Malbec in Argentina

In its second home, it's second to none


There's this moment -- it happens after you've looked out the window for too long -- when you realize the clouds aren't clouds, they're the Andes. Giant, burlap knuckles of earth done up in dust and sunshine. It's December, just days from Christmas, and in Argentina this means signs of summer: poplars, willows, and miles of Malbec, growing in bright green rows.

If you've had Malbec in the past five years, there's a good chance it came from these mountain plains. The grape's not out there alone (search the vineyards and you'll find Cabernet, Viognier, even Sangiovese) but it's the only one the locals call The King. The Flagship. The Taste of Argentina. Malbec has become such a symbol of the country, it's planted just feet from the arrivals hall at Mendoza's airport; land here and you'll be greeted by Argentina's most successful new ambassador.
The story of Malbec begins in Europe, the way many Argentine tales do. In a nation built by Spanish and Italian immigrants, to call Argentina home is to have adopted it (or to know which of your ancestors did so). Native to southwestern France, the first Malbec made it to South America in the late 1800s, carried by the man who broke ground for Argentina's national vine nursery. Now, 100 years after its arrival, Malbec from Argentina has, well, arrived: it accounts for the majority of the Malbec consumed in the world, and its presence in the States alone grew from 628,000 cases to more than 3 million between 2005 and 2009. Argentine Malbec even managed to emerge not just unscathed but bolstered by the global economic crisis, thanks to scores of Bordeaux and Cabernet fans switching to affordable reds. 

"Malbec is the great variety," says Matthieu Grassin, chief winemaker at Alta Vista. "Easy to grow, easy to make, easy to drink." Pointing out to the land, he describes the natural affinity between region and grape. The clear skies, poor soils, and thermal oscillation (the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures) offer Malbec much of what it needs to become a deeply concentrated, richly fruited wine. When I ask him about Malbec's performance in its hometown of Cahors, which happens not to be too far from his own, he shrugs, plainly: "The climate in Cahors is wrong for Malbec."

Good as the wines from here can be, though, they didn't just suddenly find prominence on their own -- part of the credit goes to the nation's diligent winemakers, investors, export managers, and trade organizations who've conducted a very successful consumer education campaign in the past few years. Through concentrated outreach they've hit the initial goal -- ensuring that when wine drinkers hear "Malbec" they think "Argentina" -- and now have a new one: showing the same drinkers that Malbec isn't a monolith.

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  • Snooth User: wimryan
    250731 14

    Not sure what happened, I posted a similar comment yesterday, but couldn't find it today. Anyway, I live in Brasil, and as the vast majority of our local fare is pretty lacking, I tend to drink a lot of Argentine and Chilean reds. My favorite being one of the wines mentioned above, the Cuvelier los Andes. There are several available, a beautiful "corte" or blend called Collecion, which you can find in the US for less than US$20. The Grand Vin mentioned above is actually a blend as well, with CabSav, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot, if I am not mistaken. Extemely tasty However the flagship is the Grand Malbec, a 100% malbec offering. That is truly a 95 point wine. At a fraction of the cost of most Cru Classe bordeaux. Beg, borrow or steal to get your hands on some. I have a half a dozen bottles of the 2005 that I am chomping at the bit to dive into, but I think it is just going to get better and better. I'll hold off another couple years...

    Hugs from Brasil

    Feb 16, 2011 at 3:02 PM

  • Snooth User: Pecce
    318469 3

    I belive what the frist one Argentina's varietal Malbec was made at Bodega y Cavas de Weinert and is caled Malbec Estrela 77, by Mr. B. Weinert, owner, and Mr. Raul De La Mota, winemaker.

    Feb 16, 2011 at 3:08 PM

  • Proud of reading these wonderful words, I'm an argentinian sommelier, I think that we've got a long way ahead, but we're doing great with our malbecs. I tried many french Cots and something is missing there, so what they say seems to be true, that in Argentina malbec has found its place. Specially in the north, Salta province specifically, there are 100 or older plants, french clones pre-philoxera, and most of the wines are not oaked...still wonderful wines, longliving ones. Bodega Tacuil is one of the bests.
    If you have the chance to try Achaval Ferrer, you'll taste our country in your glass, and I must say, though I love blends, that malbecs are becoming our ambassadors all around the world.

    Speaking about whites, if you prefer them intense and aromatic, you should try our torrontes, the same case of malbecs, it seems to love this land!

