Wine Guy: Argentina and Malbecs


Sven Vogtland is the sommelier for the Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale, and a 13 year veteran of the craft who has served bottles in the sunny Virgin Islands and in far-away Vietnam. In this column, Vogtland will discuss the latest trends in wine, from what bottles and regions are blowing up to the newest cocktail crazes.

"This week, we're going to talk about Malbec, and specifically Malbecs made in Argentina. It's a grape that has grown in popularity over the past couple of years, primarily because the prices of French wine have gotten so ridiculous that people are looking to places like South America for bargains. Malbec is inexpensive and easy to produce, so even though not every Malbec you find is going to be a good one, there are a lot more good bottles widely available at a good price. It's because of all this that a lot of wine experts believe Malbec will eventually eclipse Merlot in terms of popularity in America.

"Malbec is a very smooth and balanced grape, with a notably great balance between the alcohol and tannins. Some wines are extremely high in tannins - they hit you and the jaw and make you pucker. Others have such high alcohol content that you feel in it your nose and throat. Malbec, however, goes down like velvet; you don't really get that obtrusiveness that other wines can produce. It's a very fruity, flavorful wine, with hints of blackberries, cherries and licorice, and comes out very dark, with a medium to full body.

"Because of its balanced nature, Malbec was traditionally used for blending with other grapes such as like Cabernet and Bordoux. About 15 years ago an Argentinian winery by the name of Catena starting growing Malbec to tone down their Cabernets. They realized doing this, however, that Malbec was highly drinkable on its own. The employed a well known, Californian wine consultant by the name of Paul Hobbes, who teamed up with Catena to produce their first single bottling of Malbec, which they began to export. From there it really caught on.

"Argentina's soil, particularly in wine making country like Mendoza, is mostly red clay, which meant Malbec was one of the few grapes that could very easily grow there. The popular opinion is you can just put it in the ground and it grows. The soil lends Argentinian Malbecs a very earthy, mineraley quality that makes them a perfect pair for robust foods. Argentina is known as beef country, and Malbec fits right in there. It's perfect with a thick, charred porterhouse, or steak a la plancha. Ribs, game meats, lamb, mushrooms, and hard cheeses all pair well with the wine. Typically, I'll serve Malbec with manchego or other sharp, hard cheeses, and grilled meat, which really pairs well with deep grill marks.   

"One mistake people make is that there's a misconception about Malbecs and other wines from Argentina that they are all low priced, decent quality wines. But in fact, Argentina has a number of super premium wines, including Malbec. Many bottles, such as the very highly rated ones from Vina Cobos, go for upwards of $200 in back vintages and $100 in current releases. The fact that there are very high-quality Malbecs available under $20 is just extra reason to really enjoy this varietal.

"Currently at the Ritz-Carlton, we serve Paul Hobbes, Catena, and Vina Cobos wines. You can find a nice selection of Malbecs at 17th Street Wine Store, Total Wine, and even some decent ones in Publix and Whole Foods. Good entry level Malbecs to watch out for are Vina Cobos' El Felino and some of Catenas' less expensive bottles, usually priced around $15."

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