Food & Drink » Anthony Gismondi on Wine

Malbec envy around the world

A movement whose size does matter



Tuesday was Malbec World Day around the world — an event, by any stretch of the imagination, which has to be the envy of non-malbec wine producers worldwide.

Think about it. There are no global celebrations for the chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon grape and they have been the largest selling white and red varietal wine for more than 40 years. Yet, after little more than a decade of serious production, Argentina's malbec grape has managed to capture the consumer's attention with very little fuss.

The Internet has a lot to do with the success of Malbec World Day, as in quick efficient global communication fuelled by social media. But let's not underestimate the grape.

Today, nearly 28,000 hectares of malbec are planted in Argentina or, roughly, seven times the total area under vine in British Columbia. It's hardly a native variety but malbec has adapted itself to Argentina's high altitude sites with aplomb and there are few competitors elsewhere making better malbec.

Malbec's key attribute and, just possibly, its Achilles heel all in one, is the generous, accessible supple nature of its tannins. The best malbec is awash in ripe fruit and soft textures with an intriguing, savoury undercurrent that envelopes your palate. It's a far cry from the sweet, oaky, chocolate-flavoured style that is quickly penetrating the low end of the market and in this writer's opinion poised to hurt the image of Argentine malbec. But that's another story for another time.

This week we continue the malbec celebration revealing some of the best you can find in our market based on extensive five-day tasting that was held in Mendoza in December.

We begin with one the best-value, serious reds in all of Argentina — the Terrazas de los Andes Malbec Reserva $21. Terrazas is part of the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey (LVMH) project in Argentina and has gone from strength to strength, painstakingly adapting minimal French winemaking techniques to Mendoza's rambunctious fruit. Look for a dry supple, smooth palate with peppery, smoky, spicy fruit with bits of chocolate, orange, leather and licorice flavours.

The winery's sister label, Cheval des Andes, is on another plane and is quietly making some of the best wine in all of Argentina. The Cheval des Andes blend, made by Nicolas Audebert in collaboration with famed St. Émilion's Cheval Blanc winemaker, Pierre Lurton, is half malbec and half cabernet sauvignon with a small amount of petit verdot, cabernet franc and merlot. In a sentence, Cheval Des Andes $103 (available at Everything Wine stores) is among the most subtle and sophisticated expression of Argentine terroir you can find in the market. Given the current price of first growth Bordeaux ($600 to $1,000 or more), it is a downright steal.