The nose is awash in ripe, red and black berry fruits with alluring dusky floral undertones. The attack is juicy and refreshing, almost grapey, but with spice, sweet, round tannins and a long, smooth undercarriage. Love the complex mix of celery salt, tobacco, branch, licorice and poultry spice, all in an elegant style. Youthful now, but with great potential to cellar through 2020. AG-TR

91. Bodega Colomé Autentico 2012, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, North, Argentina. $40.00
The vineyards are grown and worked using sustainable practices thus presenting the "authentic" expression of the terroir. The winery practises pigeage, does not use commercial yeasts or lactic bacteria to speed up the fermentation. Acid correction and the use of sulphur dioxide is minimal and it has no oak influence. There is no filtration leaving the tannins to soften in the bottle with age. Expect a black colour with dark fruit aromas. The plate is a mix of spice and figs with some stony elements. Impressive for its age and what was a difficult vintage in Salta. AG

91. Cobos Bramare Malbec Marchiori Vineyard 2012, Luján de Cuyo, Northern Region, Mendoza, Argentina. NA in Canada
This is a Paul Hobbs/Marchiori family collaboration in Perdriel. The terroir is clay over sandy loam that gives way to gravel and stone. In fact the soils are alluvial and low in organic material but very well drained. The result is bigger sweeter tannins with plenty of flavour. More Napa in style it tends to jump the terroir and rely more on its dense sweet tannins, floral, black berry, tobacco aromas and intense black cherry and blueberry fruit with flecks of orange zest and violets. There’s just enough minerality and acidity to keep it all interesting. Steak is a must. AG

91. Ben Marco Malbec 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. $18.00
Love the freshness here on the nose. The colour is dark with ripe red fruits with a dash of blueberry and that typical but not overwhelming savoury undercoat. The textures are soft and dense with more black/red fruit flavours and spice, licorice and chocolate. A wine in transition (somewhere in the middle) from the old style to the fresher more mineral, red fruit, modern style. A gold medal winner at the 2016 Argentine Wine Awards and a solid value here in Canada. Try with steak and don’t be afraid to age this another three to five years. AG

91. Argento Single Vineyard Paraje Altamira Malbec 2014, Altamira, Valle de Uco, Tunuyán, Central Region, Mendoza, Argentina. NA in Canada
At Argento the new focus is making wines of purity, vibrancy, elegance, balance – or the highest expression of the terroir. Easy to say but not so easy to accomplish yet winemaker Silvia Corti and consulting winemaker Alberto Antonini are getting there thanks to an amazing selection of fruit from Argento’s Paraje Altamira estate in the Uco Valley, a vineyard that sits some 1090 metres above sea level. There is terrific temperature amplitude, from 35°C to 15°C daily, and amazing calcareous soil filled with multiple sizes of rocks. The wine is fermented in concrete and aged in 12 months in untoasted, 3,500-litre, French oak foudres. The nose is rich in black fruits and mineral, stony notes with a touch of five spice. The fruit is pure and filled with finesse. Style with structure and length and while the alcohol sits at 14.5 you barely notice it. AG

90. Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. $21.50
Truly hedonistic, the Golden Reserve is rich and savoury with dense, lush, black fruit flavours with just enough freshness to keep it interesting throughout. This wine over delivers most years and 2013 is no exception. You can cellar this wine for five years or consider serving it now with a lamb roast. A delicious New World red. AG

90. Anko Flor Cardón 2012, Salta, North, Argentina. NA in Canada
At just under 14% alcohol, this 100 percent malbec spends a year in 20% new French oak. The fruit is sourced from the Estancia Los Cardónes district of Salta, the northernmost winemaking province of Argentina. Located just south of the town of Cafayate at roughly 1700 meters along the eastern slopes of the Valle de Calchaquies. The little soil there is full of crushed mica at is present is full of crushed mica.  Winemakers and co-owners Jeff Mausbach and Alejandro “Colo” Sejanovich and Saavedra Azcona family have planted the rockiest sites looking for a big expression of minerality and fine grained tannins. Needless to say the yields are low. This is big almost boney malbec with a savoury spicy component that doesn’t quit. A classic steak wine. AG

90. Bramare by Vina Cobos Malbec 2013, Valle de Uco, Tunuyán, Central Region, Mendoza, Argentina. $43
All malbec, grown at 3,330 to 3,845 feet above sea level on sandy rocky soils. The fruit is all hand-harvested from sites in San Carlos and Tupungato, in Valle de Uco. Yields are low 2 - 3.79 tons per acre. It spends 17 months in 5% new French oak and 26% new American oak barrels. The other 69% goes into second year wood. The colour is opaque, the aromas intense with big stony, mineral red fruits with floral violet undertones. Rich ripe and powerful style with plenty of licorice, vanilla, coffee, cola notes that definitely warms the palate from front to back. Grilled steak is the ticket here. AG

