No dogs among these malbecs!
Graffigna Malbec 2015
San Juan, Argentina $13.95 14% alc.
I tasted a few Graffigna wines virtually (that is, I really tasted them, but virtually) with winemaker Ignacio Lopez. He says he’s reducing the oak influence to raise the profile of the fruit in his malbecs, and that’s a great plan. What you get in this very affordable malbec is dense, well-layered fruit that’s very well balanced with the fresh acidity. The tannins are there but not obtrusive.
Graffigna ‘Santiago Graffigna’ 2014
San Juan, Argentina 14.5% alc.
This is a limited-production blend of malbec (40%), cabernet sauvignon (30%), and shiraz (30%). Each variety spends 12-18 months in oak spends 8 months in oak. Yeah, yeah, months in barrel…. but it’s the vineyard work that most interesting here, as the grapes are crushed in small vats in the vineyards. Crushed by foot, with feet in boots. Winemaker Ignacio Lopez says the wine is not so much made in new barrels, but by new boots, as each pair is used only once to avoid any cross-contamination. This is a big, robust, and delicious wine that shows depth and breadth in the flavour profile, exceptional fruit-acid balance, and well-integrated tannins that are fine and sweet. It’s one of those rare wines that combine power and drinkability. It’s not widely available – it’s made in small volumes and not every year – but it’s well worth tracking down.
Salentein ‘Numina’ Gran Corte 2014
Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina 14.5% alc.
This bottle is labelled with a confusing array of names. Made by Salentein, it’s apparently called Numnia, but is also branded “Spirit Vineyard,” “Gran Corte,” and “Old Block Selection.” It’s difficult to know what to call it. But once you get past the label you find a really attractive blend of malbec (62%), cabernet sauvignon (21%), petit verdot (8%), cabernet franc (5%), and merlot (4%), making it more Bordeaux than most blends from Bordeaux (which tend to have two or three varieties). This is a stylish, well-structured, complex wine that delivers great harmony and balance. The fruit is concentrated and deep, and the well-calibrated acid contributes juiciness to the texture. The tannins are well integrated and this is drinking very well now.
Salentein Reserve Malbec 2014
Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina 14% alc.
This is a lovely, richly flavoured malbec that manages to be both robust and stylish. The fruit has real depth, with layers of flavours, and it’s backed by clean, fresh acidity. The slightly grainy tannins are quite firm, and you could easily give this another year or so to let them soften, but they’re perfectly manageable if you want to get into the bottle now.
Mi Terruño ‘Limited Reserve’ Malbec/Cabernet 2009
Mendoza, Argentina 14.0% alc.
A blend of 55% malbec and 45% cabernet sauvignon, this brings together two of Argentina’s stellar varieties. There have been times, in Argentina, when I’ve been stunned by the quality of the cabernets. And this also shows the staying-power of malbec, as this eight-year old effort delivers a concentrated wallop of fresh fruit -- fresh, not young, because the wine is exceptionally integrated and harmonious right now. Look for balance, structure, drinkability, and elegance in this bottle.
Alamos Malbec 2015
Mendoza, Argentina $15.45 13.5% alc.
This is a full-flavoured, medium-bodied malbec from the well-known Catena company. It shows some evidence of oak on the palate, which is nicely complex and consistent from attack to finish. The acid-fruit balance is good and the tannins are relaxed.
Ruca Malen Reserva Malbec 2013
Mendoza, Argentina 14.0% alc.
There’s a lot of depth to the flavours here. It’s well layered with well-defined fruit, and the acidity comes through as supportive and fresh. The tannins are easy-going. Overall, it’s a well-balanced, attractive wine that’s versatile at the table.
BenMarco Malbec 2013
Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina $20.95 14.0%
Sourced from vineyards about 1000 metres above sea-level, this malbec is full of rich, structured flavour that’s concentrated but in no sense overbearing. There’s a lightness to the palate that makes you want to pour another glass. It’s very well balanced, with well-calibrated acidity, and there’s the lightest nip from the tannins This is a lovely malbec, a welcome guest to any table.
Kaiken ‘Reserva Especial’ Malbec 2015
Mendoza, Argentina $15.95 14% alc.
This is a fairly opulent style of malbec, with rich flavours that unroll sweetness at their core and are delivered on a texture that’s smooth and slightly creamy. The balance is very good and the tannins are easy-going.
Pascual Toso Malbec 2014
Mendoza, Argentina 14% alc.
