Movies & Booze: The finest of Malbecs

Jean Smullen with all you need to know about Malbec

A chance remark from someone working in the retail trade leads me to my theme for this week. A novice wine retailer asked me recently “why do Irish men love Malbec so much?”. I replied “almost as much as they love Chateauneuf du Pape” and she laughed.

That set me thinking and today I thought we’d feature this popular grape variety and take a look at Malbec from Chile and Argentina. Here we are in the dogs days of summer ;the throes of Barbeque Season, so what better grape to review? Throw that Rib Eye on the Barbie and enjoy a glass of one of these little beauties with it.

Malbec is a French grape variety, it is native to South West France and is associated mostly with the region of Cahors, where it goes by the pseudonym of Auxerroisor Côt. It was for a long time used as a blending grape in Bordeaux but fell out of fashion there.

In France. Malbec makes a dark, intensely coloured red wine with good firm tannin which can be a little rustic at time. I have to say I have tasted some very good quality Malbecs in Cahors but they tend to come from the premium estates, where there has been lots of investment and careful wine making.

The problem Malbec faces in France is that the climate is Maritime and the as a result Malbec has a hard time ripening. Transplant it to the high altitude vineyards of South America and you have a completely different scenario. Here the grape has found it’s natural home and the cooler evening temperature and warm daytime temperature means that Malbec grown in the Andes is outstanding.

Malbec was brought to Argentina in 1868 by a French winemaker and has now become the national grape of Argentina. Today most wine consumers would associate Malbec with South American rather than France.

Malbec from Argentina is a relatively recent arrival to Irish wine shelves. In 2012, sales of Argentinian wine were relatively low about 86,000 cases or 1.0% of the Irish market. Today Argentina is enjoying double digit growth; Argentina’s market share is approximately 2.16% of the retail market which equates to approximately 120,000 cases a year.

2016 Santa Rita 120 Reserva Especial Malbec €12.00

Stockists: Centra, Dunnes Stores, SuperValu & Tesco

The success of Malbec in Argentina has lead to plantings in neighbouring Chile. Chilean Malbec is an emerging wine style. At its best, Malbec has a deep, dense and dark purple colour.On the nose, it has floral aromas with dark plum and a touches of leather and spice. With lots of juicy fruit tannins are usually on the sweeter side. The wines tend to be full bodied and very textured.

For the third year in a row Santa Rita is Ireland’s biggest selling wine brand. They have just added two new grape varieties to their very popular 120 range, they are Pinot Grigio and Malbec.

Today we taste the Malbec which has lovely dark plum fruit flavours and a firm tannic kick making it a perfect match for a Barbequed medium-rare fillet steak, with all the trimmings!

2015 Catena Malbec €20.99

Stockists: O’Briens Off Licences, 34 stores Nationwide including their new shop in Waterford; Donnybrook Fair Stores, including Baggot Street, Dublin 4; Grand Canal Square; Greystones; Morehampton Road, Donnybrook and Stillorgan, Co. Dublin and Independent Off Licences.

According to Jancis Robinson, Nicolás Catena Zapata is the man credited with putting Argentine Malbec on the global wine map. Founded in 1902, Argentina’s Bodega Catena Zapata is known for its pioneering role in resurrecting Malbec and in discovering extreme high altitude terroirs in the Andean foothills of Mendoza.

The Catena wines are a special blend of vineyards at the higher altitude. The wine is made by fourth generation vintner, Laura Catena and chief winemaker, Alejandro Vigil.

This wine is made from fruit sourced from four different vineyards. The grapes are divided into lots that are harvested at different times. All the vineyards are found at high altitudes:

Lunlunta 3,018 ft (920m) elevation:Agrelo 3,117 ft (950 m) elevation:El Cepillo, Eugenio Bustos 3,593 ft (1,090 m) elevation:Gualtallary 4,757 ft (1,450 m) elevation:

Although Argentina has a continental climate there are two key factors that impact on the quality of their fruit, they are latitude and altitude. Altitude in Mendoza varies from 600 metres to 1,500 metres above sea level. The higher the altitude of the vineyard the cooler the region. For every 165 metre increase the average temperature of the vineyard decreased by 1 degree. In the cooler regions the tannin are more apparent in the warmer regions the tannin and spice are enhanced.

The warm days are replaced by cooler evenings in the higher altitude vineyards and this means the grapes ripen during the day, but cool down in the evening which is crucial to the quality of the wines.

This is a superb Argentine Malbec, it was fermented using wild yeasts and was aged for 12-14 months in new and used barrels. If you are looking for a pure and classy expression of this wine style, then this is the wine to go for.

Wine Diary:
Look our for ely’s Big Tasting coming up on Sept 15th. As autumn rolls in there are lots and lots of great wine events to look forward to. More details at the wine diary website