Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Malbec World Day?

Why not? Enjoy Argentina's flagship wine

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The Internet has given us all sorts of fun, quirky and sometimes annoying trends: laughing goat videos, Harlem shakes, angry cat memes and the classic, Gangnam Style.


In the drinks world, many have recently taken to declaring certain dates in honour of specific sippables. March 27, for example, was International Whisky Day (although one site claims World Whisky Day is May 18). Open That Bottle Night was Feb. 23, and encouraged wine lovers to dig into their cellars and pop the cork on an older bottle of wine.

Up next is the third annual Malbec World Day (April 17). It's mainly an awareness-raising initiative/PR campaign spearheaded by Argentine producers to move some units, suggesting people throw parties and drink Malbec from Argentina and what have you.

Regardless, Malbec is a timely topic -- the Winnipeg Wine Festival is a couple of weeks away and is featuring two theme regions: Argentina and New Zealand. While the latter is best-known for light, crisp white wines, the big brooding Malbec is Argentina's signature wine grape.

Malbec's origins are in the Bordeaux region of France -- it's one of a handful of grapes that can be used in making red wines in that region (although it's typically a minor blending grape if used at all). Further south, the Cahors region's red wines do much more work with Malbec -- red wines from that region must be made of at least 70 per cent Malbec (often called C¥t locally).

But it's in Argentina that the grape has really taken off -- Malbec is unquestionably the country's flagship grape, as is reflected in the makeup of Argentina sections of Liquor Marts and private wine stores. Mendoza is Argentina's main grape-growing region, and Malbec is grown throughout. The region is tucked up against the Andes mountain range, protecting it from Pacific influences, yet too far away from the Atlantic for it to play much of a factor in the area's temperature, precipitation, etc.

Wines made from the Malbec grape are typically bright but deep purple in colour. Aroma- and flavour-wise, they're somewhat similar to Merlot -- dark ripe berry and chocolate notes -- but a little deeper, earthier and more intense. Merlot brings more blueberry flavours, for example, while Malbec trends toward slightly more brambly blackberry notes.

Most Malbec sees some time in oak barrels -- entry-level ($12-15) examples probably just a few months and mid-range/premium Malbec spending a year or more in barrels. This gives an already-dense red more backbone -- high-end Malbec has good cellaring potential, although most of what we see here is meant to be drunk within the first couple of years.

Food-wise, Malbec's rustic nature and naturally occurring tannin from the thick dark grape skins (as well as those from oak-aging) make Malbec a wine well-suited to grapple with big meat dishes -- steak, prime rib, beef dishes, short ribs, etc. Is it a coincidence Argentina has a massive beef industry? Probably not. It also works well with savoury and slightly spicy fare regardless if meat is involved or not: chili, stews, Tex-Mex and more.

I've never watched a Harlem Shake video, but Malbec World Day -- why not? Twitter: @bensigurdson

Trapiche 2010 Broquel Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina -- $16.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

Cocoa, raspberry and white pepper are front and centre on the nose of the Broquel. It's full-bodied and quite juicy, with pronounced raspberry and blackberry notes on the palate and just a hint of spice in there. There's some acidity to this wine that keeps things fresh (not sour), and a pretty herbal note on the medium finish that adds complexity. Try with fajitas, skirt steak and medium cheeses. 88/100


Rigal 2011 The Original Malbec (Vin de Pays du Lot, France -- $12.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

Inky black in colour, intense perfume, raspberry, blackberry and bubble gum notes reminded me more of the super-fruity Gamay than Malbec. On the medium-plus bodied palate, however, the focus turns back to blackberry, dark chocolate and clove flavours. While a bit lighter than its Argentine counterparts, the Rigal brings decent Old World character for the price -- a good choice for short ribs or prime rib. 86/100


Catena 2010 High Mountain Vines Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina -- around $22, private wine stores)

Inky black in colour, it's immediately apparent on the nose the Catena is a big wine -- the blackberry, tarry, black cherry, smoke and vanilla aromas are intense. It's a deep, full-bodied red that delivers purple/black fruit and peppery notes with a spot of vanilla (from oak aging) and firm tannins that grip your gums and turn your teeth purple. Drink now with a big steak or cellar for a few years. 90/100

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 13, 2013 E4

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