Look for less plushness and more dryness in the texture here. Absent is the fruitiness you find in many Mendoza malbecs, but at the same time it’s far from being austere. It really strikes a nice balance, with well-defined flavours, clean acidity, and relaxed tannins.
Pascual Toso ‘Limited Edition’ Malbec 2014
Mendoza, Argentina $16.95 14.5% alc
The tanginess of the acidity strikes you first, followed instantly by the richness, concentration, and depth of the fruit. It’s a great one-two entrée to the wine. Look for lots of ripe fruit in the flavours, good structure, and very good balance.
Luigi Bosca Malbec 2014
Mendoza, Argentina $18.95 13.8% alc.
This is a robust, sweet-fruited malbec whose balance and structure transforms it into a drinkable and food-friendly style. There’s plenty of complexity in the flavours, and the fruit is underpinned by fresh, clean acidity that gives the wine a juicy texture. The tannins are easy-going with just a little nip to add interest.
Catena ‘High Mountain Vines’ Malbec 2014
Mendoza, Argentina $19.95 13.5% alc.
This is a perennial favourite among many malbec-lovers, and it delivers quality vintage after vintage. Look for well-calibrated fruit that’s concentrated but not intense, and for very good balance and structure. The acid is measured and fresh, and the tannins are easy-going and drying.
SonVida Malbec 2012
Mendoza, Argentina 14% alc.
This is a very attractive style of malbec, that’s all about juicy-textured, ripe-sweet fruit. There’s plenty of complexity to go round, the balance makes it fresh and drinkable, and the tannins are firm and slightly grippy, but manageable. Put it away for another year to let everything harmonize, or drink it now.
Argento Malbec 2015
Mendoza, Argentina $9.95 13.5% alc.
This is your basic, inexpensive, entry-level malbec, and it delivers very good value. The fruit is consistent right through the palate, which is well concentrated and complex and decently structured, and the fruit-acid balance is spot-on. There’s juiciness to the texture and it’s very drinkable. This is what entry-level should look like.
Argento Reserva Malbec 2014
Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina $13.95 14.0% alc.
Look for well-defined and lightly complex fruit here, with some juiciness in the texture from the acidity. This is a lighter style of malbec that doesn’t deliver the power that many do, and is therefore that much more versatile with food.
Crios ‘Limited Edition’ Malbec 2015
Mendoza, Argentina $16.95 14.0% alc.
This is made by Susana Balbo, one of Argentina’s lading winemakers (and if you haven’t tried its sibling, Crios Torrontés, you really should). It’s quite a distinct malbec that’s all about complex flavours and balance, and not about the sweet-ripeness you associate with malbec. More of the flavours are located in the herbal part of the spectrum, which gives this malbec some originality. There’s some juiciness in the texture and the tannins are a little grippy, but it’s drinking very well now.
Sottano ‘Reserva de Familia’ Malbec 2014
Mendoza, Argentina 15% alc.
This is aged 18 months in oak (70% French and 30% American) and although there’s a subtle veneer of it on the nose and palate, it doesn’t detract from the purity of the fruit. There’s plenty of concentration in the fruit, but it’s less dense than many malbecs, and has a lightness of being that make it a more versatile malbec than many. The acid-fruit balance is very good, and the fine tannins are drying and relaxed. The alcohol is high, but it’s not perceptible on the nose or palate.
And finally…. a malbec from the variety’s spiritual home in France
Terracaë Malbec 2015
AOC Cahors, France 13.0% alc.
[A previous vintage has been in LCBO/Vintages, and the 2015 might appear later in 2017.] In a malbec world dominated by Argentina, it’s always a pleasure to come across examples from Cahors, its home in southwest France. Known there as côt, malbec is now more often labelled malbec because consumers outside France recognize it that way. This example is a joint effort by Frédéric Brouca, who has a vineyard in AOC Faugères and Pascal Verhaeghe, of Château du Cèdre in Cahors. Terracaë is sourced from a single, organically farmed vineyard of 20-year-old vines. It’s light-years from the common style of many malbecs that are teeth-staining, black efforts, dense in flavour, high in tannins, and tough to drink in their first five years. This one from 2015 shows good colour and plenty of concentrated and complex flavours, but it’s light on its feet and, above all, it’s ready drink now. Aged 18 months in neutral oak barrels, it avoids the oak influence on its flavours, but shows them in the texture. It’s a versatile and balanced wine ready to go now and good through to the early 2020s.