Malbec World Day is celebrated annually on April 17th. It was created to commemorate the day when President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento of Argentina officially made it his mission to transform Argentina’s wine industry, back in 1853. Enlisting the help of French soil expert, Michel Aimé Poget, who he tasked with bringing over new vines from France; amongst his selection was Malbec (better known as Côt back then). When France underwent the Phylloxera plague, Malbec was flourishing in Argentina and since then has continued to soar in popularity, today being considered as the country’s star varietal.
To mark the day we’ve profiled some of the famed Malbec producers we are lucky enough to have within our ever evolving wine range. Malbec has never been more popular in the UK On-Trade, and perhaps the wine estates below have played a large roll in the impressive grown the grape has seen. Let’s get to know them, and some of their wines, a little better.
Argentina has been making wine since the 1500s, tracing its wine heritage back to Spain, France and Italy, so it is no surprise that Salentein Estate in the Uco Valley has roots that extend back to the 17th century and The Society of Jesus. Not only did the Jesuits build an estate and farm at an altitude of 1700 metres above sea level, they also planted the first vines on the estate so that they could make communion wine.
The goal of this multi-award-winning estate, says Winemaker José Galante, ‘is to make exceptional wines while supporting the local people and community and encouraging local biodiversity.’ José Galante led the Catena Zapata Group for more than 30 years and worked alongside numerous international wine consultants. In the 1990s, he travelled to the United States to work alongside Paul Hobbs, now a consultant for Salentein. Whilst there, José started on a new path to create superior quality Argentine wines; to achieve this goal, he has studied winemaking techniques in Spain and France.
Salentein gained ISO 14001 status in 2010 and vineyard management is focused on sustainable viticulture practices. Native flora is employed as cover crops and all organic matter resulting from vineyard and winemaking activities is returned to the land as natural fertilisers. The wineries recycle 100% of the water they use and continue to make year-on-year energy savings. Salentein operates a reserve to protect about 50 hectares of native desert habitat in pristine condition.
We stock a number of superb Malbec wines from Salentein. These include Salentein Barrel Selection Malbec, Uco Valley, a deep red-purple coloured wine with a very intense nose with notes of ripe blackberry, blueberry and redcurrant, with subtle hints of violet. The silky palate has a crisp, balancing acidity which shows the fruit and floral notes backed by vanilla on the lingering finish. Barrel-aged for about a year in a mixture of new and seasoned French oak barrels prior to bottling, this wine picked up a silver medal at the Sommelier Wine Awards 2017.
The Salentein Primus Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza picked up bronze at the Sommelier Wine Awards 2017. It has an intense, complex aroma of red and black berries, spices, such as clove and black pepper; the palate is full-bodied yet remarkably well-balanced with plenty of freshness to carry the fruit. The grapes are grown 1,150 metres above sea level on low-yielding vines in the Finca El Oasis vineyard. Fermented in French oak vats with manual ‘punching-down’ of the caps, then aged for 19 months in French oak.
The Atamisque estate and winery is close by in Tupungato, the most northerly subregion of the Uco Valley in Argentina’s famous Mendoza Province. Today, the estate is owned by a Frenchborn, John Du Monceau and his wife, Chantal, whose grandfather had been a winemaker in Burgundy.
The modern winery has quickly become a visual icon of the region, the first you see as you drive into the valley on the famous ‘ruta del vino’, with its beautiful slate roof crafted to an architectural style more commonly seen in the French or Italian Alps. Beneath the roof is a beautifully laid out winery, arranged so the grapes can be gently treated, with gravity deployed to move the grapes, juice and wine rather than pumps.
The estate-owned vineyards, of some 70 hectares, are comprised of sand and alluvial soils overlaying the base rock. They are located at about 1,300 metres above sea level; here the grapes benefit from cool-nights which extend the ripening period, and an increased luminosity: the sunlight travels through less atmosphere to reach the grapes.
Philippe Caraguel is the Winemaker and Winery Manager at Atamisque; he has been working with Argentine grapes for twenty years. Philippe has trained in France, notably with Moët & Chandon, Maison Drouhin and Château Malartic-Lagravière. At his first post, he was responsible for the grapes selected at Bodegas Chandon. With the Serbal range, Philippe has perfected the art of crafting wines with beautiful elegance and concentration without the use of oak, preferring to concentrate on the purity of the fruit at his disposal.
