Anthony Rose: 'It took a handful of outsiders, treating malbec with respect, to reveal the wine’s potential for greatness'

The magic of malbec

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, it seems inconceivable that while The Sun was gloating 'Gotcha!', few souls in Argentina gave the malbec grape so much as a second look.

It was known as the uva francesa, the French grape, and mostly used for blending into above-average plonk. Robert Mondavi-inspired visionaries like Nicolás Catena had cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay on the brain, while the overseas investors who today populate the Argentinian wine industry only piled in during the late 1980s. So downtrodden was poor old malbec, in fact, that it was mostly pulled up to make way for apples and other more cash crops.

How things have changed. Malbec today is universally recognised as Argentina's signature grape variety. The potential was always there, but its secret was locked into the high, semi-desert soils of the Andes. It took a handful of outsiders, treating it with respect in the vineyard and cellar, to reveal malbec's potential for greatness.

One outsider to make a difference was Paul Hobbs. In 1992, the Californian winemaker employed by Nicolás Catena to make chardonnay, started modifying existing malbec vineyards with viticulturalist Pedro Marchevsky. Today his winery, Viña Cobos, puts out richly concentrated reds that walk a tightrope act, balancing the opulent dark-hearted malbec at its sweetest with the required freshness. The floral-scented 2009 Branare Malbec, Lujá* de Cujo, £21.59, thevineking.com, Reigate, Surrey (01932 853466), is just such a wine, perfumed, spicy, yet balanced.

Inspired by the likes of Nicolás Catena's planting at altitude, many wine producers started from scratch in the cooler, higher Uco Valley. Harnessing melted snow and sunlight, they've brought a new dimension to the malbec grape. Finca Sophenia for instance, makes a beguiling 2009 Finca Sophenia Reserve Malbec, at £11.45, down from £12.95, at winehound.co.uk. Chilean-owned Doña Paula, has moved its source of grapes entirely to the Uco Valley for its succulently savoury 2010 Doña Paula Estate Malbec, around £11.95, slurp.co.uk, wineman.co.uk.

It would be a shame if the fashionable focus on the Uco Valley were to obscure the increasing quality of malbec grown in its traditional heartland of Lujá* de Cuyo. At the Swiss-owned Finca Decero, the 2009 Decero Remolinos Malbec, around £13.50, D Bryne & Co Clitheroe (01200 423 1522), Flagship Wines, St Albans (01727 865309), is a joy, all vivid summer pudding fruit, a nip of tannin and vibrant freshness. Even before scaling the peaks of Catena's ultra-premium range, the 2009 Catena Malbec, £11.99, Waitrose, itself is a plummy red with excellent grip for roast meats. Achaval Ferrer's 2010 Malbec too, £115/ case, Corney & Barrow, corneyandbarrow.com, is a wine of impressive aromatic quality and red-berry purity.

While these are delightfully approachable examples of the malbec grape, one exciting development is a move towards great wines whose personality is derived from balanced, old vines grown in special locations. Achaval Ferrer's achievement lies in its three superb single vineyard wines, one in particular, the 2009 Finca Bella Vista, £240/6 bottles, Corney & Barrow, an exceptional red, whose intense fragrance and polished oak frame an intense, yet delicately flavoured, supple-textured red with an elegant loganberryish bite. Argentinian wine has come a long way in its brief modern incarnation, and the very highest peaks remain to be scaled.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...