Malbec: Argentina’s Flagship

"Good Argentine Malbec, and there is a great deal of it for Argentina is one of the world's most prolific wine producers, is deeply coloured, spicily rich with an exuberant juiciness and has as a trademark an almost velvety texture." Jancis Robinson MW
Brought over to Mendoza by Michel A. Pouget, the famous Bordeaux oenologist in 1852, Malbec has flourished to such a degree in Argentina that it is not only their flagship grape but it is now widely considered its spiritual home.
On the high-altitude plateau at the edge of the Andes Mountains, on terraced and heavily-irrigated slopes, Mendoza’s soaring sunlight intensity, soil characteristics and varied elevation provide the optimum conditions for this genetic gem to prosper. As a thinner-skinned grape than the later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon or its half-sibling Merlot, the thermal amplitude (the contrast between the warmth during the day and the lower temperature at night) in Argentina, yields a grape absolutely bursting with flavour that enables them to produce their joyous expressions of Malbec.
At their best the conditions combine to produce wines exploding with dark plum flavours and enticing nuances of chocolate, coffee and spice that are smooth and melt-in-the-mouth seductive, with exceptional structure and bouncy, supple tannins.
Argentinean Malbec also makes for an alluring match with another of their most celebrated and widely loved exports, a juicy steak. Their hugely popular wines are synonymous with the summer barbeque, as their benchmark plump, almost obvious simplicity, trademark texture and lithe tannins marry superbly to flavoursome meat.
Arguably London's best steakhouse, Hawksmoor, which have four highly-acclaimed restaurants in the capital, has played a prominent role in revolutionising the British relationship with steak and red wine, and one of their wine buyers believes Malbec has played a central role in this education.
“For me, Malbec is a generous grape with full body, velvety tannins, dark fruit, earthiness and spice.” Hawksmoor’s Becca Goodall explains. “I often feel it’s the cooking style rather than the meat that should be considered and Malbec has something to offer most styles; a rare steak will mellow Malbec’s boldness, fattier cuts such as rib-eye balance out its acidity and well-done or charred steaks are softened and sweetened by the ripeness of the fruit.
“The most interesting thing for me is the spice character, the subtle star anise flavours found in Malbec. Star anise in cooking is known to intensify the meatiness in a dish, and this is what really makes the pairing sing for me.
“I think more Malbecs suit barbequed and slow-cooked meats for their richness. Earthy vegetables, beetroot in particular, work with fruitier styles and Aubergine, especially with a bit of char, is delicious.”
Away from Mendoza’s exuberant, big scented style, Goodall suggests Malbec is thriving in other regions too.
“Some Malbec has become like an old jumper.” Goodall added. “Comforting, reliable, safe and great for customers who feel a little intimidated by wine, but it can therefore be a bit of a double-edged sword, and potentially dull for the same reasons.
“If you are growing a little weary of the archetypal Argentina Malbec, I would look to other regions for a surprise; Cahors and the Loire for their dense, rustic style or even one of Argentina’s other appellations such as Patagonia’s more restrained, mineral Malbec. France in particular, where it originated from, produces some great Malbecs under many guises. Cahors, where the grape is known as Auxerrois or Cot, is much more robust, tannic and animal. The Loire doesn’t have the sun soaked vineyards you would find in South America, which tends to produce a more raspberry scented rustic wine, and this style has superb synergy with gamey meats.”
As Goodall articulates, Malbec, and in particular those from Argentina, are a perfect match for meat hot off the grill and there is subsequently no better time to accommodate this delicious wine and food pairing.

Six delicious Malbecs from Argentina:

Kaiken Malbec Reserve 2011 £8.49
Argentina | Mendoza

Situated in the heart of Mendoza, this beautifully crimson purple coloured Malbec has exceptional intensity of blackberries, plums and spice. The palate is rich and juicy with balanced acidity, smooth, fleshy tannins and an enveloping and persistent finish. This is a wonderfully harmonious and warming example of Argentina’s most iconic Malbec terroir and would be a welcome sight alongside a smoky, chargrilled bit of steak.
Bodegas Salentein Portillo Malbec 2013 £8.49
Argentina | Mendoza

The 2011 vintage of this absolutely classic Argentinian Malbec won the much coveted Decanter World Wine Awards’ International Trophy and the 2013 vintage certainly matches its predecessor. The grapes for this wine were grown 1,300 metres above sea level on the El Portillo estate, resulting in a long ripening period and outstanding levels of maturity. Pure and elegant with lovely, classic Malbec fruit of dense blackberries and blueberries, sour cherry and a floral character offset by peppery spice, cloves and attractive oak notes. A great modern style.
Bodega Renacer `Punto Final` Malbec Clasico 2012 £9.99
Argentina | Mendoza

A celebrated wine from one of Argentina’s go-to producers for Malbec, this deep ruby red wine has plenty of classic aromas of black cherry and spice. Vanilla and caramel notes come courtesy of the oak ageing, alongside generous and bountiful chocolate notes. Elegantly soft and wonderfully rounded with fresh acidity and a long finish, this wine is lush and very easy-drinking. A crowd pleasing Malbec perfect for barbeque season.
Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Clasico 2012 £10.99
Argentina | Mendoza

A hugely popular Malbec that won Decanter’s Regional Trophy in 2013, this sumptuous red is luminous cherry in colour and offers a delicate bouquet of redcurrants and a good concentration of chocolaty, dark berries. Spicy, vivid and fresh, the palate is light bodied but perfectly structured with silky delicate tannins on a lingeringly warm finish.
Bodegas Salentein Barrel Selection Malbec 2012 £12.49
Argentina | Mendoza

Multi award-winning wine from one of Argentina’s leading producers, this is an archetypal Malbec from its adopted home in Mendoza. A rich and elegant red wine jam-packed full of berry fruit flavours - blackberries, blueberries and redcurrants – that has spent a few months in a mixture of new and used French oak barrels. Put simply this is the optimum wine for your summer blaze and the perfect partner with hearty steaks or anything else that goes on a sizzling barbeque.
Bodega Colomé Estate Malbec 2011 £14.99
Argentina | Salta

Founded in 1831, Bodega Colomé is one of the oldest wineries in Argentina yet this is a striking and modern styled Malbec. A muscular and succulent red wine with intense and brooding aromas of dried cherry, black berries and pepper, it’s delectably exuberant on an ample palate with a deliciously long and splendidly dry finish. Decanter bestowed this voluptuous vintage with a gold medal in 2013, and this stunning Malbec, located in the beautiful Calchaqui Valley in the province of Salta, is the real deal.

Article first appeared in Under the Skin Magazine, Summer Edition 2014. CellarVie Wines' quarterly print publication accompanies all orders on 


Written by: Ben Moss

Ben Moss 


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