There used to be a standard cliché of Argentinian Malbec. Great with steak, obviously. Plenty of black and red plum fruit, usually with a baked or syrupy edge. Alcohol starting at 14% and edging up further to 16%. ‘I’ve tasted 16.5% – you cannot finish the glass, let alone the bottle,’ notes Patricio Tapia, author of the influential Desorchados guide to Argentinian, Chilean and Uruguayan wines.
‘Those wines were part of a commercial boom in Argentina,’ says Tapia. But while Argentinian Malbec has effectively become a ‘brand’ in its own right, now a staple feature on wine lists around the world, the wines have evolved.
‘The change has been apparent in Mendoza, the vineyard in the desert,’ he adds. ‘Producers are investing in the Uco Valley to the west, beyond Luján de Cuyo, chasing higher altitudes, wider diurnal temperature ranges and different soils (above all, limestone). Gualtallary, Altamira and La Consulta are the among the small sub-zones that are gaining international fame.’
New technology… old vines
In the vineyard viticulturists are both looking forward with new technology and looking back to the heritage of their old vines. ‘Careful work on row orientation and viticulture is bringing in fresher fruit,’ explains Tapia, which in turn leads to fresher, lower-alcohol wines.
Meanwhile in Luján de Cuyo, wineries are focusing on the benefits of their old vines. ‘The region’s oldest vines are often planted on their own roots, with great genetic diversity from centuries of massal selections and mutations, giving them a distinctive character,’ says Amanda Barnes, DWWA judge and author of The South America Wine Guide.
‘In general terms, however, Luján Malbecs are typically rounder and broader on the palate, with riper black- and red-fruit flavours than the fresher, floral style of Uco Valley, but more chiselled than the jammier wines of Maipú,’ she says.
There have also been changes in winemaking. ‘In the winery, there’s a welcome movement to reduce oak and replace new barrels with old oak and large foudres. Significantly, the new generation is investing in concrete,’ says Tapia. A symbol is Zuccardi’s Uco Valley winery, opened in 2016 and designed to reflect the surrounding the rocky landscape, which Sebastian Zuccardi has filled with concrete eggs and amphorae.
A sense of place
‘Malbec is our main red grape and the market knows Malbec. But I encourage consumers to keep on tasting Malbec from different origins in Argentina. It is very perfumed and fruity but also can be quite austere, still with a lot of character on the palate,’ adds Paz Levinson, DWWA Regional chair for Argentina 2022.
‘It is impressive how Malbec can be a transparent grape… it shows the place very well. Today we can identify different terroirs while tasting and have a deep understanding of the great wines Argentina is making,’ she adds.
Clearly there has never been a better time to explore Argentinian Malbec. The bottles below should offer some drinking inspiration. And the best part? Malbec from Argentina still makes a fantastic wine pairing with steak.