Big Malbec

POSTED ON 11/01/2014

Such has been the success of Argentina’s malbec over the past two decades that it seems astonishing that growers were once tearing out their malbec vines, and their hair, for lack of demand for red wine. Thanks to pioneers such as Catena and Weinert and investment from overseas companies, malbec was saved for the nation, but it’s only today that we’re really seeing its true potential.

Since the 1990s, malbec has rapidly blossomed in Argentina. Natural conditions of warm sunshine ripening and the freshness that high Andean altitude brings are boosted by an abundant supply of melted mountain snow. It was ever thus, but the refinements in style brought about by experience and attention to detail have created both plusher and more sophisticated reds that often trump their south-west French counterparts (to be fair, things in malbec’s homeland of Cahors are changing for the better there, too).

Today, the revival is focusing on a number of improving aspects, among them reducing the levels of oak and alcohol to create brighter styles and working on greater finesse. The growing breadth of styles comprises wines ranging from entry level to sophisticated fine reds. So, at the foothills of malbec for instance, you come across easy sippers such as the moreishly drinkable 2013 Santa Ana Malbec, £8.99, buy 2 = £5.99, Majestic, or the fragrant and succulently blackberryish 2011 Trivento Reserve Malbec, £8.99, Tesco.

The more refined, brighter approach to malbec is evident in wines such as the polished, black-fruited 2011 Catena Malbec, £10.39-£12.99, Waitrose, Majestic, the delightfully fragrant, subtly herbal and mulberry-filled 2012 Achaval Ferrer Malbec, £15.50, Corney & Barrow (020-7265 2500), and the magnificent 2011 Mendel Malbec, £14.96, Jeroboams shops, combining plump black-cherry intensity with seamless vanilla spice and textured succulence. Step up yet another gear and the superb blend, 2009 Pulenta Estate Gran Corte, £29, Marks & Spencer, is richly endowed with cassis and blackberry spiciness, yet elegant at the same time.

Peering into the future, Argentina’s producers are taking a leaf out of the terroir book to map out subtle regional differences from Salta to Patagonia. You can see the influence of mountain vine-growing in the superb spice and concentrated black-fruited grip of the 2011 Colomé Malbec, £17.49, Waitrose, from Salta’s Calchaquí Valley, and from Patagonia the milder, yet succulently chocolatey expression of the grape in the savoury spiciness of the 2011 Viñalba Malbec Syrah, £6, down from £9, Asda.

Something for the weekend

2010 Sogatia Chianti, Tuscany

A blend of Tuscany’s sangiovese grape with a touch of cabernet sauvignon and merlot for fuller body, this good-value chianti is a pizza-friendly discovery. £8, Oddbins

2012 Turkey Flat Butcher’s Block Marsanne Viognier Roussanne

Move over southern Rhône and let Australia deliver a rich Rhône-style blend with a refreshing finish. Buy two, save 20 per cent at £11.99, Majestic

2008 Château Domeyne, Cru Bourgeois, St Estèphe

With liquorice-spicy aromas, this accomplished claret from Claire and Gonzague Lurton in one of the Big Four Médoc communes shows balance and style. £23.50, Berry Bros & Rudd

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