Argentina: where Malbec found its terroir
In my novel, An Argentine in my Kitchen, Pedro offers Catherine a glass of excellent Malbec. He then startles her with a life-changing proposition.
What is Malbec?
Malbec is Argentina's signature wine variety - like Sauvignon Blanc for New Zealand - and about twenty percent of Argentina's vineyards are planted with Malbec vines. This means that Argentina has a greater area of Malbec under cultivation than all other Malbec-producing countries combined.
As Decanter magazine outlines, Malbec has a long history. Way back in Medieval times, before Bordeaux was well known for wine, Malbec was favoured by such illustrious personages as Peter the Great of Russia. A couple of centuries later, in the 1840s, Malbec vines were taken to Chile, and from there they were carried across the Andes Mountains to Argentina. In Argentina Malbec acquired a completely new profile under the southern sun and on rocky soils. The wine industry in the New World had its ups and downs, but Argentina never stopped growing Malbec, and in the 1990s Argentine Malbec was 'rediscovered.' It has since gone from strength to strength.
How to impress a wine connoisseur
One way of sounding intelligent at a wine tasting is to ask a wine buff how they believe 'terroir' has influenced a particular wine. You will then hear, probably in detail, about the influence of climate, soil, altitude, longitude and aspect on the vineyard. Because terroir is all of those things.
And if you are tasting a Malbec, you can further impress the wine buff by telling them that, clearly, Argentina has the best terroir for the variety. They will invariably agree with you.
Malbec's best indicator of terroir: soil or altitude?
Argentina produces great Malbec over a huge range of latitudes, altitudes, and soils, providing a distinctive style in each location. In Argentina, according to Decanter magazine, soil is now seen as the main indicator of terroir, whereas ten years ago, it was altitude. As they say (see reference below): This [i.e. soil] sometimes coincides with elevation in places like Gualtallary at the northern end of the Uco Valley, or, more spectacularly, in Salta, home to Altura Máxima, the world’s most oxygen-starved vineyard at 3,111 metres.
Malbec and Argentina's Ruta del Vino
Malbec is grown at numerous locations along Argentina's Ruta del vino or 'wine route.' The Ruta del vino skirts the Andes Mountains for two thousand kilometres, travelling through often stunning landscapes. It starts in Cafayate, to the south of Salta, at a latitude of 26 degrees South, continues through the famous Mendoza wine region, and finishes in Neuquén in Patagonia, at 39 degrees South.
Comparing these latitudes with Australia, the wine route would stretch from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland to Bass Strait.
And, most importantly, how do I spot a Malbec?
According to Wine Folly, Argentine Malbec has these characteristics: The main fruit flavours in a glass of Argentine Malbec are blackberry, plum, and black cherry. The nuanced flavours offer milk chocolate, cocoa powder, violet flowers, leather, and, depending on the amount of oak ageing, a sweet tobacco finish. They add that in a blind wine tasing, you should look for a magenta-tinged rim.
Happy wine tasting!
And if you read my book, An Argentine in my Kitchen, there is another reference to Malbec at the end.