Whatever about judging a book by its cover, wine labels can tell you much about the wine inside. Browse a well-stocked shelf of Argentinian Malbec and you will increasingly find a diversity of styles flagged by various clues on those labels.
e’re already Malbec fans here in Ireland so you might be familiar with some of Argentina’s key wine province names and what they offer. Mendoza produces two-thirds of the country’s Malbec in a signature velvety style, with fine examples from the likes of Lunlunta in historic Luyan de Cuyo and high-altitude Tupungato in the Uco Valley. Further north, in the Calchaqui Valleys of the Salta province, the Cafayate region boasts some of the world’s highest vineyards resulting in intensely concentrated wines.
These kinds of names are being called out more as place and the difference it can make becomes increasingly important to Argentinian winemakers. Even if the classification information regarding Argentina’s four main wine regions, 23 provinces and very many sub-regions and districts mean little to you, most labels emphasise that sense of place in other ways, too.
Some do it with tag-lines about ‘terroir’, aka the combination of altitude, latitude, aspect, micro-climate and soil that influence a wine’s style. Some use maps to evoke the increasingly precise viticulture being employed. This work started in 1980s when the Bordeaux- and Napa-influenced Dr Nicolas Catena Zapata began mapping local soils. It is continued today by soil analysts like Pedro Parra, who consults with experimental young winemakers in solo projects.
Labels often depict the Andes mountains that have such a key influence on wine produced on its slopes. Cooling winds roll from snow-capped peaks and melt water to irrigate desert-like vineyards, while high altitudes slow ripening and allow grapes to retain acidity and develop complexity. At extreme altitudes, especially beyond 1,500 metres above sea level, Malbec skins thicken to protect from increased UBV levels. The resulting higher polyphenols produce wines of particularly intense colour and flavour.
Alongside the opulent, oak-aged Malbecs of tradition, many winemakers are moving away from oak to let the fruit shine in purer expressions. If you spot a very modern looking label, there’s a good chance that the wine inside will be equally modern, often fermented in concrete to allow for subtle oxygenation without oak character. The likes of Dona Paula, Michel Torino and Eugenio Bustos Leyenda offer approachable entry-level Malbec, as do Aldi’s Exquisite Collection and Marks & Spencer’s Classic series.
As with all wine, however, the more you pay, the more you’ll get in your glass. Consider trying one of those alongside another one or two from today’s selection of Malbec worth spending a few more euro on, and compare the results for yourself.
Wine of the week: Zorzal Terroir Unico Malbec, Gualtallary, Uco Valley
€17, 13.5pc, Clontarf Wines, Sweeney’s D3, Green Man Wines, all Dublin; La Touche, Greystones
Potent but velvety thanks to chalky soil and accentuated by fermentation in concrete, this beautifully textured wine comes from Gualtallary in Tupungato, home to open-minded young winemakers such as Zorzal’s Juan Pablo Michelini (look too for Winelab’s Barbarians). Pair with game and autumnal flavours to complement the earthy, mineral layers and peppered fruit notes.
Catena Appellation Lunlunta Malbec 2017, Mendoza
€20.99, 13.5pc, selected SuperValus; Donnybrook Fair, The Corkscrew, Dublin
One of three wines in the Appellation range from Nicolas Catena Zapata’s family winery, this is lifted and fragrant with violet, raspberry and cherry, compared to the power and pepper of Paraje Altamira or the dried fruit and chocolate of the Vista Flores.
Finca Flichman ‘Dedicado Malbec’ 2016, Uco Valley
€29.99, 13.5pc, selected Avoca stores; Molloys, Dublin; Ely Maynooth; wineonline.ie
Fancy a blowout? With a year in French oak and more in the bottle, this luxurious Tupungato Malbec delivers layers of fruit compote, heady perfume and silky tannins.
Luigi Bosca Malbec DOC 2018, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza
€19.99, 14pc, O’Donovans, Cork; Redmonds, Ranelagh; Ardkeen, Waterford; winesoftheworld.ie
An opulent traditional style with 12 months in new oak to soften tannins and add vanilla spice and char to ripe fruit, this cries out for a juicy steak.
Callia M Malbec 2019, San Juan
€15, 13.5pc, McHugh’s, Dublin 5; O’Donovan’s, Cork; World Wide Wines, Waterford
A sweeter style from north of Mendoza, serve this 2020 Gold Star winner with a rich massaman curry to offset its redcurrant and cherry fruit and warm spices.
Spanish Wine Week wraps up in style this weekend as The Twelve Hotel in Galway hosts today’s feast of tapas and paella in its new outdoor terrace, with hotel manager and award-winning sommelier Fergus O’Halloran showcasing wines from five regions. If you can’t make that, check out your local wine shop or online merchants (Whelehans, O’Brien’s Wines, Nude Wine Co and others listed at foodswinesfromspain.com/spanishwineweek) this weekend for special promotions.