Malbec didn’t originate in Argentina, but it’s certainly found a perfect home there.
Argentina’s high-elevation vineyards — some reaching 3,048 metres (10,000 feet) — are ideal for the black grape. The thinner atmosphere brings intense sunshine and cool nights, both important for making wines with ripe tannins and fresh acidity. When paired with generally dry weather and few pests or disease pressures, you have the makings of a superb wine region.
While Argentina’s malbecs seemed a bit homogenous at one time — fruity with lots of oak — there is now more separation as wineries focus on making wines that represent where they are from. One thing that hasn’t changed is the great value of Argentine malbec. The quality-to-price ratio can’t be beaten.
After tasting 29 malbecs in the lead-up to Malbec World Day on April 17, here are some highlights. Prices are approximate and will vary from store to store.
Fruity and fresh
The popularity of malbec was built on fruity, ripe wines at great prices. These bottles are made for immediate enjoyment.
The Trivento Reserve Malbec ($16) has been a top-selling wine for more than a decade. It’s easy to see why. The 2019 is rich, with black cherry, plum, strawberry and raspberry flavours, modest tannins and a longer finish.
Organic and fair trade certified, the La Riojana 2018 Tilimuqui Organic Malbec ($17) offers some smokey plum, leather, strawberry and blackberry flavours, with a pleasant tartness on the finish.
You’ll find a bit more tannin and body in the Septima 2018 Malbec ($17), which offers some meat and leather notes to go with the black cherry, blackberry and blueberry flavours.
Black cherry, plum, black raspberry and a bit of cassis are at the forefront of the 2019 Reserve Malbec ($14) from Graffigna, which has a wine history that goes back more than 150 years.
Bigger and bolder
It’s pretty impressive, what you can get for $20 or a touch more. These wines have more structure, darker fruit and generally a bit less sugar.
The 2017 Seleccion Malbec ($20) from Alamos has nice ripe tannins, lots of dark fruits such as blackberry and black cherry, plus a bigger dose of oak. Round and rich.
With a hint more sweetness, the 2019 Flight of the Condor Malbec ($20) has super-ripe tannins, bold blue and black fruit flavours and enough acidity to balance things out.
Inky purple in colour, look for violets and wet earth notes to go along with the black cherry, blackberry and strawberry flavours in the 2017 Reserve Malbec ($21) from Calgary-owned Bodegas Salentein. It’s from the higher elevation Uco Valley sub-region of Mendoza, one of the prime spots for top-level wines.
Also from the Uco Valley, the Trapiche 2017 Medalla Malbec ($22) feels like a much more expensive wine, with lots of ripe tannins on a firm frame of blackberry, black cherry, plum, leather and vanilla.
Dark and brooding
Here are some rich, dry and intense wines with denser structure. Enjoy them now or age them for a few years.
One of the first families of Argentine wine, the Catena family has pushed the limits of winemaking, seeking out the best terroirs and techniques. You can tell how seriously they take their wine with the entry-level Catena 2018 Malbec ($23). Refined and round, look for violet, black cherry, spice and fresh ground coffee notes. Catena’s top-level wines can be astounding.
Started by Aurelio Montes, one of Chile’s wine stars, the Kaiken winery impressed almost immediately after its launch in 2002. From three vineyard sites in the Uco Valley, the 2018 Ultra Malbec ($25) delivers a punch of black cherry, earth, leather, spice, violet and vanilla, with dense, fine tannins.
Violets, mint and mocha blend with black cherries, spice, vanilla and a bit of salty tang in the Bodegas Escorihuela Gascon 1884 2018 Estate Grown Malbec ($20), from Agrelo, a sub-district of Lucan de Cuyo in Mendoza.
Wineries are starting to highlight specific traits of Mendoza’s sub-regions. I’ve been particularly impressed by the wines from Gualtallary, located in Tupungato, the highest elevation part of the Uco Valley. Rocky soils in former river beds with large deposits of calcium carbonate are leading to distinctive and delicious wines. Soil research by wineries such as Catena Zapata and Dona Paula is helping winemakers better understand this region.
The Dona Paula 2017 Seleccion de Bodega Malbec ($45), from its estate vineyard in Gualtallary, boasts an almost chalky minerality on the palate, with firm, powerful, fine-grained tannins. The flavours in this vegan-friendly, gluten-free wine range from iron and violets to blackcurrant and blueberry, with a good dose of oak and some herbal notes on the background.
Zorzal Vineyards and Winery could be considered Calgary’s winery in Argentina. Started in 2007, the winery has 60 Canadian investors including 40 from Calgary. It has been a critical success, with winemaker Juan Pablo Michelini focused on displaying the unique character of Gualtallary. To that extent, he minimizes or completely avoids the use of oak. The 2017 Eggo Tinto de Tiza ($36) is a malbec that was fermented in egg-shaped concrete vats, which smooth out the texture without adding flavour. The flavours include herbs and green olives dancing with black cherry, black raspberry and peppery meat flavours. A pure powerhouse.
Contact Darren Oleksyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter or Instagram. Looking for a specific wine? Because wine inventories are always in flux, it’s a good idea to call a store to confirm they have it. A search on Liquorconnect.com can give you an idea of stores that have carried the wines.