It may not be a day one would normally mark on the calendar, but Apr. 17 is officially “World Malbec Day”. One has to believe that it is a marketing ploy generated by the Argentinian wine industry, but when all is said and done, they deserve to celebrate.
In Malbec’s homeland, France, this grape was never one of the great contenders, often used in a supporting role in Bordeaux, and only rarely vinified on its own. When it was, it was likely in Cahors, a region south of Bordeaux.
In France, Malbec has its drawbacks with susceptibility to disease and rot, especially in wet weather. In the hotter climate and higher altitudes of Argentina, Malbec has found its perfect home.
The noble grape vines of Europe, particularly those of France, were originally brought over to South America in the mid-19th century, by good fortune just before the vineyards in Europe were devastated by the Phylloxera louse, an insect that attacks the roots of grape vines.
The louse originated in North America, and was introduced to European vineyards on contaminated rootstock with disastrous results. For the most part, European vines were only saved by grafting the noble varietals on to North American rootstock which was itself able to withstand the predations of the louse.
As a result, if you want to find the noble European vines still growing on their own rootstock, you need to look to South America.
In the case of Malbec, Argentina is the hands-down champion in terms of production, with over 76,000 acres being grown from the most southerly regions all the way to the north, and at various elevations from the plains to the Andes.
In contrast, France, with the next largest production, grows less than 14,000 acres. That difference is accentuated when we look at the wines carried by the LCBO. Of the roughly 160 wines that pop up when you enter the term, “Malbec”, you find more than twelve times the number originating in Argentina. Of the dozen or so from France, most are actually blends in which Malbec plays a greater or lesser role.
Stylistically, with Malbecs from the Cahors region, where the grape is also known as Côt, the wines are very dark and at one time were referred to as the “black wines of Cahors.” The flavour profile would seem to emphasize acidity, dark fruit, savoury elements and even leather.
With Argentina, the cooler regions farther south might have some of the Cahors characteristics, but otherwise, you encounter dark cherry and plum, along with secondary traits of chocolate and mocha, perhaps sweet pipe tobacco and softer tannins.
The best way to appreciate the scope and breadth of Argentinian Malbec, really, is to drink it, paying attention to where it is produced, as well as considering a few different price points.
On the general list, Santa Julia, Reserva Malbec, 2015, is $13.80. Decanter indicates that it is “fragrant, vibrant and easy to drink. A little unusual, rustic and a touch stalky, but it is filled with fresh fruits and a friendly texture that welcomes you right from the first sip.”
Trapiche offers a few choices. Their 2016 Pure Malbec and 2015 Pure Black Malbec are both $15.95. The former receives light oak treatment, while the Pure Black is unoaked. The first may be softer in texture, with the second more full-bodied and tighter on the finish. Both express their fruit well, but differently.
Norton Barrel Select 2015, $12.95 is lighter in style, but dry with its acidity evident on the finish. The fruit is moderate, and there is a tobacco leaf note at the end.
Made organically in Tupungato in the Uco Valley at 4000 feet above sea-level, Domaine Jean Bousquet Organic Malbec 2015, $14.95, is dark and spicy with chocolate nuances supplementing the dark currant and plum fruit. It is supple and you may detect a touch of smoke.
Currently, it is difficult to find a Cahors wine in the LCBO. Barrie’s Mapleview store has a few bottles of Gariottin Malbec that has been delisted and now sells for $11.15. it definitely should be on the dry and savoury end of the scale.
Otherwise, about the only other example readily available from a country other than Argentina, is from Chile’s Central Valley. Casillero del Diablo Malbec 2015, $13.95, is aged in oak barrels, probably older ones that smooth out the wine and impart just a little vanilla to accompany the traditional flavours associated with the grape.
The LCBO lists Malbecs in the range of $50 to $100 and more, but most, even in Vintages, will reside in the range below $30 and often between $15 and $20. Zorzal Terroir Unico Malbec 2014, $15.95, is un-oaked, and described by robertparker.com as “juicy, silky and very drinkable with polished sweet tannins and very good length” – 90.
