First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 30th March, 2019.
Malbec from Argentina is usually portrayed as the archetypal macho wine: big, powerful and masculine, and a little lacking in subtlety. It has certainly proved a hit with male wine drinkers in this country. Producers from other countries, Chile in particular, have noted jealously that many consumers are willing to pay a premium for such a bottle of Malbec.
However, not every Malbec is the stereotypical oaky alcoholic monster. There were always exceptions, but in recent years there has been a definite move among producers to make more elegant Malbec wines. By picking earlier and planting vineyards at higher altitudes, they can offer wines that are less tannic, less extracted and less oaky, as well as keeping the notoriously high levels of alcohol in check.
The wines are still not exactly shrinking violets, but the change has brought forth a new style, with a seductive fragrance, and wonderful pure dark fruits. While the older style was essentially limited to partnering robust food such as grilled steak, the more modern Malbec is far more adaptable, while still providing a great match to barbequed beef.
Argentina has always been famous for its high-altitude vineyards. It can no longer boast it has the highest vines in the world – according to the Guinness Book of Records, that honour now belongs to Nepal, which has a vineyard at 3,500m above sea level. However, it does have the highest concentration of commercial high-altitude vineyards.
Grapes grown at high altitudes benefit from greater radiation and increased photosynthesis. Combined with cold nighttime temperatures that ensure good acidity, this produces wines with a wonderful depth of fresh pure fruit.
Bodegas Colomé in Salta owns some of the highest vineyards, at more than 3,000m above sea level. They also have vines dating back to 1831 in their remote estate, a three-hour bumpy drive along dirt tracks.
The Amalaya listed below is produced from grapes grown at 1,800m. Meanwhile, the team behind Altos Las Hormigas are planting vines in new high-altitude sites with unique soil profiles. They are now also producing wine in Cahors in southwest France.This is the original home of Malbec, where it was once part of the Bordeaux blend of grapes.
In the past produce from Cahors, where Malbec is known as Cot, could be very earthy and tannic, but these days there are some excellent wines. From independents, look out for wines from excellent biodynamic producer Fabien Jouves, or from the more traditional, but equally good, Clos des Gamots.
As well as the Le Croizillon below, O’Briens have the Osmin Malbec (€13.95) and a very moreish organic Silice (€18.95). There is no shortage of inexpensive Malbec from Argentina, including the Exquisite Argentinian Malbec from Aldi (€7.99), the Alamos Malbec (€15) and the ever reliable Pascual Toso Malbec.
Le Croizillon 2017, Chateau Les Croisille, Cahors
Delicious, gluggable, bouncy dark cherry fruits with a refreshing acidity. Enjoy lightly chilled with pork, chicken and all kinds of nibbles before dinner. Stockists: O’Briens, obrienswine.ie
Amalaya Calchaquí Valley Malbec 2017
Soft and supple with delicious, refreshing loganberry and raspberry fruits, rounded off with a touch of spice. To go with empanadas, kebabs or grilled lamb chops. Stockists: Baggot Street Wines, baggotstreetwines.com; wineonline.ie; The Cinnamon Cottage, Cork, cinnamoncottage.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie.
Altos Las Hormigas Mendoza Malbec Clásico 2018/2017
Lifted floral aromas and bright, elegant red cherry and raspberry fruits, with soft well-integrated tannins on the finish. To go with grilled foods: beef, pork, chicken or Mediterranean vegetables. Stockists: Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; The Cinnamon Cottage, Cork, cinnamoncottage.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; wineonline.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie
Bodega Colomé ‘Auténtico’ Salta Malbec 2017
Enchanting aromas of violets and dark fruits. This explodes in the mouth with intense, perfectly ripe dark fruits, balanced by excellent acidity and structured tannins. Keep a few years or serve now with grilled beef or lamb. Stockists: wineonline.ie; The Cinnamon Cottage, Cork, cinnamoncottage.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie.