Argentine Wines and Malbec Day:

Tasting Event April 17, 2012

MapArgentina Wine Regions

At first glance the idea of having a "Malbec Day" to promote Argentinian Malbec seems a little redundant, at least in Ontario! For in conjunction with the LCBO which determines product availability and distribution, Argentinian Malbec has absolutely crushed the market for good quality but relatively inexpensive red wines.

For me the issue isn't whether I happen to enjoy drinking these wines, but whether they are noteworthy in some respects: are they interesting, perhaps unusual, and thought-provoking? We've seen the dangers of too much uniformity and predictability along with oversupply, that have tarnished the image of Australian Shiraz and to a much lesser extent New Zealand Sauvignon blanc. It's a tricky line to walk: can you supply good quality wines to the mass market yet still develop and expand a higher end image and market for better quality and higher priced wines?

the wines18 Argentinian wines — not all Malbecs!

When I saw the quantity and diversity of the wines presented at a recent Argentine tasting on Malbec day, I wondered if that might be part of the theme. The presentation was led by David Lawrason, along with two Argentinian winemakers.

In his introduction David made an important point that reflected part of my concern. He said that on a recent trip to Argentina he found unique and differentiated wines within a broad area such as Mendoza, but the wines were generally only labeled with the broadest regional designation. If Argentina wants to promote diversity, especially among its signature Malbecs, then it would serve them well to identify and differentiate unique terroirs and regions. But the impetus to do this has to come from within, not from outside critics.

I will just mention a few of the wines, some on the basis of quality/price and some for pure interest. The first was the introductory sparkling wine

  • NV Trapiche Sparkling Extra Brut, 13% abv. $11.95 LCBO. This is a dry pale straw sparkling wine, 70% Chardonnay, 20% Semillon, and appropriately 10% Malbec. The nose is fresh and expressive of lemon, lime and apples. As a wine made by Charmat or tank, it does not rest in bottle on its lees, but still has a rich mouth feel. Excellent summer aperitif, especially for the price. 8.7/10

Of the five other whites, there was one Pinot Grigio, only one Torrontes (often spoken of as Argentina's signature white grape), two Chardonnays, and one blend of Torrontes, Viognier and Chardonnay. Since there is a lot of inexpensive Pinot Gris/Grigio and Chardonnay from many corners of the world, it probably makes sense to focus on a grape variety that is quite distinctive. Torrontes is an aromatic white that almost always shows lots of fruit and floral aromas and flavours.

  • 2011 Dominio Del Plata Crios Torrontes, 13.8% abv, $14.95 available from consignment. This was lemon coloured, with a fairly intense nose of flowers, melon and herbs. The wine is more than medium bodied, the palate is a little less intense than the nose suggests, and the citrus and stone fruit come to the front. 8.7/10

Given that there has been recent uptake from Ontario consumers, at least for blendings of aromatic wines such as Viognier, Riesling and Gewürztraminer with Chardonnay, it seems to me that Torrontes has the potential to fit into that category, especially if prices can be kept under $15.00.

We were presented with 8 Malbecs, and I will highlight 3 of them.

  • 2009 Zuccardi Q Malbec, $19.95 Vintages. To me this is an excellent example of what makes a 100% Argentinian Malbec so attractive to consumers. It is a concentrated deep ruby with a pink rim. Its nose has more than medium intensity and shows floral notes, blackberry and oak. It is full-bodied, with medium tannins and acidity, and has a smooth, dusty and fruit-filled finish. This is a big wine, and is a good value. 8.9/10
  • 2010 Kaiken Ultra Malbec, 15.2% abv, $19.95 Vintages. 96% Malbec with 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. Very intense deep ruby, narrow ruby rim. The nose is of medium intensity and shows black fruit and just a hint of wild herbs. The palate is rich and full, very concentrated but not over-ripe fruit, with medium tannins and a long finish. 8.9/10
  • 2010 Colomé Malbec Estate, 14.5% abv, $27.95, availability unknown. This was my favourite Malbec, and intriguingly has 8% Tannat, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% each of Syrah and Petit Verdot. It is also from the Salta region, which has some of the highest vineyards in the world. The colour is an intense, dense ruby with a very narrow ruby rim. The nose is of medium intensity, showing mostly blackberries, cassis, herbs and floral notes. The palate is dense and full, with medium acidity, medium but soft tannins, and a long tight finish. 9.2/10

The tasting also featured a Pinot Noir, a Bonarda and a Syrah. Of these, only the Bonarda stood out for me. The grape is widely planted in Argentina but is mostly used for local wines. I am not writing a note about the example, because there was no information on potential availability. But this is a grape that holds a great deal of interest, and I look forward to trying it in the future. This example was from Nieto Senetiner, and while still a dark ruby it was less intense than the Malbecs. It had an interesting dusty and herbal element on the nose, and was definitely more savory on the palate. It had balanced tannins and acidity, and a long gutsy finish. I'm looking forward to a further acquaintance!