There’s 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, DWWA Chair for Argentina and author of the influential Desorchados guide to Argentinian, Chilean and Uruguayan wines.
‘Those wines were part of a commercial boom in Argentina,’ explains 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,’ says Tapia. ‘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,’ he adds.
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 South American wine expert Amanda Barnes.
‘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.
The resulting styles of Argentinian Malbec offer a diverse choice for wine lovers who want to explore – and of course they still make a reliably good wine pairing with steak.