Argentina

Happy Malbec Day

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Today is Malbec World Day, a holiday I enthusiastically enjoy every year. It’s celebrated every April 17 to commemorate the day when Argentine president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento officially made it his mission to transform Argentina’s wine industry – probably the wisest thing any Argentine president has done.

Although today it’s Argentina’s star grape, Malbec’s murky origins are from France. One story says that hundreds of years ago a Hungarian named Malbec planted the grape all over France. Another claims the French dubbed it literally “bad beak (mouth)” since it never produced quality wines in French soil.

France’s loss was Argentina’s gain and now French winemakers, owners and oenophiles have flocked to Mendoza to make and enjoy vino argentino. In Mendoza alone, French-owned Chandon was the first foreign investor in the area and has had a presence since the 1960s, Carinae is owned by a French family, the Bousquet family moved their operations from Southern France to Tupungato in 1998, Alta Vista is run by French vignerons and Clos de los Siete is French owned and run by star winemaker Michel Rolland.

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Appassimento technique (laying grapes out to dry) at Masi, Tupungato

 

As an Argie resident and wine lover, I feel it’s my duty to spread the gospel of the country’s star red grape to thirsty ears. Bold, sexy and unapologetic, the country’s most famous grape is also a great ambassador.

Lots of the good stuff comes from one of the country’s most picturesque provinces: Mendoza, “la tierra del sol y del vino” (the land of sun and wine). The header photo was taken at a little slice of heaven (O. Fournier) in the Valle de Uco, a sub-region of Mendoza where the really good stuff comes from, and a place I will never tire of visiting.

If you’re not lucky enough to be enjoying bottomless tastings on the foothills of the Andes, the good news is that the price:quality ratio of Argentine wines is very high and there are many excellent wines exported to the US/Europe.

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My kind of line up – a tasting at Bodega Argento in Maipu (note: it’s not currently open to the public)

A few tips for the uninitiated:

– When in doubt, go Luján de Cuyo. If you want to pick by place, this is the region of Mendoza consistently churning out the top vintages. In fact, Malbec Luján de Cuyo was the first Denomination of Origin (DOC) of the Americas.

– Tasting notes: look for a characteristically intense, dark cherry color, bordering on black. For that reason wines obtained from this variety in France were once called “the black wines of Cahors”. Expect bold fruit flavors and spicy notes in the mouth.

– Malbec is not a shy wine and is on the higher end of the alcohol spectrum (13.5-14.5%) due to the constant sun those grapes get while on the vines (read: you will get drunk quickly on an empty stomach).

– Food pairings: The obvious crowd pleasers are steak/red meat and any other hearty food that won’t be overshadowed. But if you’ve got a sweet tooth, try some dark chocolate – my picks being Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate with Chili or Vosges Mo’s Bacon Bar. Treat.yo.self. Salud!

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