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Malbec from Argentina 
45 wines tried

Argentina is making some interesting wines at the moment. Its main marketing push has been Malbec, a grape whose home is the southwest of France, where it’s the main grape in Cahors and a bit-part player in many Bordeaux blends. Malbec doesn’t have the blackcurranty fruitiness of Cabernet; rather it is a bit darker, and a little more savoury, with spice and earth undertones. It has less of a tendency to go to lushness when grown in warm climates, which is probably a good thing.

Mendoza is the dominant wine region. Perched on the side of the Andes, this is a region that receives very little rainfall, and were it not for the ready supply of Andes meltwater, viticulture wouldn’t be possible here. Another important factor is altitude: the vineyards here are high up, and with the highest vineyards in the region the extra UV light that the grapes receives causes the grapes to develop thicker skins, with more tannins (and softer tannins, too), as well as more colour. The cooling effect of altitude means that the grapes preserve acidity even when they are allowed to hang for quite a while before harvest.

But it would be wrong to dismiss Argentina’s other wine regions. Two in particular are worth mentioning. First, Salta. Up in the hot north, these are the world’s highest commercial vineyards: were it not for the effect of altitude, it would be too hot for quality viticulture here. Second, Patagonia. Travelling far south, this is a cooler, windier, flatter region that’s beginning to turn out some really nice wines.

This tasting covered 45 different Malbecs, which sounds like a lot, but is only a quick sampling of a much broader offering. Some important wines are missing – Catena, Achaval Ferrer and Colomé, to name but three – and so this can’t be seen as a true ranking of Argentina’s best.

In terms of quality, I though this was quite high across the board. Remember, this is a mixture of commercial wines and then some high-end ones. Stylistically, I think Argentina would do well to go down the road of freshness, definition and structure, rather than super-ripeness and new oak flavours. I would also add that while Argentinean Malbec is great, it would be a shame for this country to become a one-trick pony: other grape varieties shouldn’t be neglected in a headlong rush to plant Malbec.

Chacayes Malbec 2003 Tunuyán, Mendoza
Pure, sweet fruit on the nose, which is smooth with a spicy underlay. The palate is concentrated with good acidity and nice spicy structure. A lovely wine that is quite refined and full. 94/100  

O Fournier Alpha Crux Malbec 2003 La Consulta, Mendoza
Dense, sweet, forward spicy nose shows lovely pure dark fruits. The palate is bold and full with good density and nice dark spicy fruit. Tannic, too. 93/100

Familia Schroeder Saurus Patagonia Select Malbec 2004 Neuqén, Patagonia
Amazingly deep, vivid colour. Lovely savoury, spicy nose of pure fruit. Vivid like a tank sample. The palate is intense, vivid and spicy with a savoury twist. A tannic beast. 93/100

Dominio del Plata Susana Balbo Malbec 2005 Tunuyan, Mendoza
Deep coloured. Beautifully aromatic nose showing spice, violet, sweet fruit. The palate is bold and rich but quite elegant with good acid. A striking wine that’s beautifully made. 93/100

Fincas Patagonicas Zolo Reserve Malbec 2004 Mendoza
Perfumed, fresh and bold with nice fruit freshness and good acidity. A lovely structured wine. 92/100

Finca Sophenia Synthesis Malbec 2005 Tupungato, Mendoza
Very open, sweet, perfumed nose is smooth and lush. The palate is open and rounded with sweet pure fruit. An elegant style. 92/100

Familia Cassone Obra Prima Malbec 2003 Mendoza
Lovely vivid savoury nose with pure fruit. Quite aromatic. Nice structure and weight on the palate which is vivid and dense with amazing fruit quality. 92/100

Fabre Montmayou Malbec Gran Reserva 2005 Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
Deep coloured. Smooth, pure, spicy nose leads to a dense palate with nice intensity and delicious spicy structure. A lovely wine. 91/100

Luigi Bosca Malbec 2004 Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
From 54 year old vines, this spends 14 months in French oak. Concentrated, firm and tannic with nice ripe fruit allied with the structure. There’s a bold, savoury edge to the sweet dark fruits. 91/100

Bodega del Fin del Mundo Malbec Reserva 2004 Neuquén, Patagonia
Interesting stuff. Savoury, spicy nose leads to a palate with dense spicy fruit and oak. Lots of presence here: a nice wine. 91/100

Filipe Rutini Malbec 2005 La Consulta, Mendoza
Lovely fruit here: juicy, vivid, bold fruit with nice weight and spice. Delicious. 91/100

Pulenta Estate Malbec 2004 Alto Agrelo, Mendoza
Dense, spicy and extracted with nice freshness and some class. Bold stuff. Delicious with lots of presence. 90/100

Finca el Retiro Malbec 2004 Mendoza
Vivid purple colour. Aromatic spicy nose leads to a high-acid palate with good structure. Vivid and full. Long lived? 90/100

Eral Bravo Malbec 2005 Agrelo, Mendoza
Rich, extracted style with concentrated, dense, ripe spicy fruit. Some oak is evident, but its nicely done in an unashamed new world style. 89/100