    Feb 16, 2011 at 4:06 PM

  • Snooth User: Gavilan Vineyards
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    517320 40

    Again great article and of course as a Argentine vineyard owner I am very happy to read how wine folks are more and more impressed with the quality of our wines.
    May I add one correction though, Lujan is not the only area with a DOC. San Rafael has a DOC which is mostly used by "Bianchi".
    In many ways the Argentine climate conditions and its terroir are just perfect for wine making. We frequently achieve higher sugar levels in our grapes because of the climate allowing the grapes to mature properly. Of course the French will tell you that high alcohol is a bad thing but only because they cannot achieve it.

    Looking forward to more storied from your Argentina wine trip Carly. Next time please take time and come visit us a little further south as well. There is more to Mendoza than Lujan and Valle Uco. :)

    Feb 16, 2011 at 4:57 PM

  • This is an excellent article and very accurate. There are of course many other terrific Malbecs and Malbec blends that are not mentioned.

    They certainly beat Walla Walla Malbec or Cot from Cahors. Your article is very similar to what I have written you over the last month.

    For more info on great Malbecs, consult WINES OF PASSION: THE BEST OF SOUTH AMERICA available on line and should be available through snooth some day, who knows?

    Feb 16, 2011 at 5:40 PM

  • Snooth User: wimryan
    250731 14

    Wanted to agree with Eleonora's recommendation of the Achaval Ferrers. The Altamira is divine as is the Mirador, both malbec varietals. I am decidedly a rank amateur, not a sommelier nor a vineyard owner, but I know what I like and the high alcohol content that Argentina is able to squeeze out of the malbec is so nice. Especially after some run of the mill bordeaux that you will pay 3x the price of good malbecs.
    While it is not a pure malbec, I would be interested to hear the specialists opinions on Yacochuya. Another beefy 90/10 malbec/cabsav blend that I think will lay down as nice as any bordeaux, brunello or barolo.
    BTW, Eleonora, where are you a sommelier? My wife and I get to BA once or twice a year and would love to drink a glass recommended by you!

    Abraços from Brasil

    Feb 16, 2011 at 5:50 PM

  • I´m very proud to read these news from the wines of my country, I think the development of wines in Argentina is still too young, so we will taste in next years more and better wines, and also from new regions in these country.
    Samuel Hirsch from Argentina

    Feb 16, 2011 at 6:13 PM

  • Snooth User: Centurian
    522952 17

    Could I get one of each or a few in a .375 litre at a promo price? An Argentine Malbec tasting kit of carefully selected wines in corked bottles. No synthetic cork and no screw tops please. And a few paragraphs description of each wine, the region, the vineyards, the winery etc. a pic and the tasting notes.

    Feb 16, 2011 at 6:32 PM

  • Hi everyone! It´s so wonderful to know people from many countries are interested in our wines! I wanted to tell you something about Yacochuya: this is a pure malbec or sometimes 90% + cab made in Salta, northern Argentina, one of the highest vines in the world, powerful fact they rejected it once in a blind tasting cause they could not believe it was a malbec!!
    The vineyard belongs to Arnaldo Etchart. That family (Etchart) is one of the oldest making wines in the country, and that wine was the first in wich Michell Rolland put his hands on, before creating the Clos de los 7, amazing group of new wine world producers.
    For those who asked, I work as a sommelier in Buenos Aires, in a store where many people come, visit, taste and of course buy our best wines, lots of them you don´t see in the supermarkets or other stores. But I don´t think i should tell you the name or adress here, feels non-correct!
    Thanks again for your reviews and writting, it´s really good for us to know what´s going on out of the country!

    Feb 16, 2011 at 7:44 PM

  • Snooth User: Mark M R
    770598 2

    Just have had a Malbec named Piede de Reserve 2010 and enjoyed it with Medallions of Beef. Enjoyed it so very much, tomorrow will buy 6 more bottles at 6.99.
    At 6.99 a bottle, it's the best buy I've encountered in a long time.
    A person in Vermont USA

    Feb 16, 2011 at 8:48 PM

  • Snooth User: Mark M R
    770598 2

    Write your comment here.

    Feb 16, 2011 at 8:48 PM

  • Snooth User: steve666
    392767 156

    I have found the Malbecs availalble here in CA, from the Argentine, to be very irregular in quality, even from the same winery.... some very nice and the next year some rough and not desirable. Much like CA wines in the 1970s and 80s as winemakers were getting their sea legs. I have a bottle of 2004 El Portillo Elevado that is typified as a Reserve.... from Valle de Uco that I have to open soon.... hoping it will be really fine, friend who goes to Argentina once or twice a year brought it back for me. Anyone know anything about it?

