ARGENTINIAN MALBEC

by Rose Murray Brown MW   Published in The Scotsman 8 November 2014

“Growing Malbec in Argentina is like taming a wild black horse in the mountains” says Aurelio Montes Jnr, a young Chilean who has crossed the Andes to make wine in Argentina. 

Montes describes making Malbec in Chile as like training an elegant even-tempered racehorse, but in the high altitude Uco Valley in Argentina controlling this muscular powerful grape variety is a very different story.

Montes are one of five top Chilean wineries who have followed the flight of the Caiquenes wild geese across the Andes, excited by the prospects of unchartered potential vineyard land in Argentina.  Their aim is to combine the extraordinary terroir, climatic and high altitude conditions of Mendoza’s foothills with the same detailed winemaking philosophy they use in Chile.

“Malbec grown in the high Andean foothills in Argentina has such amazing vibrancy, but it is hard to control”, says Montes Jnr.  “It is such an exciting place to make wine and develop something new but it is not easy.  We apply the same attention to detail we use in Chile with our ‘angel’ touch to make drinkable styles, but it has taken me some time to get to grips with this grape as it is so different here”, says Montes Jnr.

Montes father, Aurelio Montes Snr founder of the famous Montes winery in Chile’s Colchagua Valley, first visited Mendoza in 2001 in search of new horizons.  A decade later the family had bought three vineyards at differing altitudes in the Andean foothills, built a winery in Mendoza and young Aurelio Jnr fresh from his wine travels and training with competitors Ventisquero had been sent to take charge of Montes’ new ‘Kaiken’ project – named after the Caiquen wild geese.

“What I discovered was that the answer really lies in the terroir”, says Montes Jnr.  To make his Ultra Malbec he blends three different vineyard components. 

Tasting Argentinian Malbec with Rose Murray Brown MWOn his recent visit to Scotland, Montes Jnr brought with him an example of all three vineyard components for me to taste separately.  Lower altitude (950 metres) Agrelo had very dense ripe fruit and soft tannins, higher altitude (1050 metres) Vistalba had fantastic depth of colour with an elegant touch – but the most amazing of all was Vistaflores (1250-1400 metres) which had incredible aromas, vibrancy and firm tannins on the palate.

“Mendoza soils are very different to Chile too.  In Chile there is more clay and granite which suits Merlot, but in Argentina it is very rocky and sandy so it is harder to establish a vineyard in some areas”, says Montes Jnr.  “We had to move 2,500 trucks of huge rocks from our new 6 hectare Vistaflores vineyard”, he says. “Our next project is to explore new high areas like Gualtallary near Tupungato for our Chardonnay”.

The resulting blend is one of the most charming Malbecs I have tasted.  I have long struggled with Malbec.  To date I personally have really only found two distinctive well-made Argentinian Malbecs from Vinalba and Pulenta wineries which both have a voluptuous succulence of mouthfeel and balance.  This new Chilean-made Argentinian Kaiken Ultra Malbec is different again – perhaps a touch more elegant – it might suit roast lamb, rather than a big steak. 

Whether it is the Chilean touch or clever blending of terroir – whilst many of the cheaper mass-marketed Malbecs on offer under £10 tend to be more rustic carthorses in style with big clumping feet and wild tossed manes – this new Kaiken is a thoroughbred.

ARGENTINIAN MALBEC TASTE TEST:

MENDOZA, ARGENTINA:  KAIKEN ULTRA MALBEC 2012
(£13.99 Peckhams, Glasgow; Drinkmonger, Edinburgh & Pitlochry; Fine Wine Co Musselburgh; Luvians, Cupar & St Andrews; Aitken Wines, Dundee)

Plummy fruit and floral notes, herby rosemary undertones, very juicy black fruit palate with rounded elegant tannins, tobacco hints, nicely balanced with a dry finish – serve with roast lamb.  Alcohol 14.5%: STAR BUY

OTHER RECOMMENDED MALBECS TO TRY:

MENDOZA, ARGENTINA:  VINALBA GRAN RESERVADO MALBEC 2012
(£13.99 currently on offer in Majestic Wine)

A gutsier lusher style with rich damson fruits and a big chunky powerful characterful made by a Frenchman in Lujan de Cuyo in Mendoza: match with steak.

MENDOZA, ARGENTINA:  PULENTA ESTATE MALBEC 2010
(£17.50 Latitude Wines www.latitudewines.co.uk; Woodwinters, Edinburgh & Bridge of Allan; Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com)

This fine, but pricey, Malbec has long been a favourite of mine for its velvet smooth palate and intense ripe fruit, beautifully made by brothers Hugo and Eduardo Pulenta.  They also make a cheaper La Flor Malbec which is not nearly as good.  Serve the Estate version with a big juicy steak.

WELLINGTON, SOUTH AFRICA:  SIGNATURES OF DOOLHOF MALBEC 2010
(£15.49 South African Wines Online www.sawinesonline.co.uk)

Malbec likes a warm climate, so why not the hot dry parched old cereal growing lands of northern Paarl?  This Cape Malbec made by Frederic Kuhne has a touch of the lush richness you find in Argentina, but with a slight restraint, cocoa notes and smoothness on the palate.  Serve with beef casserole.

CAHORS, FRANCE: CLOS TRIGUEDINA 2010
(£16 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com; Les Caves de Pyrene www.lescaves.co.uk; £17.60 Spirited Wine www.spiritedwine.co.uk)

Let’s not forget the homeland of Malbec in south west France; here examples are earthier, firmer and more structured style without the juiciness and lushness that you get in Argentina.  Jean Luc Baldes is the seventh generation to run his family estate making the most elegant Cahors: serve with roast duck or kidney pie.

Join Rose’s Californian wine tasting at Abode, 129 Bath Street, Glasgow on 27 November £40 www.rosemurraybrown.com
 

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