90. Argento Reserva Malbec Organic 2014, Altamira, Valle de Uco, Tunuyán, Central Region, Mendoza, Argentina. NA in Canada        
The 2014 organic malbec comes off Paraje Altamira not far from the village of La Consulta in the San Carlos department. All 25 hectares are organic and 22.5 hectares are planted to the flagship malbec at 1090m above sea level. The site is awash in large rocks and there is an accumulation of prized calcium on their surface. At three years old the fruit and the wine is precocious with wonderful soft tannins and juicy pure black fruit flavours with surprising power and finesse for such a youthful project. Stunning quality for the price that would work with most roasted meats or chicken. AG 

89. Catena Malbec Mountain Vines 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. $21.00
It would be easy to miss the terroir subtleties in this wine, too polished, too soft, and too perfect for the price but give it some attention. The nose is a floral black fruit affair that draw you into a smooth polished red wine with very soft tannins. The palate is a mix of blackberries and blackcurrants with just enough oak to keep it all interesting. Grilled meat entrees are the match or mushrooms, or Osso Buco and or aged cheeses. Classy. AG

89. Felino by Viña Cobos Malbec 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. $20.00
This wine is mostly dialed in these days and the price remains relatively constant. Made by American winemaker/partner Paul Hobbs with Argentine partners Andrea Marchiori and Luis Bernard it remains a high quality, entry level Malbec. It’s always been generous but the oak is better handled to let the spice and pure, ripe, malbec fruit show through. If you like black cherries and licorice this is it. Prepare your steak and a classic chimichurri sauce and you are all set. AG

89. Marcelo Miras Malbec 2012, Rio Negro, Patagonia, Argentina. NA in Canada      
The Marcelo Miras 2012 Malbec from Ing. Huergo, General Roca, Río Negro was planted in 1979, made in the traditional style and aged for 15 months in French and American oak barrels. A typical north Patagonian desert climate brings warm days and cool nights at 39º 08´ S. Here you can get big colour and structure (think skins) so you must pay attention to prevent the wine from being to rustic. The growing season can be shorter much like the south Okanagan Valley. Solid but rustic at this point. Retaste in five years. AG

89. Bramare by Vina Cobos Malbec 2012, Luján de Cuyo, Northern Region, Mendoza, Argentina/ $39.99
The Luján de Cuyo malbec is grown at 3251-3467 feet above sea level in semi desert conditions. Almost identical to the Uco the Luyán it spends 17 months in new oak 5% French and 27% American. The nose is broad and open with pepper, cloves and five-spice mixed with black fruit and licorice. The palate is identical with heavy, resiny black fruit notes with roast mushroom, tobacco, orange peel and savoury dried herb finish. Best with grilled meats. AG

89. Crios Malbec by Susana Balbo Dominio de Plata 2014, Mendoza, Argentina. $16.79
The 2014 is a 95/5/mix of malbec and bonarda grown in the Uco Valley at an average of 1140m above sea level. Nine months in older French oak gives the wine a richness and roundness in the mouth that draws you into its floral, black cherry fruit aromas and flavours and ripe savoury finish. Grilled beef, hamburgers chicken, or meaty pizzas all work here. It’s iconic red label with the hand outline has disappeared but the wine remains the same high quality. AG 

89. Terrazas de los Andes Malbec Reserva 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. $20.79
Black fruits and liquorice dominate on the nose with some underlying floral mineral notes. The attack is rich, spicy and mouth filling with those classic silky malbec textures. Bordering on the sweet side that should have wide appeal. Big bold and rich this needs a rare, grilled steak to tame its rambunctious youthful character, or five to eight more years in bottle. AG

89. Argento Reserva Malbec 2014, Mendoza, Argentina. ON $14.00
Wow. The latest malbec reserva reflects all the hard work going on at Argento. The colour is deep and dark and the nose jumps form the glass. Floral (violet) notes mix with beautiful pure plum and blackberry fruit that is super juicy and slippery on the palate. The finish is long and textured flecked with white pepper and brown spices white pepper and cardamom. Seriously good for the price. Back up the truck and serve around the barbecue all summer. The fruit is 100 percent Mendoza malbec from Luján de Cuyo (Alto Agrelo) and San Carlos (La Consulta).


Written By: TR
Treve Ring
Treve Ring

Treve Ring is a writer, editor, judge, consultant, educator and certified sommelier based on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. After completing her Art History degree with Distinction from the University of Victoria and being exposed to the world of wine business at Christie's in London, England, she switched gears, leaving the realm of art for the world of wine.