Food & Wine Thursdays: Argentina, On Beyond Malbec

I’ve already written about Malbec on this blog, but I thought it was a topic big enough to re-address. I apologize to my regular reader(s?) if I repeat myself excessively.

In the last couple years the grape Malbec has become something of a brand name unto itself in wine circles. What was for many years a small value-wine blip in the greater United States wine universe has become a powerhouse varietal approaching Cabernet or Chardonnay levels of ubiquitousness.

Although inextricably identified with Argentina, Malbec has its origins in France where it was a common component of Bordeaux blends prior to the replanting of vineyards in the region following a devastating frost in 1956, though its popularity had waned for decades prior. Thankfully, some hundred years prior the Argentinian government hired French agronomists to kickstart an Argentine wine industry and the beginnings of what would become the fifth largest wine national wine industry were set in motion.

Argentinian Malbec differs from French Malbec both in its appearance (smaller berries, tighter clusters) and flavor profile (softer and rounder fruit), which ampelographers think might indicate that Argentine Malbec is an older clone that went extinct in France during the late 19th Century phylloxera epidemics.

Fast forward to 2013 and Malbec has become so damn prevalent that many wine drinkers don’t think there’s anything else Argentina has to offer. But, as you may have already guessed, that’s far from true. For instance….

  • Bonarda. Argentina’s number 2 red grape and another grape that’s nearly extinct in the Old World is not known for reaching the depths of richness and complexity of Malbec, but offers easy drink bright red fruit flavors.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon. Of course the world’s premier red grape can be found in Argentina’s mountain valleys. Top wines from premier old-vine estates rival anything out there. Be warned though! As I’ve mentioned already, many large French producers have bought up vineyards in Argentina in order to produce generic, overpriced ersatz-Bordeaux.
  • Tannat. The national grape of Argentina’s tiny western neighbor Uruguay can also be found in Argentina. Similar to Uruguayan Tannat, Argentina’s examples offer full-bodied black fruit flavors and modest tannins when compared to Tannat from France.
  • Torrontes. The white grape answer to Malbec, Torrontes makes for richly aromatic but typically dry, crisp, and spicy wines. Lesser examples can sometimes have a floral, shampoo-like viscosity, but the ones from high altitude regions like Salta and La Rioja are among my absolute favorite white wines in the world.

I’m not saying don’t buy Argentinian Malbec. What I’m saying is, if you do like Argentinian Malbec then take a minute to see what else our distant, distant New World wine making neighbor to the south has to offer.

About David D.

I'm a wine professional. Like a real one who makes most of his living in wine and have for most of my adult life. I also write, but you can see that.
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