Saturday, October 27, 2012

Argentina, Part 1: The Rise of Malbec

Argentina is standing tall. As the fourth-largest source of wine imports to the United States, Argentina's value wine exports have surged ahead of those from neighboring Chile. That means some good drinking awaits Malbec lovers.  
The Orange County event, co-sponsored by Wines of Argentina, featured 32 wineries from famed producers Achaval Ferrer to Vinecol, a small, organic producer of value-priced Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Rather than the one-note samba that some believe Malbec to be, this focused tasting allowed trade members to sample the country's signature red made from grapes grown at different altitudes, a range of terroirs and as expressions of the country's diverse winemaking styles. Oak treatments were hardly uniform, from unoaked, stainless steel versions to the fully wooded. Some wines were outright floral, while others had an effusive plummy or berry-rich profile. Weight and texture also varied, although most wines were racy with balanced fruit and only moderately aggressive tannins.

Outstanding value Malbecs in the $10-$15 range* included Graffigna Centenario Reserve 2010 San Juan; Maipe Reserve 2011 Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo; Luigi Bosca – Familia Arizu Finca La Linda 2010 Mendoza; Postales Del Fin Del Mundo 2011 Patagonia; and Alamos 2011 Mendoza. 

Favorites among the fresh, lively Malbec versions with food-friendly acidity in the $20 price range included Pascual Toso's Reserve 2010 Mendoza; Alamos Selección 2010 Mendoza; Renacer Punto Final Reserva 2010 Luján de Cuyo; Luigi Bosca 2010 Mendoza and Chakana Estate Selection 2011 Agrelo-Luján de Cuyo; and Urraca 2008 Luján de Cuyo.

Malbec also makes a good blending partner. Argentine winemakers have found success pairing the grape with Petit Verdot, Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Tannat and yes, even Pinot Noir. Standout Malbec blends included Amalaya Tinto de Gran Altura 2010 Calchaquí Valley ($16); Colomé Malbec Estate 2010 Calchaquí Valley ($29); Renacer Enamore 2010 Luján de Cuyo ($25); Special Blend Del Fin del Mundo 2008 Patagonia ($45); Urraca Primera Reserva 2005 Luján de Cuyo ($25); Chakana Estate Selection Blend 2011 Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo ($25); and Familia Schroeder Pinot Noir – Malbec 2007 Patagonia ($60).

Although Malbec took center stage, producers offered excellent examples of wines made from other grapes that thrive in the vast country's diverse climates, altitudes and soils. In Part 2, we'll report on Argentina's sparkling, white and red wines that nearly stole the show.

* All prices are estimated retail and may vary depending on sales outlet and location.

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