Malbec's Aging Qualities

Do these wines age?


One of the hallmarks of great wines is that they age. That’s not just growing old, but actually evolving complexities’ depth, silky texture and appealing subtleties. One of the beefs that I and many other wine lovers have with many so-called “modern” wines is that they are designed and built to be appealing on release, often with the result that nothing is left of the wines once they take on some age.

Well, I shouldn’t say nothing is left. What’s left is excessive acid and tannin, acid and tannin that previously supported the pumped up fruit in its fast and furious life. The fruit bomb complex. It is tempting to lump all Argentine Malbecs into this category, especially with some evidence that doing so would be correct.

Photo courtesy Steampunk Family via Flickr/CC

These Malbecs are to be enjoyed in their relative youth, as the prices suggest, but with ever more ambitiously priced offerings hitting the market each year, it’s worth questioning why we should pay more.

There is only one premium priced Malbec that I have followed with any regularity, the 2003 Achaval Ferrer Single Vineyard Malbec from the Finca Bella Vista. Upon release, this was a powerful, aromatic, fresh and deeply fruited wine with an obvious and slightly heavy cloak of oak covering some of the nuance that the wine seemed to possess.

Purchased in 2006, I’ve been drinking one bottle each year since then and have found that the wine has changed for the better, softening, losing some of the obviousness of the oak, and gaining elegance and some finesse. In fact, the bottle I enjoyed in September of this year was lovely. Open, complex and remaining fresh, yet with the complexity and suppleness only age can deliver. Having said that, I don’t see the wine as needing any additional age and instead suggest that it is at its apogee today.

I would like to see a wine that clocks in at this price offer a bit more in terms of potential evolution. This of course is not the criterion that all wine should be judged by. In most instances, a wine is judged simply by the pleasure it delivers to the consumer. This remains a very valid gauge of value, just not my gauge.

In an effort to gain a slightly better understanding of the ageing cycle of Malbec, I chose to taste a pair of much more modestly priced wines side by side, the 2008 and 2010 Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec. What’s to be learned from this, let’s find out.

2010 Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec, Mendoza Argentina 14% $10

Fairly oaky and low on the nose with some smoky, smoldering soil notes under light but clean blackberry fruit. Shows a nice accent streak of sweet vanilla. A little coarse up front, with lots of buffering material to help cover the slightly stiff tannins. This is nicely fruited, with a bit of mulberry, some black raspberry and nice, faint herbal spice tones that are augmented with the spicier wood influences. Finishes rather short and a bit drying with a rather heavy oak impact on the palate. 85pts

2008 Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec, Mendoza Argentina 14% $10

Here the oak has mellowed. It is still present and obvious, but it has lost its char. The slightly jammy fruit has already taken a more prominent role among the aromatics.  This is very smooth, nicely rich with good structure but nothing out of place. The fruit is pure and fresh, with black raspberry and black plum tones accented by really attractive subtle vanilla, floral and citrus peel nuances. The finish is still a bit short and reveals more wood tannin than the palate, but allows the fruit to peak through.  87pts

So can we learn anything about how Malbec ages from this simple comparison? I think yes. The way the oak moderated with time is something that is generally consistent around the world, though different toast levels and different types of wood do dissipate at different rates. Of course that’s not the key issue here.

The key issue is whether or not Malbec has the staying power to retain its fruit while the oak integrates. To that I would have to answer yes, it certainly does.

Proven to me both by this modestly priced offering as well as the more expensive Achaval Ferrer, I have no doubt that Malbec can make it through the mid-term on its fruit. What has still eluded me, what I still want to discover, is if and how Malbec evolves with age.

It is not enough to simply stick around to be age worthy, you have to reward me for my patience. This two year difference between the Trapiche bottles has rewarded me with some lovely textural gains, but what I want to see is added complexity, and you know what? I think even these affordably priced Malbecs might have more to say on the front given another two years. Time to make a date for revisiting circa 2014.

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