Story and photo by Manos Angelakis
Bottle photos by the producers
Malbec is one of my favorite wine grapes. Depending on where the vines are planted, a Malbec wine from Argentina for example can be a bold, spicy, fruit-forward red; and from vines planted in Chile, it can be an elegant and velvety wine. Malbec from its ancestral land, Cahors in France, is totally different altogether that is inky black, tart, with firm tannins, meaty with blackberry and plum tastes. It is the terroir that creates those taste differences; all the regional factors that define a wine including the amount of sun while the grapes are growing and ripening, the composition of the soil, the slant of a hillside, the proximity to water, the area climate and weather and the vineyard's altitude.
In the limestone soils of Cahors, Malbec grows at its darkest, most tannic manifestation, showing blackberry and plum fruit in its youth, and, later on, tobacco, coffee, cedar and meaty notes as it ages. This is due to the calcium in limestone, which helps maintain acidity late into the season and contributes to exceptional structure when wines are poured in the glass. The cooling breezes from the Atlantic allow the grapes to remain rot-free, while the warm daytime temperature allows the fruit to properly ripen. Malbec is known locally as Auxerrois, perhaps because the French term “mal bec” actually means “evil mouth” and which producer would want to grow a product that creates a bad mouth!
In Argentina’s Mendoza, where most of the world’s Malbec is grown, conditions are even sunnier and drier than Cahors. At the foot of the Andes, the Malbec grape makes rich, robust wines with plumy black fruit and sweet floral notes. With scarce rain and a forceful gale, the vines here have to dig deep into the alluvial sand and clay soils. The clay allows the vines to root deeply and therefore soak up more of the soil’s minerals. The sand provides good drainage, an important factor in keeping the vines healthy.
On the Pacific side of the Andes, in the Chilean valleys, the grapes have the chance to develop a full, ripe, fruity distinctiveness, while still building the needed acid. The big temperature swings between day and night help enhance this ripeness vs. acidity balance. The resulting wine shows riper, fruitier notes thanks to the longer time in a more intense sun usually at a higher altitude.
Concha y Toro, the premier Chilean wine producer with Malbec vineyards in both Chile and Argentina, creates some of the better Malbec wines on both sides of the Andes. The Chilean wines are sold under the Casillero del Diablo brand and the Serie Riberas brand; the Argentinean, under the Trivento brand. I recently opened some 2015 and 2016 bottles and, I’m delighted to report that the 2015 Reservas are exceptional and very well priced for the quality they represent. The Malbec vines growing in Colchagua Valley create all the characteristics of a good wine that will pair well with heavier beef and venison dishes and at MSRP $ 12 to 17 per bottle, one can’t go wrong.
The Trivento wines were very nice as well, especially the Golden Reserve Malbec 2015 that at MSRP $21 per bottle I consider a steal. I paired it with a Magret de Canard with a sour cherry preserve sauce (vishna) for myself and my better half and I’ll confess that two days later I repeated the dish with another Golden Reserve bottle and a great time was had by all.
To your health!
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