GDP on Wine

Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz

Argentine Malbec comes of age

Posted by Gregory Dal Piaz, Oct 27, 2008.

Wines tasted for this report:

2006 Budini Malbec 85pts
2007 Finca Flichman Malbec 83pts
2006 Luigi Bosca Finca La Linda Malbec 82pts
2006 Navarro Correas Coleccion Privada Malbec 86pts
2007 Familia Schroeder Saurus Malbec 89pts
2006 Sur de los Andes Malbec Reserva 89pts
2005 Punto Final Malbec Reserva 80pts
2005 Luigi Bosca Lujan de Cuyo Malbec 92pts
2007 Achaval-Ferrer Malbec 92pts
2006 Lamadrid Malbec Reserva 87pts
2006 San Polo Auka Malbec 89pts

Malbec is one of several French transplants that has settled far from it’s place of birth. Originally used as a minor blending grape in Bordeaux and northern France, or on it’s own in Cahors, Malbec was a challenging grape for these regions. The proclivity to rot and frost left this lowly grape caught between the late springs and damp falls of Maritime France. It is a grape that loves to languish on the vines deep into the fall in order to fully develop it’s rich fruit character. This extended “hang-time” has always been a challenge in France.

Brought to Argentina in the mid 1850’s, Malbec was immediately recognized as ideally suited to the Eastern Slopes of the Andes in Argentina. Here the problem of humidity and rot is fairly well dealt with, this being the dry side of the Andes, and the consistently warm spring and fall that the area is blessed with allowed for consistent flowering of the vines and that all important end of season “hang-time”.

Between the ideal climate, fine soils and expositions of the vineyards, Malbec had found it’s home, and what a home it was. While in France the grape frequently produced tough, tannic wines full of earth and herbs, here in Argentina the bright blackberry and spice infused plummy fruit of the grape was thrust to the fore. The complex notes encountered in France remained in support but Malbec had suddenly come into it's own, emerging not only as a grape capable of standing on it’s own, but fully worthy of the honor.

While Argentina has a vast range of vineyards the finest plots of Malbec remain in and around Mendoza, some 150 miles from the Pacific coast but all but insulated against any affects by the looming and imposing Andes. The Andes prevent excessive rain from falling on these vineyard slopes, by forcing the rain to fall on the west western slopes, yet provide ample water for the vines as melt water from winter snows and glaciers feed the deep aquifers which supply the region.

The soils in these vineyards are deep and varied with layers of decomposed rock making up the bulk of the land, forcing the vines to dig deep for nutrients. This struggle is vital for the fruit here since the weather tends to be quite perfectly warm with long sunny days allowing the vines to thrive. The soil and water induced stress, in fact much of Argentina’s vineyards must be irrigated, limits these pampered vines productivity and fosters the development of complexity in the grape’s flavors.

While grape growing has a long history in Argentina it was heavily influenced by the generations of Italian and Germans emigrants who populated the country over the past century and a half. These early farmers brought grapes with them from Europe, not as a commercial endeavor but rather to provide themselves and their families with the wine that they had long been accustomed to. While this left a deep cultural respect for wine in Argentine society the phenomenon of “fine wine” is new to the scene.

While the “fine wine” segment of the industry now ages in the decades, no one who has tasted the legendary 1997 Weinert Estrella Malbec can deny it’s glory, it had relied on relatively large entities until fairly recently. The new, emerging producers from Argentina are a blend of local enthusiasts, recognizing the inherent quality in the old-vines that populate the region and foreign producers of note, attracted to Argentina as much for value as for the quality.

This past decade has seen the Argentine wine industry mature to the point where the wines are recognized and have become popular in the US market like never before. Kudos must be given to the major players who had the wherewithal to afford to make this significant long-term strategic investment in opening and developing the US market. While they continue to produce fine wines in both a variety of style and at myriad price points it is the next generation of producers who are attracting attention.

Some of these wineries, like Luigi Bosca, have long histories in the region with the roots of their origins stretching back to the 19th century. Others, such as Achaval Ferrer were newborns as the 20th century drew to a close. What they have in common is their dedication to offering unique, compelling examples of Argentine wines, each with a distinct personality. This choice that the consumer is presented with is a new and exciting aspect to the Argentine wine scene and one that continues to be filled with discovery.