    Feb 17, 2011 at 2:21 AM

  • I cant agree with the winemaker about climate in Cahors being not right for Malbec.
    When I eventually taste a Malbec from Argentina that would pass as equal to the most ordinary Cahors, then I will change my mind.
    I find these dreary, chemically, bloody and too strong red wines turn up at our company functions, and suspect it is to keep costs down as guests limit their consumption voluntarily better.

    Feb 17, 2011 at 7:00 AM

  • I do not think we should compare, just enjoy!!!!! We are lucky to have several and different wines all over the world, and life is not long enough to taste as much as we wished!
    I had the opportunity to try some Cots, and I must say I found them interesting and could find some descriptors, but there was something missing there. Again, not wanting to compare, maybe I was not lucky...and I believe William the same happened to you...I wish you could come and try some of our wines so that your mind changes! Trust me, not all the wines are extra concentrated, bleeded, etc!

    Feb 17, 2011 at 3:11 PM

  • Snooth User: Malbec Man
    518309 76

    Tupun Malbec Reserva 2007 from the Valley of Tupungato in Mendoza is a fantastic wine at a great value! You can usually find it at $14 and is well worth the money! Blueberries, black currants, chocolate and vanilla mixed with a very floral aroma make this a very complex and intriguing wine. If you're lucky enough to live in Colorado, I'm sure you can find it there. As for other states I have no idea. I think they're pretty small winey and are not widely available. Cheers!

    Feb 17, 2011 at 3:31 PM

  • The wife and I just attendinded a wine tasting with perhaps 75 to 100 people last night and not so surprisingly it was an Argentine Malbec that won top favor among the crowd. These wines are both very affordable and extremely pleasing to the palate reds that I believe will continue to attract market share for the foreseeable future. my wife is a an overnight conference with other professional women tonight and took along a bottle of La Finca Malbec from Mendoza to share with her dinner mates, and I will be cracking the other bottle to enjoy this evening in the peace and quiet of the batchelors environment my house will be for the evening! A win, win for all!

    Feb 17, 2011 at 5:33 PM

  • Eleonora JR : Your words are wise and mine were hasty.
    I just havent tasted any Malbecs here in the UK that gave me that joy I associate with lively, fruity red wine!
    Perhaps we are getting the bulk producers - this happens to Valpolicella and Languedoc while the genuine stuff is superb but must be sought out. Once tasted there is no going back.
    I have heard praise of Etchart before now, but not yet seen.
    And I will now buy a Yucochoya if one is ever spotted in London.
    Perhaps it is the classic story, familiar here from holidays in Europe, that to get the best examples at the best prices you need to visit the source country and, for even better results, to drink them with the regional foods and do a little research on the growers before you go, or while you are there. Suspect my mind could be open to change if eating a fillet steak with a good lady and a bottle of Tacuil in a Buenos Aires Restaurant!

    Feb 18, 2011 at 5:28 AM

  • Not only was the article personable and informative, with suggested wines to search out, but all the comments, American and Argentine, are invaluable as well. This is why I love Snooth. Now, I've got to look up some of these mentioned wines and vintners.

    Feb 18, 2011 at 12:20 PM

  • Hello Carly,
    This is an excellent article about Malbec and I am very pleased with it and all the comments you have caused!!
    I am very sorry you did not find the time to visit us in Tempus Alba while in Argentina, as agreed thru our commun friend Charlie Arturaola! I hope we can meet each other in your next trip to Mendoza or in the USA where I travel at least twice a year.
    In order to offer a new perspective for the future of the argentine Malbec in the global market, I would like to add to mention that after 10 years of running our R&D Program devoted to clonal selection of Malbec, we have found many conclusions that permit us to demystify many aspects that have been accepted so far as unquestionable trues.
    Some examples: 1) We have found a teroir effect in favor of southern latitudes and higher altitudes. 2) Clonal selection impact positively in quality as compared with masal (fenotypical) selection. 3) Clonal selection is desirable but not at the extreme of producing monoclonal wines. 4) we suggest to blend the clones in the vineyard rather than at the winery.
    For those of you that might be interested in tasting our first commercial wine produced from the 10 best selected clones, try to find our VERO Malbec 2007. It is available in CA and soon in MN.
    I have been honored by Frank Reider, the author of the book Wines of Passion: the best of South America, who has commented on this wine.
    Feb 22, 2011

    Feb 22, 2011 at 12:11 PM

  • The opinions expressed in this article are the Matthieu Grassin's own and do not represent his employer's views in any way. Those personal comments should not be considered official or sanctioned by Alta Vista winery.

    Feb 24, 2011 at 3:16 PM

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