Magnificent Mendoza Malbec - A Primer
Mendoza is arguably the most exciting wine region in the world right now, with established names starting to bring the area’s latent viticultural prowess to prominence, while rewarding early adopter consumers with the type of value that only occurs as when demand hasn’t yet hit production yields, while quality is evident. The moral of the story is: jump on and ride the wave before it comes to shore.
Buy malbec, not Bitcoin
My parents’ friends talk of the days when Penfold’s Grange was 12 or 13 bucks a bottle, and they bought a case on speculation. Now’s the time to do that with Argentine wine. Speculate, live a little, love their wine a lot. Despite Mendoza seeming fresh on the scene, it had 1,000 ha of vine back in 1830, and even 45,000 ha by 1920. That’s now more than 144,000 ha in Mendoza alone, which is about three quarters of the country’s vineyard area. While the country’s been making wine for a long time, their socioeconomics only really allowed them to get their wine export act together in the early noughties, while the popularity spike really happened around 2008-2010, when the GFC hit and people still wanted scrumptious wine without a First Growth price tag. Since production increased exponentially to deal with unprecedented demand, but global markets have caught up, international demand has slowed, thus the price hasn’t climbed as meteorically as it could have. So there’s excellent value still, and that’s why we’re here.
Not just a one-trick pony
Argentina as a wine-producing country has built its exciting reputation on Mendoza malbec as its centrepiece, but keep probing and it’s just the beginning. Being one of five Bordeaux varieties, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine that cabernet sauvignon and its compadres would perform well in Mendoza. Lo and behold… they do! Malbec is the most important variety today, whereas historically it was cereza and criolla grande (which together still account for about a quarter of all plantings). Hot on malbec’s heels are tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay.
Mendoza is definitely the most important region for Argie wine, and there are many blogs about travelling there for the spectacular scenery, the juxtaposition of the deserts and the snow-capped peaks, but we’re only going there virtually so let’s keep talking wine. The region has some of the world’s highest vineyards, at an average of 600-1,100 metres above sea level. This altitude gives the hot region its edge, allowing sunny days for ripening but cool nights to maintain grape acidity, which means good things for wine flavour intensity and structure. With altitude, sunlight intensity also increases, and the impacts of this are being investigated, and watched by the world with interest. What else would you like? Ah yes, quality.
The climate goes along with very low rainfall (about 200mm average, less than half that of Adelaide, our driest city), which means necessitated irrigation (with pristine meltwater from the Andes, no less) but naturally very low disease pressure. Soils have very low nitrogen availability too, so vines don’t tend to go too nuts. All this means that the region is perfect, incidentally, for organic viticulture. Hand-picking is still prevalent, which means an inherent uplift in quality versus most machine picking practices. It’s also true that the higher you go, the better the result, so you’ll see a lot of bumf about how high vineyards are.
Mendoza has distinct winegrowing areas, essentially delineated by valleys, or oases, within the mountainous terrain. Our latest buying foray come up with the goods from the Uco Valley, which has some of Mendoza’s highest vineyards. Hello, high quality.
The country’s reds are most of what you’ll see in Australia, and of that, mostly malbec. You can expect Mendoza reds to have lots of ripe fruit thanks to long ripening and lots of sunshine meets high natural acidity and tannin thanks to cool nights. This means intensely fruity reds with bright acidity - super-punchy, and super-smooth. Big red wine fans rejoice! If you’re used to a Barossa shiraz, you may find the acidity higher than you’re used to initially, but you know the best foil for acid? Fat. Argentines are known for their love of steak, and it would seem rude not to celebrate that natural pairing.
We all need to take a card from the Argentines and drink more malbec, eat more steak and live our best life. Cheers, mofos!