Malbec is Argentina’s signature grape variety and by far the most important grape grown in Mendoza. It commands over 35% of Mendoza’s vineyard area and constitutes about 20% of the country’s total vineyard area. Over 1/3 of Argentina’s vineyards are over 40 years old, including many valuable plots of old vine Malbec in Mendoza grown from cuttings brought over from France before phylloxera struck Europe in the late 1800s. There has been considerable foreign investment in Mendoza over the last couple decades, leading to rapid modernization and extensive viticultural research, all of which has resulted in robust exports of Malbec from Mendoza.
In the warm, dry, and sunny conditions of Mendoza’s climate the Malbec grape produces deeply colored full-bodied reds with high levels of ripe tannin and flavors of blackberry, plum, and black cherry, often with notes of vanilla and cedar from the influence of new oak. In the slightly cooler mesoclimates found in higher altitude sub-regions like the Uco Valley, Malbec produces wines that are deep ruby in color with medium-plus acidity, medium-plus levels of firm tannin, and added notes of violets and red fruits.
VITICULTURE + WINEMAKING
Malbec is a vigorous mid-ripening red grape variety that is adaptable to a wide range of soil types, though it has real success in the well-drained alluvial soils located just below the Andes mountains in Mendoza. It is prone to poor ‘fruit set’ when there is inclement weather during bloom, this can result in low yields at harvest time; proper clonal selection helps ameliorate this problem. Malbec vines located at high altitudes tend to produce grapes with thicker skins and higher levels of antioxidants like quercetin. Beginning in the 1990s, the winemakers of Mendoza tended toward making very ripe high-alcohol wines with heavy new oak treatment, but that pendulum has swung back the other way, and today most winemakers try to produce better-balanced wines with much less new oak influence.
FOOD + WINE
The quintessential meal to have with Malbec is the Argentine Asado, a nearly sacred backyard ritual during which a wide range of high-quality meat is roasted on a parrilla (grill) over a slow-burning wood fire until it emerges tender and richly flavored. Soft and fruity styles of Malbec can work well with charcuterie, fajitas, beef burgers, mild lamb curry, chili con carne, and dishes with red sauce and meatballs. Dense and weighty styles of Malbec complement wild game, duck confit, pork with chili-based rubs, lamb tagines, beef stews, and all manner of steak.
Vine Connections, La Posta, Pizzella, Paulucci, Luca, Mendel, Malbec