Malbec World Day
April 17th marks Malbec World Day (MWD), an annual global initiative created by Wines Of Argentina (the organization responsible for, among other things, promoting the country’s wines) that seeks to position Argentina Malbec as one of the most prominent varieties in the world and celebrate the success of the national wine industry.
With 44,388 hectares (109,686 acres) planted, Malbec (or, more precisely, Malbec Argentino) is the most widely cultivated variety in Argentina. In terms of exports, Canada is the third largest market (behind the USA and UK) for these wines.
When I visited Argentina a few years ago, I got a first-hand look at what progressive winemakers were doing in terms of technological improvements, vineyard site selection, viticultural and vinicultural practises. When asked if I thought these would boost the popularity of the country’s Malbec wines in North America, I replied that anything being done to improve the quality of the wines would no doubt enhance a wine’s popularity (or I said something like that…it was a while ago).
However, I also suggested that the best way to convince North Americans to try more Malbecs would be to first convince them that spending over ten bucks on a bottle of the stuff is worth doing. Unfortunately, the Malbec wines from Argentina that come into the Canadian market tend to fill the low end of the price scale. While it’s easy to start at the pinnacle and move down if you choose (hello Bob Mondavi), it’s infinitely more difficult going in the other direction. So the challenge faced by the Wines Of Argentina people is a significant one: how do you persuade consumers to experience the world-class caliber of Argentina’s finest wines when the bulk of them aren’t available in this country?
As long as provincial liquor boards continue to view Argentine wines as “cheap and cheerful,” consumers are stuck with just that. Liquor board “experts” will claim that people don’t want – and won’t buy – the premium stuff. But that’s just playing Catch-22 (assume discerning wine drinkers don’t want them; so don’t make them available; then claim consumers don’t want them).
None of the wines tasted below broke the $20 price barrier (okay, one did – by a whopping $1). And for the most part, you’ll tend to get what you pay for. The following are arranged by price; high to low.
BenMarco “Special Edition” Malbec 2015
Fruit for this wine is sourced from high-elevation vineyards in Mendoza’s Valle de Uco. Blueberry and cassis aromas dominate the aromatic profile, with mocha, mint, and sandalwood undertones adding complexity. Fresh, bright blueberry fruit flavours are enhanced by nuances of tobacco and vanilla. Rich and concentrated, with well-integrated tannins and great balance.
Kaiken “Ultra” Malbec 2018
Wet slate, blueberry jam, tobacco leaf, vanilla, and just a whiff of iodine on the nose. Blueberry-laced flavours developed into those of anise and smoky/flinty notes with a bit of breathing. A big, concentrated wine that will develop nicely with some cellar time.
Abito “La Juventud” Malbec 2019
An unoaked Malbec that puts the emphasis on forward fruit. The nose offers dark plum, red berries, and a touch of earthiness. The palate is ripe and quite full-bodied, with juicy blackcurrant fruit balanced by fresh, lively acidity.
Luigi Bosca Malbec 2018
Lots of up-front dark fruit here, enhanced by some toasty oak/vanilla and suggestions of flint/gunpowder. Very forward and approachable, this is a textbook Mendoza Malbec brimming with layers of concentrated blackcurrant/redcurrant jam, mint, and very subtle hint of coconut. Long, smooth, and seductive on the finish.
Don David Reserve Malbec 2019
Dark plum compote, new leather, smoke, slate, and black raspberry on the nose. In the mouth it’s mid-weight, supple, and easy-drinking, with nuances of ripe blackberry, a touch of new oak sweetness and an underpinning of mineral and coffee. Well-balanced, round and velvety on the finish. Not the most complex wine you’ll experience, but will sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
Kaiken “Selección Especial” Malbec 2018
The name Kaiken refers to a goose that migrates between Chile and Argentina. The wine, vinified by respected Chilean winemaker Aurelio Montes, offers up forward aromas suggesting mocha, plum jam, strawberry and new leather. Soft, supple, and round, with a kiss of sweet oak over flavours of black cherry, strawberry, and cocoa. It finishes long and smooth.
Alamos Malbec 2019
The Catena family – the name behind the Alamos brand – has been cultivating vineyards in Mendoza for over 100 years, and is a pioneer Malbec producer. Bright, fresh aromas bursting with ripe black cherry, blackberry, spice and wet gravel give way to a smooth, seductive mouthfeel, lovely balance, and layers of fresh black cherry/black raspberry flavours.
Graffigna Malbec 2019
Pretty decent bang-for-buck here. Tobacco, blueberry, black olive and dried herbs dominate the nose, which was forward, ripe, and clean, with a subtle underpinning of black cherry. No oak here (concrete and stainless steel aging), so the emphasis is on dark berry fruit, but there’s also hints of tobacco, and anise, with a dash of black pepper on the finish.
Trapiche Reserve Malbec 2019
A fragrant Malbec showing black cherry compote, dark roast coffee bean, lavender, and just a trace of some earthy/barnyard. Juicy, dense and chewy, with medium tannins and a core of deep, concentrated black fruit. It finishes long and smooth, showing an impressive balance of fruit, tannin, and acidity.
Bodega Toro Centenario Malbec 2019
A budget-driven (under $10) Mendoza Malbec that initially displays some vegetal/herbal notes, combined with modest nuances of blueberry and wet slate. Pretty light and one-dimensional in the mouth, with some bright cherry fruit, but also with an underlying green character. Not really my cuppa, but it has generally received glowing accolades from tasters I’d otherwise trust (and who were in no way given any “incentive” for the accolades, I’m sure). Let your own palate decide.