To make the delicious Atamisque Serbal Malbec, grapes harvested in the Tupungato region of Mendoza, from vineyards over 1,300 metres above sea level, are employed. Production is carried out in the gravity-flow winery which allows the gentlest treatment of grapes, Juice and wine as it is moved through the winery. Unoaked, the wine is afforded an extended ageing period prior to release. The wine is an intense ruby-red, the nose shows aromas of red fruit and violet; the palate shows plenty of that same red fruit, namely wild raspberry and strawberry with splashes of plum and damson flavours, finishing fresh and juicy!
Bodega Vistalba was built between 2001 and 2004 on family-owned land in the heart of the Luján de Cuyo wine region, close to the city of Mendoza. The winery was designed with the wines Carlos intended to make very much in mind and whilst it pays homage to traditional winemaking, cutting-edge technology is employed. The entire winemaking process is completed without the use of pumps, using gravity to move the grapes and wine on its journey as with at Atamisque. Their commitment to traditional winemaking extends to the use of concrete vats. They believe that it provides advantages when making red wine: the most notable being the material’s thermic-stability, allowing for slow temperature change rates during fermentation.
The estate’s vineyards are located in the Luján de Cuyo province, within the Vistalba district, just 1.6 km south west of Mendoza and set at the foot of the Cordón del Plata, about a 980 metres above sea level. The 50 hectares of vineyards are planted with Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Bonarda vines, some more than 70 years of age. A traditional approach to the cultivation of the vine is found in these vineyards; with traditional furrow watering and long pruning in practice, just as was done 100 years ago. The soils are heterogeneous, sedimentary, alluvial soils, with clay loam and pebble subsoils; providing good drainage that allows roots to explore three to four metres in depth looking for minerals.
The health of the vineyard is closely linked to Vistalba’s viticultural approach. They avoid using pesticides and herbicides in the vineyard. Pasture intercropping is carried out, with rye being planted every other row; they use by-products such as marc and stalks mixed with goat manure in areas where fertility is reduced to manage the vineyards fertility on a plot by plot basis.
We stock three Malbec dominant blends from Vistalba. Perhaps the pick is the velvety red Vistalba Corte B, made with manually-harvested grapes. The vineyards are just under a kilometre above sea level and farmed sustainably; avoiding the use of herbicides and pesticides, a cover crop of rye is planted in alternate rows. The blend is 81% Malbec, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Bonarda; the Bonarda and Malbec vineyards are about 70 years old, whilst the Cabernet Sauvignon vines are approaching 20 years of age. The traditional fermentation in concrete vats is employed and the wine is aged for about a year in French oak barrels, 40% new. The wine shows prune, fig and blackberry on the nose, backed with notes of vanilla and cedar wood spice. The palate is full-bodied with ripe fruit, chocolate and subtle coffee notes on the finish. It picked up silver at the International Wine Challenge 2017.
The final winery we will take a look at is Alpasión. Alpasión’s goal is to make the best possible wine according to sustainable organic standards. To achieve this, they have hired a very talented and passionate young winemaker, Karim Mussi Saffie, an Argentine of Lebanese descent, whose family has been in the wine business for generations. Karim is fast becoming an influential and prominent winemaker in the Uco Valley region. The Alpasión Malbec 2011 was awarded 90 Parker Points and the Alpasión Malbec 2012 won a Gold Medal from Decanter.
The grapes used come from vineyards located in the district of Chacayes, Alto Valle de Uco. The design of the vineyard was done after extensive soil studies and electroconductivity tests carried out by Pedro Parra: Pedro is a terroir specialist, with a PhD from the Institut National Agronomique of Paris. A specialist in native flora and fauna, Dr. Rubén Oliva, was also employed to carry out a study of the plants that were present on the property in order to preserve the most exotic and rare species. It is their intention to have their vineyard and wine certified organic in the near future.
We stock the delightful gold medal-winning Alpasión Malbec. This robust full-bodied Malbec is made with hand-harvested grapes that are fermented whole in small concrete vats using indigenous: no pumps are used to move the wine. After a 15-day maceration and the malolactic fermentation, the wine is aged for 10 months in new French oak Bordeaux barrels; no filtration is carried out prior to bottling. Full-flavoured, with a classic Malbec palate, plenty of pure, ripe, red and black fruit aromas, backed with notes of vanilla and smoke; it shows a good balance between fresh acidity and supple, silky tannins. The label features the fingerprints and signatures of all the owners “because the people and friendships behind the project are central to who we are” says one of the wineries founders, “we wanted to be sure to convey the personal and hands-on nature of the project through the label. Plus, we only make wines which we can be proud of so we’re happy to sign our names to the bottle”.