Making the most of World Malbec Day...

 

April 17th was chosen as World Malbec Day to commemorate the day in 1853 when Argentinian president, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento directed Michel Aimé Pouget, a French soil expert, to bring over new vines to Argentina - one of which was Malbec!  Sarmiento went on to become president of Argentina on October 12, 1868.  Malbec went on to become Argentina's “signature” varietal red wine.

 

More than 150 years ago a tiny little yellow grub of a root louse called Phylloxera Vastatrix snuck into the vineyards of Europe on imported wild grape vine

vine cuttings from the Mississippi River Valley and ravaged the vineyards of Europe - likely thanks to some overcurious English botanist.

 

Canadian winelovers have developed enough of a taste for the grape that dynamic domestic producers like Andrew Peller Limited are offering a “Cellared in Canada” blend.  Copper Moon Malbec (164368) $8.49/$9.76 was such a hit that it now also comes in 1.5L and 3L sizes.

 

Like Carmenere in Chile, “lost” Malbec on its original rootstock was happily growing magnificently well in Argentina.  Both vines had “escaped” Europe in collections of vines imported to South America in the late 1700s and early 1800s, initially imported by missionaries and later by immigrants from France, Italy and Spain.

The success of Familia Zuccardi Fuzion Shiraz Malbec (65177) $8.69/$9.99  grows as much from the fruity blackberry Shiraz elements as it does from the sweeter-than-expected balance of the final blend.   Malbec adds a nicely earthy, dusty, not quite peppery touch.

 

It’s difficult to sort out the subtle differences between the two current and competitively priced leaders in everyday sipping.  Finca Flichman Malbec (612176) $8.99/$10.34 shows some dark damson plum flavours and a whiff of sweet new oak.  Valentin Bianchi “Finca Los Primos” Malbec (632919) $11.59/$13.33 has similarly plummy fruit with earthy hints of woodsy undergrowth.  Both wines have a sprinkle of spicy pepper typical of Malbec.

 

Humberto Canale Diego Murillo Malbec (527176) $9.59/$11.03 is known for its affordability and the almost 'classic' (…but really quite modern) Argentinean way with this winegrape.   There’s a clean fresh cherry-berry flavour - something to do with this wine’s origin in the northern Rio Negro, in Patagonia rather than, more typical of Argentinean Malbec, the sunny wide plains of Mendoza? 

Despite the devastation of the 1860s in the vineyards of Europe, and a serious killing frost throughout the Languedoc almost a century later in 1956, Malbec still grows in sunny southern France, particularly around Cahors, where it adds inky depths of colour and spicy, peppery tannins to red blends.

Not quite as dark as actual black J.P. Chenet Cahors Malbec (592246) $13.99/$16.09 is the latest Chenet offering from France’s largest wine exporter “Grands Chais de France”. Try to isolate and appreciate the peppery, earthy undercurrents that add interest and complexity to the medley of black berry fruit flavours.

 

That peppery “prickle” on the tongue with a twist of astringence that can sometimes “taste” a little like wet leather and the forest aromas of wet tree bark after a rain are signatures of the high tannin levels common in Malbecs – that elusive “structure”? 

 

Don Miguel Gascon, the founder of Bodegas Escorihuela Gascon was born in 1861 in Aragon, Spain, and grew up as a farmer. At the age of 19 he sailed to Argentina and established himself as a business man in Buenos Aires. In 1884 he bought his first vineyard and built his winery in Mendoza. Escorihuela 1884 Reserva Malbec  (770925) $14.79/$17.01 is a dense,

, seductively smooth, pepper-spiced mouthful of ripe black plum, fig and prune flavours.

 

Modern winemaking techniques and deliberate blending can temper the “rustic” tannic quality that once marked wines from sunny Mendoza, the south of France and Sicily. These tannins are responsible for a lot of the “weight” – the “mouthfeel” that makes Malbec stand out from most other reds.

 

Vistalba ‘Corte C’ (12070) $19.79/$27.26 blends Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Bonarda from 60+ year old wines in Argentina’s Lujan de Cuyo region of Mendoza. Seductive undercurrents of cocoa and coffee fill out the richly fruited finish and beg another exploratory sip.

 

Take your celebration of World Malbec Day to a higher level by trying some of the amazingly tasty blends from Argentina.

 

Lots of dried plums, prunes and blackberry fruit aromas and flavours jostle for attention in first sniff

 

and sip in Bodega Norton Privada (519439) $21.89/$25.17 An elegant blend of 40 per cent Malbec, 30 per cent Merlot and 30 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon from vines between 50 and 80 years old, it shows peppery, earthy date and fig notes before sliding into caramel and coffee.

 

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