In April each year ‘Wines of Argentina’s’ ‘Malbec World Day’ hails Malbec around the globe. To celebrate at M, we have collected over 100 Malbecs to bring to you in both our restaurants and in M WINE STORE. Below is Zack Charilaou, M’s Wine Director’s guide to Argentina’s favourite grape.
Malbec is now the world’s fastest growing grape variety in terms of UK sales but it surprises me that it has taken so long for this fantastic grape to gain the fame its quality deserves! Since Wines of Argentina (WOFA) took me on a trip (nearly 4 years ago now) i have fallen in love with this emerging hero. The guys at WOFA have had a huge impact in this rise of Malbec and the time and investment they have put into Argentina’s premier grape is now paying off.
Originally, Malbec was the king grape of Bordeaux and was France’s most important red grape. During this time, its world popularity was even more than it enjoys today and because of this, way back in 1850, the president of Argentina ordered that this grape be brought to Argentina and planted immediately!
A short while later, unluckily for France and the rest of Europe (but great for Argentina) a small, horrible little bug called ‘Phylloxera’ spread like the plague across European vineyards and destroyed over 90% of all vines by eating the roots. This had a catastrophic impact on the wine industry (which is still only 50% of what it once was) and practically wiped Malbec out as a French single varietal. Malbec is a notoriously difficult grape to grow and requires skill in harvesting. Indeed, Malbec harvesters are paid double the norm as the grape has such a delicate and unpredictable nature. As the French re-built their wine industry quickly, replanting all their varieties, it was agreed that Malbec would not to be re-planted in Bordeaux because of its singular difficulties. Merlot took its place as it was much easier to grow and manage whilst being of a similar style.
This left Argentina with borderline exclusivity on Malbec and it quickly became the country’s most planted and consumed red grape variety. Over the years millions of pounds of research has gone into Malbec viticulture and vinification to improve its quality. Decades of intense work are just now coming to fruition and finally, during the past few years the world has really begun to take notice of my favourite grape.
Malbec suits Argentina perfectly! To be technical for a minute – high altitude gives superb amounts of sunlight, which is super important for the ripeness of the grapes and also helps to keep the air temperature down. It’s equally as important to maintain the balance of the acid and sugar levels, as too much heat destroys this delicate balance. The fact there is virtually no rain in Mendoza means humidity is almost non-existent, so cool nights follow warm days, giving plenty of time for the grapes to rest — once again helping Malbec to reach an ultimate balanced ripeness.
Malbec has most definitely found a home away from home in this breathtaking winemaking country of Argentina! Malbec wines are classically ripe, rich, round, juicy with black fruits, purple flowers and a silky, velvety smooth texture.
A combination of perfect terroir (a French word for natural influences such as rain, sun and soil) and some luck in Bordeaux losing its native grape, has given Argentina a perfect platform to be extremely successful. We’re now all seeing all those benefits in lots of outstanding wines!
To coincide with Malbec World Day — we at M are proud to have collected 100 great Malbecs to sell in M WINE STORE during April, all at reduced prices. We have also created a unique case of what i feel are not only exceptional examples of Malbec, but are all completely different and show case all sides of Argentina’s flexibilty with its Malbec production. Click here to take a look at this exclusive Malbec case.
Finally, here’s a short guide to the regions of Argentina, which specialise in Malbec and what you can look for and expect from them:
Salta is quite a large wine making region — but over 90% of vineyards are all squeezed into Cafayate, a town south of Salta city, at altitudes of up to 2000m above sea level. Other smaller wine making areas such as Yacachuya or Colome can reach altitudes above 3000m — the highest any wine is made in the world! Salta is by far the most extreme wine making region and therefore creates some pretty unique wines.
The high altitude combined with dessert level rainfall has many different impacts on the vines. The intense sunlight due to the altitude, whilst having no humidity means the penetration of the sun is extremely strong. This means the grapes have to develop thick skins to protect their seeds from harmful UV rays and the skin is where all the body and flavour comes from. So you can be sure to have rich, bold, intense and powerful wines here! However, the low humidity also means there is nothing to lock the 40c heat from the day, so they nights are very cold — giving the grapes some much needed rest to keep the balance — just like putting some nice cold after sun on that fresh beach tanned body — some say they can hear the grapes say ‘ahhhhhh’ in relief at sun down…
If you like the sound of Salta and its unique style, Colome Malbec is a fantastic example of what this region is all about.
Mendoza is the world’s largest wine producing region and responsible for at least 80% of Argentina’s total wine production. Due to its size, lots of sub-regions have been created here to give identity to each part. It’s located in the middle of Argentina and the vineyards hug the Andes Mountains for 1224km, which is around the length of England. The altitude is still very high here, reaching heights of 1600m above sea level in some areas, but due to its latitude, has a very different effect on the grapes than Salta. Below I have spit and explained Mendoza’s two main sub regions.
Lujan de Cuyo
This is Argentina’s oldest wine making region — with some of (if not the) oldest vines in the world. Federico Benegas (legend — wine producer) has working vines planted in the 1800’s! This region can reach altitudes just shy of a 1000m — so it’s slightly warmer as a result. The wines here are very Juicy, ripe and soft with tannins like silk. Lujan de cuyo (for me at least) produces the most approachable, drinkable Malbec. Old vines produce much better fruit — so even the entry-level wines here are exceptional. This is also where Malbec was first planted in Argentina and where you will find the best examples man can savour!
Currently drinking beautifully and available through the store is Terrazas Malbec, a classic example of Lujan de Cuyo’s wine style and quality.
Valley de Uco
Or The Uco Valley to us English is the new, trendy region to make wine in Argentina. I say new because in the mid 1900’s Argentina’s economic collapse resulted in the government ordering an up root of all vines in the region — so they could plant fruit and vegetables instead to minimise imports due to the pathetic strength of the Argentine Peso. Years later, the economy has recovered and people have began to plant vines here again. There is an argument to suggest the region is actually better suited to making wine than Lujan de Cuyo — but this will forever be subjective. Its slightly further south and higher altitude (up to 1600m) than Lujan de Cuyo, so as a result the region is noticeably cooler. Cool climates means more freshness in the wines, slightly lighter body with more flowers and fresh red fruits rather than jammy black fruits. The texture is still super silky and you also get some great white wines here too!
Here is home to the most southern wine making region in the world! Of course altitudes are much lower (250 — 350m) and much cooler due to the latitude, so once again we have a completely different style of wine. 2 sub-regions are responsible for all the wine making here — but they produce completely different wines in style and quality.
This is the newest wine making region in Argentina — with the first vines planted in the last 10 years or so. When vines are this young, its very difficult to produce super premium quality, so most of what comes from this region is entry level. The style of wine is fresh, vibrant and full of sour cherries and under ripe red fruits. The wines don’t have huge structure or complexity yet, but are great, easy drinking, approachable wines for now.
The Rio Negro is home to some of the oldest vines in Argentina, with some Malbec and Pinot Noir vines reaching 100 years old. It’s also known as being a little pocket of the old world, living in the new world. Due to lower altitudes and cooler climates, the style of the wine is much more European, with more elegant and delicate styles of wine as appose to the rich and bold wines produced further north. My favorite producer from this region is Noemia, a producer of elegance and complexity with delicate aromas and fantastic balance!
Enjoy Malbec with M!
Copyright Zack Charilaou March 2016 – MW Restaurants Ltd