We are at a cross roads for Argentine wine and in particular Malbec. They have achieved a level of recognition and favor that will undoubtedly put a bit of upward pressure on their pricing as demand for these wines continues to grow. The best wines are truly becoming competitive at and above their current pricing levels, as Malbec becomes the “hot” grape of 2008-2010. Fortunately there remain many choices for the shrewd consumer to choose from and several of these deliver value that is hard to beat.

Argentine Malbec is a very friendly wine, rich round and fruity. It is the sort of wine that easily finds many enthusiastic consumers, as it’s as friendly on the wallet as it is on the palate. The following wines represent a fairly typical cross-section of what one can expect to find in the marketplace under the $20 price point and while I can’t say I loved them all they do provide a good alternative to many other, more acclaimed wine producing regions. They are worth trying for yourself!

2006 Budini Malbec 13.5% Mendoza

Moderately dense ruby color, still youthful but with a touch of incipient evolution. Offers up a nose of sweet fruits, some fresh nectarine, blackberry, tarry oily herbs, a touch of earthen spice. In the mouth this is a bit lean compared with typical Malbec but is fresh and easy with soft tannins and good acidity. The flavors are a bit non-descript but fruity and pleasant with decent length. A solid quaffer. 85pts

2007 Finca Flichman 13.5% Mendoza
Typical dark dense Malbec color but not opaque. Very floral apon opening, very attractively so at that with melon, berry, toast and mineral notes competing and eventually winning out as the floral notes fade. Round and medium bodied in the mouth with bright acids but that doesn’t prevent this from being a bit dull on the palate. Finishes with a lack of concentration and non-descript flavors. Average at best 83pts

2006 Luigi Bosca Finca La Linda 14% Mendoza
Appearing quite dense but youthful with an edge of development. Heavy aromatics, dark and honeyed, with sweet black fruit and gentle spice notes. A bit dull in the mouth with a refreshing herbal character but a hot and hollow mid-palate. The finish is fairly long with oak driven notes of caramel and toffee. 82pts

2006 Navarro Correas Coleccion Privada 14% Mendoza
Appearing dark, dense and youthful in the glass this offers up effusive notes of oaken spice and toast notes with layers of dried plum and berry fruit. Gains complexity in the glass with some growing herb notes and a smoky, meaty core of fruit graced by vanilla top notes. Sweetly fruited on entry with a rich, round mouthfeel that combines polished tannins and lowish acidity that ultimately leaves the wine feeling a touch dead in the mouth. Finishes abruptly and while the core of fruit is nicely red and sweet the structure here just has a hard time supporting it. 86pts

2007 Familia Schroeder Saurus 14% Patagonia
Opaque black-purple color. A touch sweaty at first with a gentle spicy, minerally character that is appealing. Layers of savory tea and tar grow in the glass though the nose remains restrained and focused. The entry is big and sweetly fruited with lots of power and dry extract but the intensity of flavors lags a bit. What is in the glass is very appealing blackberry, blackberry seeds, boysenberry, mineral and spice. Has a classy feel with some elegance and solid fleshy fruit on the decent finish. Tannins emerge on the finale. A pretty big wine that may improve with cellaring. 89pts

2006 Sur de los Andes Reserva 13.9% Mendoza
Opaque black-purple in the glass. Opens with a huge, spicy nose, strong dried ginger, blueberry compote with a touch of bitter orange jam. This smells both modern and expensive. Very smooth and rich in the mouth with a suave, cashmere fell that belies the wines extraction. The tough, woody tannins pop out, marring the finish but the core of fruit with rich wild berry notes and a hint of vanilla are delicious. Lacks a bit of follow through but still a solid value. 89pts

2005 Punto Final Reserva 14.7% Mendoza
Opaque black-purple but with a touch of coffee on the rim. Funny this also smells of coffee, creamy coffee and alcoholic, a bit like Irish coffee with notes of spicy wood tones, raw wood, vanilla and a top note of talc. The typical sweet entry is followed by bitter tannins. This is very extracted with a deep core of blackberry fruit that has no finish as the bitter tannins re-emerge. This would be tough to drink more than a taste of. 80pts

