Writing for The Guardian in London, wine critic Fiona Beckett recently said that she reckoned if you asked a random selection of people what their favourite red wine was, at least 40 percent would say Argentinian malbec! “These days”, she wrote, “it seems to have ousted even rioja in our affections. And you can see why. It shares rioja’s appealing fullness and smoothness, but it’s a bit brighter and fruitier, though not as jammy, as say, an Australian or California red.” (Wine: move over Spanish rioja – Argentinian malbec is the new red kid in town by Fiona Beckett, The Guardian, 15 November 2014)
I’m guessing Argentinian malbec isn’t nearly as popular in Australia. And it’s not because our tastes differ widely to the British. Because of distance and our relatively small population, we don’t see nearly as many imports on our our shelves, especially from New World wine regions like Argentina.
Great value and high quality Argentine Malbec is now more widely available in Australia
But if the quality of wines on offer at a recent Vintage Cellar’s tasting is any guide, some very good and great value Argentinian malbecs at different price points can now be found in Australia.
One of my favourite wines of the night was the big yet elegant Achaval-Ferrer Malbec Mendoza 2011 (rrp $54.99). Made from mainly old-vine malbec from single vineyards in three different regions of Mendoza, the wine had a delightfully floral nose with mineral accents. The fruit was ripe but not too sweet and, while the palate was medium-bodied and the tannins quite polished, the wine had enough structure and complexity to age for quite a bit longer.
Achaval-Ferrer has a well deserved reputation for producing some of Argentina’s best malbecs. The 2009 vintage of the flagship Achaval-Ferrer Mendoza Finca Altamira, for example, is one of only two Argentinian malbecs to score 99 points from the Wine Advocate. Like many of Argentina’s top winemakers, Santiago Achaval has enlisted the talents of a top European wine consultant, in this case Tuscany’s Roberto Cipresso, who is both the winemaker and a partner in the winery.
A more easy drinking style but still an impressive wine was the elegant, complex and fruity Mendel Lunta Malbec 2012 (rrp $34.99). The wine is a blend from old Malbec vineyards from Mayor Drummond in Lujan de Cuyo and La Consulta (Altamira and La Beatriz) in the Uco Valley.
Argentina is home to world’s highest vineyards
Uco Valley, at the foot of the Andes, is a younger wine region that is home to some of Mendoza’s highest and coolest vineyards. (They are also among the highest in the world!) It’s terroir is prized by winemakers because it preserves Malbec’s fresh blue and black fruit characters, intense aromatics and lively acidity.
The Lunta is made by Roberto de la Mota, one of the partners in Bodega Mendel and a former consultant with Cheval des Andes, the joint venture between Argentina’s Bodegas Terrazas de los Andes and Bordeaux’s Château Cheval-Blanc.
The easy drinking entry level Enrique Foster Ique Malbec 2014 rrp $19.99) seems like a bargain. It’s released in the same year that the grapes are harvested because it’s intended to be a fresh, young, unoaked wine.
Enrique Foster in Luyan de Cuyo, Mendoza is at the forefront of bringing world-class winemaking practices to Argentina. It was the first winery to install a gravity flow winery dedicated just to malbec, and it recently constructed an underground cellar to create an optimal ageing environment for up to 2,000 barrels. The wines are made by Mauricio Lorca, who also has his own eponymous label, and was formerly head winemaker at Luigi Bosca, one of Argentina’s oldest and most famous wineries.
Argentina’s cuisine is centred around its renowned high quality red meats. Malbec works beautifully with grilled meats in particular, so the time is right to try these wines with a hearty winter’s meal.
by Merrill Witt, Editor