February 27, 2024

Malbecs from Argentina extend beyond traditional muscular range

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More considered winemaking has been accompanied by a move to higher ground

Malbec from Argentina has become one of the best-selling wines here and around the wine-drinking world. At one stage, it had a reputation for power and brawn, the perfect partner for a barbecued steak, but lacking in finesse. It had lots of everything, oak, alcohol, tannins and overripe fruit. It appealed to a certain kind of (largely male) drinker and was one of the few New World wines that didn’t have a price ceiling; retailers told me that consumers would happily spend more than €20 for their weekend treat. 

There is still no shortage of muscular Malbecs, but many producers have changed the style they produce. Dr Laura Catena of wine-producer Catena says that for years many producers were trying to make Malbec in the same way as Cabernet Sauvignon, yet the two varieties are very different. She said that Malbec is far more aromatic and floral, with softer tannins, and should be treated gently, almost like a Pinot Noir. There has also been a move away from an excessive use of new oak, with wines being aged in concrete tanks, stainless steel and large old oak casks. 

This more considered winemaking has been accompanied by a move to higher ground. Mendoza, where most Argentine wine is produced, already has some of the world’s highest altitude vineyards, although the honour of highest falls to Colomé in Calchaqui in Salta province, further north. Over the past two decades there has been a race to plant vines at higher altitudes, led by Catena, Doña Paula, Altos Las Hormigas and others. At heights of more than 1,000m (and as high as 3,000m) temperatures are cooler and solar intensity greater. The resulting wines taste very different, typically with haunting perfumed aromas, a wonderful purity of perfectly ripe fruit, well integrated acidity and a fine tannin structure. They are still fairly full-bodied with alcohol levels of 14 per cent or more, but there is a real elegance too.

A few weeks ago, I wondered where all the Merlot drinkers had gone. I suspect many have migrated to Malbec. Less expensive Malbec fits neatly into the category of reliable easy-drinking red. The majority have plush dark fruits and tannins tend to be soft. Most of the supermarkets have one for sale between €10-€15 and overall standards are reasonably high. Bargain hunters will seek out the Aldi Specially Selected Malbec for €8.29.

Lighter Malbec is great with chops and other pork dishes, as well as a gourmet burgers, meatballs, and meat or aubergine lasagne. The richer, more full-bodied styles are ideal with barbecued beef, including steak, ribs, sausages and offal, preferably cooked slowly on a wood-burning barbecue. 

Norton Luján de Cuyo DOC Malbec

14.5%, €12.95 (reduced from €18.95)

O’Briens has a good range of Malbec, including the Catena Histórico (€19.95) and El Salveje (€16.95). This has plenty of body, supple dark fruits and a touch of spice. Try it with steak or ribs. 
From: O’Briens,obrienswine.ie

Catena Malbec 2019, Mendoza

13.5%, €18.99-20.99
Broad ripe plum fruits with dark chocolate, with a pleasing earthiness and spicy edge. Try it with posh grilled sausages, a gourmet burger or grilled aubergines. 

Dunnes Stores, Dunnesstoresgrocery.com; Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie; Molloy’s Liquor Stores, molloys.ie; Tesco, Tesco.ie; O’Briens, Obrienswine.ie; Mitchell & Son, D1, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; No. 21, Cork; 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale; Joyce’s Supermarket, Joycesupermarket.ie; Deveney’s, D14, Deveneys.ie; Dollard & Co., Dollardandco.ie; The Hole in the Wall, D7; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; No. 21, Cork; Nolan’s, D3; nolans.ie; No. 21, Cork; The Vintry, D6, vintry.ie; Wineonline.ie. 

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Clásico 2019, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza

13.5%,€21.99
A delightful unoaked Malbec with juicy ripe red cherry and plum fruits and very fine tannins. Try this with empanadas, burritos, meatballs or a chilli sin carne. 

Baggot Street Wines, D4, baggotstreetwines.com; Green Man Wines, D6, greenmanwines.ie; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; elywinebar.ie; Red Nose Wines, Clonmel, rednosewine.com; wineonline.ie.

Altar Uco Edad Moderna Malbec 2020, Tupungato, Uco Valley

14.1%, €26
An utterly delicious Malbec with pure damson and loganberry fruits and a herbal note. Lovely intensity of fruit combined with a fine tannic structure. Enjoy with barbecued lamb or pork. 

From La Touche, Greystones, Latouchewines4u.ie; Baggot Street Wines, D4, baggotstreetwines.com; Green Man Wines, D6, greenmanwines.ie; The Fumbally, D8; The Fumbally.ie; Pinto Wines, D9, pintowines.ie

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