I have rather neglected South America in recent weeks which is unfair given how popular the region is in Ireland. Chile is by far the biggest seller in Ireland but this week I’m focusing on Argentina and Malbec.
Malbec originates in Cahors in SouthWest France where it is more often known as Cot — the word Malbec comes from the man who introduced it to the Côtes de Bordeaux region.
DNA analysis has shown that Malbec is a half sibling to Merlot, the grape that largely supplanted it once the vineyards of Bordeaux were re-planted after the devastation of Phylloxera.
Laura Catena of Catena Zapata maintains that as much as 50% of Chateau Latour and Chateau Cheval Blanc were Malbec at the time of the 1855 Classification but Malbec’s late-ripening and more delicate nature made it too unpredictable and it has continued to lose out to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cabernet is also late-ripening but is significantly hardier.
These days there are less than 1,000ha planted with Malbec in the Gironde compared with 5,000ha in the 1960s.
Step up Argentina who can claim to have revived the varietal with their densely fruited luscious Malbecs that offer opulence and texture as well as easy-drinking pleasure.
The variety was introduced in the 19th century and it took well to the altitude in the Andean Foothills in Mendoza and places like Salta, Luján de Cuyo and the Uco Valley.
Vineyards are often over 1,000m — sometimes as high as 1,500m — above sea level and the best of these wines can age for decades.
Clonal selection and even matching clone to site selection have also been important and winemakers and viticulturists just love to dig holes to figure out what works best where.
Besides Malbec you will find lots of (underrated) Bonarda, and of course Cabernet Sauvigon which is the third-most planted red grape — watch also for Syrah, Tempranillo and Italian grapes such as Barbera.
Chardonnay works well here and Sauvignon Blanc works for entry level while muscat-scented Torrontés is well worth a try.
Selections this week are mainly Malbec and there were at least six others I could have included – I will use a couple in next week’s column.
Dadá de Finca Las Moras 2016, Argentina - €10.99-12.99
A blend of Bonarda and Malbec with a solid hit of vanilla and American Oak on the nose and palate as well as ripe plum and blackberry fruits. Named for the Dada art movement this is a lot sexier than Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain – perhaps his Bicycle Wheel is a better comparison!
Moncagua Malbec 2014, Lujan de Coyo, Argentina - €13.99-14.99
Lujan de Coyo is in the Upper Mendoza valley in the west of the province with vineyards at around 1000m. My first thought was chocolate raisins followed by black cherry aromas with good ripe fruits following through on the palate and decent integrated tannings and not a little length.
Doña Paula Los Cardos Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, Argentina - €12
From vines planted in 1998 on the Doña Paula at altitude of around 1000m using sustainable agriculture where possible (there is a big emphasis on saving water etc).. Ripe blackcurrant aromas with a background of black pepper and a touch of lead pencil – solidly fruity and punching above its price.
Domaine Bousquet Malbec 2016, Tupungato Valley, Argentina - €16.95
Made by a French family based in Argentina this is organic certified from vineyards at 1200m in Tupungato, a northern sub-region of the Uco Valley. Aromas of chocolate and pepper with a good hit of spice and smoke on the palate and lingering ripe fruits.
Doña Paula Estate Malbec 2015, Uco Valley, Argentina - €16
Once again from altitude (1350m) on alluvial soils with a beautiful view of the Andes mountains (I’ve stood in this vineyard). This estate pays huge attention to soils and clones and the wines are very consistent. This is packed with ripe elegant fruit and has lingering chocolate and smoke edges perfect for barbecue.
Catena Malbec 2015, Mendoza, Argentina - €17.95-18.95
From vineyards of approximately 1000m above sea level Catena helped change the perception of Malbec worldwide as they were some of the first quality Argentinian wines to be exported. Fine deep colour with lots of mineral tinged bright fruit aromas and flavours with a spicy kick. Elegant and fine thanks in part to a restrained 13% ABV.
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