Most wine regions are defined by one or two grape varieties. By capturing the imagination of the public and the pens of the press, Pinot Noir has become synonymous with Burgundy, Cabernet Sauvignon with Napa Valley and Sauvignon Blanc with Marlborough, New Zealand.
The reasons are simple. Soil, climate and altitude tend to dictate the variety of vine best suited for the land. As emerging wine regions continue to grow, vintners experiment, betting that one vine will reach regional-icon status.
Take Argentina, for example. Influenced by Spanish and Italian immigrants, the country’s top vines include Tempranillo from Spain, and Bonarda, Barbera and Sangiovese from Italy. Yet, the French red Malbec has created an identity for Argentina by offering ready-to-drink wines that pair well with red meats such as beef or lamb and soft cheeses such as Brie.
A red-skinned grape with roots in France, Malbec is known for making the tannic, black wines of Cahors. Plant this exact same grape in Argentina, and it is transformed into a wine with lovely aromatics and a velvety mouth feel.
Why the change? Warmer temperatures allow sugars in the fruit to increase, which lead to a boost in alcohol and give the wines a rounder texture. Plus, riper fruit means riper tannins and flavors.
Situated at the foothills of the Andes Mountains, the vintners of Argentina also have the ability to plant vines at higher altitudes, where the swings from day to night temperatures are greatest. Lower temperatures at night help to preserve the acidity in the grape, translating into freshness in the glass. So much consideration is given to planting altitude in Argentina that many producers proudly state the “feet above sea level” right on the front label.
While styles of Argentinean Malbec vary from structured to overly ripe, there is a real trend among small producers to focus on wine quality over quantity. Now, thanks to a handful of dedicated winemakers and a culture that nurtures agricultural tradition, wine lovers around the globe can enjoy the merits of Malbec — sip after Argentinean sip.
2004 Trapiche Broquel Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($15): Fruit-forward and modern in style, pronounced aromas of raspberry, plum and chocolate prevail. Medium-plus in body, this wine is a great match for grilled beef and duck breast.
2006 Chakana, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza,
Argentina ($13): Bold aromas of vanilla, chocolate and blackberries leap from the glass. Ripe fruit and more than a hint of toasty oak balance moderate acidity and medium-plus alcohol.
2005 Dona Paula Malbec, Luján de Cuyo, Argentina ($15): Ruby red with pronounced aromas of black cherry, licorice and tobacco. Mouth-warming alcohol and moderate acidity coupled with ripe tannins provide a long, lingering finish.
2003 Bodega Nofal, Santa Ercilia Malbec, Valle de Uco, Argentina ($16): Medium bodied with moderate acidity and lots of black cherry fruit spiced by vanilla notes. Moderate tannins and medium-plus alcohol give the wine a balanced structure.
2003 Bodega Nofal Tunquelen Malbec, Valle de Uco, Argentina ($15): Medium bodied with raspberry and blackberry aromas. Grown at 3,544 feet, the wine is youthful with firm tannins. A great everyday wine for red meats and cheeses.
2005 Luigi Bosca, La Linda Malbec, Luján de Cuyo, Argentina ($10): Medium bodied with aromas of cherries, plum and baking spices. Medium-plus alcohol and moderate acidity offer a medium finish making this wine a great everyday value.