2005 Luigi Bosca Lujan de Cuyo 14.5% Mendoza
Dark and intensely purple but decidedly transparent at the same time. This present a totally different aromatic array than the other wines with funky, earthy tones taking sometime to blow off before revealing a touch of rubbery, oily shale then layers of subtle dried bay leaves, dried flowers, a bit of musky white pepper, a touch of horsy stable, a bit of vanillin, dark, bitter fruit tones. Lovely. In the mouth this is smaller scaled with fine a fine precise feel and wonderful integration of structural elements. The dark fruits have a soft bittersweet chocolate edge to them with a lovely sappy quality. Impressive stuff with power and depth but not the weight of many Malbecs. 92pts

2007 Achaval-Ferrer 13.5% Mendoza
Vivid violet color and almost opaque in the glass. This opens with intensely floral and tropical fruited notes and a touch of raw, black pepper studded bacon. A touch syrah like then a rush of freshly crushed wild raspberry greets the nose with an underlay of vanilla crème that is barely noticeable. In the mouth this is bright and vivid with blazing purity of fruit. Perhaps this lacks a touch of complexity but the wine feels very fine and energetic in the mouth with juicy acids and superbly polished tannins driving the wonderful berried fruit with a nuance of juniper spice. Finishes long and mouth cleansing with excellent clarity. 92pts

2006 Lamadrid Reserve 14.5% Mendoza
Opaque black-purple in the glass. This has a very sweet nose, fudgy, with jammy notes of wild cherry and blueberry and a big top note of “sweet tea”. This opens with full on fruit bomb intensity, extracted and powerful with clean fruit that seems very sweet. Initially there seems like a bit of residual sugar at play here, perhaps not as the wine finishes dry. The alcohol is well concealed but still ends up throwing the balance off on the finish. This is a fairly well put together fruit bomb, but as is generally the case, is a touch clumsy. 87pts

2006 San Polo Auka 14.1% Mendoza
Opaque black-purple. This opens very slowly with very restrained aromatics. Subtly smoky with slow to emerge notes of crushed berries, juniper, slight smoked meets and a vein of floral tones. Very smooth in the mouth and packed with fine tannins this has a lovely mouthfeel; with melded mocha and berry notes joined by an array of spice and mineral tones. The finish is a tad short but the feel is easy and suave, pretty much quintessential “value” Malbec. 89pts


Reply by dmcker, Aug 19, 2009.

Well, Malbec seems to be doing pretty well these days as a 'Recession Red', according to Bloomberg, anyway. If bankers in the Hamptons are switching to them over Napa and Bordeaux, then things are definitely looking good for Mendoza.

Have to wonder about that 15% inflation rate down there, though. Must cut into profits a bit...

Reply by zufrieden, Nov 11, 2009.

...but possibly a bad sign for the North Amercian economy. While things may be "up" in Mendoza, they represent a corresponding "down" for the US of A - assuming your source of information on the imbibing habits of bankers is close to the mark.

Reply by Drunk as a Skunk, Nov 12, 2009.

Love the bit about horse stables :)

Reply by GregT, Nov 12, 2009.

"Have to wonder about that 15% inflation rate down there, though. Must cut into profits a bit..."

Yep. That's not all either. Their economy is one of the worst-managed in the world, save for places like Haiti, Ethiopia, and Somalia, where they really don't have economies.

Reply by John Andrews, Nov 13, 2009.

Loving finding new Malbec values and the way it has nice versatility.

Some interesting notes on how the environment in Argentina is crucial to Malbec's ability to fully mature. Makes me wonder if Malbec could thrive in places like South Australia or Southern California. Places that have long warm (hot) growing seasons.

There are a few Malbecs being created in Northern California which are okay but are often extremely pricey.

Reply by dmcker, Nov 13, 2009.

Well, zufrieden, if Bloomberg doesn't know bankers, what are we to think? ;-)

Reply by zufrieden, Nov 13, 2009.