Finca La Escuela EL Limo Malbec 2012, $22.95, earned 94 points from the Wine Advocate which called it incredibly fresh with “refined tannins and a subtle harmonious minerality.
In our stores, we see Argentinian Malbec blends, too, but they tend to be wines at the lower end of the price scale, such as Fuzion, where we find an organic Malbec Cabernet ($2 off currently at $10.95) as well as a Shiraz Malbec at just $8.90.
One unusual blend from the Tupungato region is the 2013 Passo Doble, $13.95 from Masi –better known for its Italian wines from the Veneto. Here, the “exuberant “ Malbec is tamed by being vinified with Italian Covina that has been “lightly dried” in the style used for Amarone and appassimento wines in the Veneto. It has deep black fruit, licorice, and some minerality going for it.
Malbec’s current popularity is indisputable, and what better time is there to check it out than in the coming weeks as we celebrate World Malbec Day!
April 15 Vintages Release
Why not begin with two excellent Malbecs – Ruca Malen Reserva Malbec 2013, $17.95, has its own “Parker” 90 for its subtle and elegant nose, good balance and sweet tannins.
Terrazas De Los Andes Reserva Malbec 2014, $19.95, is a certain winner with a 95 from the Decanter World Wine Awards for its “vibrant aromas…impeccable precision…and layers of dark fruit flavours.”
Echeverria Gran Reserva Pinot Noir 2014, $15.95 – James Suckling writes ”medium body, fine tannins, chocolate hints of coffee and a flavorful finish.” –91
Lorca Seleccion Monastrell 2008, $15.95, may be the sleeper on this release, from the little know “Bullas” in the Murcia region of southeast Spain. It is called “dense, layered, and full-flavored” by robertparker.com – 91. Already over 8-years-old, it has been given a drinking window through 2020.
Chateau de Tréviac 2014, $16.95, is a gold medal blend of Syrah and Grenache from France’s Midi, and according to Vintages carries all the classic herbal notes associated with the region in a “big burly style”.
From California’s Lodi district, Bold vine Old Vine Zinfandel, 2013, $18.95 appears to have gobs of berry fruit with a firm meaty texture and a 90 from the Ultimate Wine Challenge 2016.
Zuccardi Serie A Torrontes 2015, $16.95 – lest we think that Argentina is all Malbec, here is a white that is almost exclusive to that country. This wine is very aromatic with aromas akin to Gewurztraminer, yet still very dry. Robertparker.com detects a saltiness on the tasty finish – 90 (Timmins readers will have to order in.)
In the case of Cape Vine Chardonnay 2016, $14.95, from Australia’s Margaret River, it is Sault readers who will have to order in by Tuesday. For an oak-aged wine, this is a bargain, so expect some vanilla and orchard fruit, and pear with Chicken breast.
Legende Bordeaux Blanc 2015, $17.95, is made by the same house responsible for Chateau Lafite Rothschild, and so quality is a given. A traditional Bordeaux blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, this will appeal to those who enjoy a crisp but balanced white with good orchard fruit. It is a perfect introduction to Spring.
The following two wines represent the next cycle of wine that in Vintages are theoretically always available.
Kim Crawford Small Parcels ‘Rise & Shine’ Pinot Noir 2014, $29.95 is the latest edition of this Vintages Essential to hit our shelves. Hailing from Central Otago at the southerly end of New Zealand, the wine reminds me of what I hope I would find in a good Burgundy. It is dry and medium-bodied, but the flavours are deep and true with a lovely soft texture. The flavours move from being gently fruity to properly earthy and savoury, and always satisfyingly intense. It is a wine to enjoy, think about, and then enjoy again.
Ruffino Modus IGT Toscana 2013, $29.95 is an almost equal blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. It has a velvety mouthfeel, deep, dark fruit and young tannins that coat the tongue and palate pervasively. Right now, it begs for food, but it would also benefit from a rest in the cellar of a year or two. Whatever the case, you can’t help but be impressed with the depth, structure, and ultimately the potential for this wine. It is the kind of wine where, wallet permitting, you would want to buy a half-dozen bottles, try one now, and then visit again in six months, a year, etc.