Trivento Golden Reserva Malbec 2004 Vistalba, Mendoza
Big, dense, ripe and extracted with lots of spicy, oaky fruit. In yer face. 89/100

Familia Zuccardi Q Malbec 2003 Maipú, Mendoza
Quite structured and spicy with some oak influence. Quite refined in a full flavoured style. 89/100

Finca Las Moras Mora Negra 2004 Tulum Valley, San Juan
Deep coloured with vivid fruit. Ripe but with a savoury, spicy edge. Bold but balanced. 89/100

Trapiche Tributo Felipe Villafañe Malbec 2003 La Consulta, Malbec
Smooth, sweet pure fruit but lots of vanilla oak on the nose. Vivid, bold, oaky palate. 89/100

Valentin Bianchi Particular 2004 Mendoza
Ripe, rich, spicy and chunky, with good weight. A nice rich style. 89/100

Luna Llena Malbec 2004 Mendoza
Very sweet, soft fruit here. Open and rounded. A striking, distinctive wine. 89/100

Bodega NQN Malma Reserve Malbec 2004 Neuquén, Patagonia
A very rich, full wine with sweet fruit and nice supporting oak. Substantial stuff. 88/100

Terrazas Reserva Malbec 2004 Vistalba, Mendoza
Sweet, liqueur-like fruit on the nose. Some oak influence on the palate. Modern styled. 88/100

Viña Fundación de Mendoza Malbec 2006 Santa Rosa, Mendoza
Quite vivid and spicy on the nose. The palate has savoury, spicy structure and good fruit. Good concentration. 87/100

Michel Torino Don David Reserve Malbec 2004 Cafayete, Salta
Juicy, bold and rich with good acid and structure, and pure dark fruits. Lovely. 87/100

San Polo Auka Malbec 2003 La Consulta, Malbec
Nice full and dense with spiciness and freshness. Tasty. 87/100

Norton Malbec Reserva 2004 Lunlunta, Mendoza
Juicy, ripe easy drinker with red fruits and a touch of spice. 87/100

Navarro Correas Colección Privada Malbec 2005 Mendoza
Vivid and intense, with lots of fruit. Good acid. Tasty. 86/100

RJ Viñedos Jaffe e Hijas Grand Malbec 2004 Valle d’Uco, Mendoza
Fresh, quite perfumed nose is spicy and full. The palate is dense and full with nice spicy structure. Vivid stuff. 86/100

Bodega Felix Lavaque, Finca El Recreo Quara Barrique Aged Malbec 2004 Cafayate, Salta
Vivid and juicy with nice freshness from the high acidity. Tasty 85/100 

Viento Sur Malbec 2005 Tupungato, Mendoza
Quite aromatic and full with sweet red fruits. The palate is bold and juicy with nice fresh herby fruit. There’s a herbal edge. 85/100

Finca Flichman Reserva Malbec 2005 Tupungato, Mendoza
Sweet, spicy, slightly tarry edge. Nice dark fruits. 85/100

Alta Vista Premium Malbec 2004 Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
Nice weight and density here. Rich, modern and spicy. Slightly oaky style. 85/100

Telteca Antá Malbec 2004, Lavalle, Mendoza
Juicy and rich with ripe fruit. Very drinkable. 84/10

Mendoza Vineyards Malbec 2005 Mendoza
96% Malbec, 4% Viognier, some staves used. Juicy, fruity, fun and quite nice. 84/100

Graffigna Centenario Malbec 2004 Pedernal, San Juan
Bold, rich and quite oaky with lots of presence.

Argento Malbec 2005 Mendoza
Nice bright juicy fruit with no rough edges. An easy drinker. 84/100

Chakana Malbec Reserva 2005 Agrelo, Mendoza
Vivid, toasty, chocolatey nose. Lots of ripe fruit. Quite oaky, but good fruit. 84/100

Trapiche Broquel Malbec 2004 Mendoza
Chocolatey, spicy, oaky nose. Dense, spicy, oaky palate. Good in its style. 84/100

Etchart Gran Reserva Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Cafayate, Saltra
50% Malbec, with 30% Cabernet and the balance Merlot and Tannat. Sweet, ripe and approachable. Nice. 83/100

Tamari Malbec Reserva 2005 Mendoza
Vivid and juicy with high acidity and ripe fruit. 83/100

San Huberto Malbec Crianza 2004 La Rioja
Spicy and quite structured with good acidity. A fresh, drinkable style. 83/100

Don Christobal Oak Reserva Malbec 2004 Mendoza
Quite a big oaky style with sweet fruit. 83/100

La Riojano Coop Raza Limited Edition Malbec 2003 La Rioja
Very fresh and juicy with nice acidity and some plummy bitterness. 83/100

Doña Paula Estate Malbec 2005 Luján de Coyo, Mendoza
Fresh and vivid with high acidity. Juicy and full. 83/100

Jean Bousquet Malbec 2005 Tupungato, Mendoza
Open, sweet spicy fruit. Quite distinctive with an slightly oxidative note. Approachable. 82/100

Santa Ana Malbec Reserve 2004 Cruz de Piedra, Mendoza
Juicy, fresh and fruity with a bit of spice. 82/100

see also: 

Wines tasted 09/06
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