Well, Bloomberg is a popular source of financial data and looking there for information on leading indicators is a diurnal (internet browsing) habit of mine. As a source of tippling habits, who knows? But point understood. :-)

Reply by dmcker, Nov 13, 2009.

I don't think I've met a banker in the past decade who doesn't have a Bloomberg account attached intravenously. In an industry where changing positions is as frequent as in a game of musical chairs (sorry for the mixed metaphors), that's often how everyone keeps track of each other. And its founder is of course still, even if just barely, the mayor of Wall Street.

Regarding banker drinking behavior in this part of the world, I've heard many a lament from the restaurant, bar, club and related service industry providers in Roppongi, that the $30,000 party nights, stripper lunches, etc. have gone the way of the last ice age (had to throw in yet another tired analogy). Many I know are drinking New Zealand sauvignon blanc in the place of very good Champagne. Now if that's not a step down, I don't know what is!

It could all be merely an attempt to project a lower profile in more judgmental times, of course... ;-)

Reply by rhill2990, Nov 14, 2009.

This is a great article. I appreciate the recommendations and the tasting notes. I have just recently purchased some Malbec from Mendoza. I have been enjoying it.

Reply by schellbe, Nov 14, 2009.

If there is 15% inflation in Argentina and 3% in the US, and if one believes in puchasing power parity, the Argentine peso should deprecaite relative to the dollar. In this case, one should not worry about expensive Argentine Malbecs, because the dollar price would not increase. Of course, if the CA products are as weak as is claimed, they don't provide much competition for the Argentine product anyway.

Reply by dmcker, Nov 15, 2009.

I don't think anyone believes Argentine wines are better than the best Californians. I certainly don't. Market price was the central focus of the article. It's popular to lambaste CA BigFruit bombs, and I don't usually like them either, but without a doubt some of the best wine in the world is still being made up and down the state. Several of the Argentine wines are very good, but the industry there still has a tremendous distance to travel to compete across-the-board with the best of California.

And the Argentine inflation rate isn't a concern for buyers in North America (other than how well the wineries down there can maintain their long-term viability). My comment higher up this thread about the inflation rate was meant to point towards some easily-imaginable operating difficulties for those wineries.

Reply by schellbe, Nov 15, 2009.


I was responding to the comment that domestic Malbec are not as good as in Argentina. Certainly, other CA reds, such as Merlot and Cabernet are substitutes for Malbec, so the Argentines have to worry about their price of the product relative to ours.

The point I was making was that the high Argentine inflation rate would tend to cause a depreciation of their currency relative to ours, so that their wines would remain price competitive to ours. This is true even if Argentine producers raise their peso price to cover their costs and protect their margins. A high relative inflation rate does not necessarily lead to a profit squeeze or affect their long-term viability.

Reply by dmcker, Nov 15, 2009.

Malbec is still a specialty, niche market, though the Argentines seem to be doing well in carving out what they can.

I'm no expert on economies in South America, but comments I often hear about things in Argentina run along the lines of 'the country is bogged down in economic and political chaos.' Since their currency is no longer pegged to the US dollar, there is some leeway through currency devaluation for an inflationary economy, and sectors in it, to maintain export earnings. But from the little I do know, their labor costs are still higher than in Chile or Brazil, and policy disarray and flipflops in the runup to national elections must mean that running any business there is certainly not headache prone. Critical alliance on exports in an economy where the GDP is sinking, unemployment is rising, and domestic ability to purchase anything including wine is fragile, must make for acidic stomachs there. Maybe that (and recognition of the likes and desires of a US marketplace essential to their business model) has caused their wines to head more in the bigfruit, lower acid, more insipid direction in recent years... ;-( Then there's the great news recently of muggings of wine tourists in Mendoza and other producing areas as certain local 'entrepreneurs' try to deal with employment issues in their own ways. That kind of thing does wonders for industry image....

Sophisticated business skills will make it possible for certain winemakers and wineries to survive, but it seems like a lot of attention that should ideally be focused on making better wines will have to be spent elsewhere.

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