AFTER TASTE TONY ASPLER Welcome to Argentina — the land of Malbec.
IF THE STEREOTYPICAL IMAGE OF CANADA IS THE MOUNTIES, MOOSE AND MAPLE SYRUP, ARGENTINA’S
IS TANGO, ASADO AND MALBEC. For those who have never had the good fortune to experience it, asado is a traditional Argentinean barbeque.
In her book Vivo Argentino: An Insider’s Guide to the Wines and Wine Country of Argentina, Laura Catena describes this essential culinary event: “All Argentine asados begin with a meat selection … a varied selection of cuts, as well as different sausages, including short ribs, flank roast, skirt steak, pork sausages and blood sausages. About 1 pound (1/2 kilo) of meat and sausages is the typical portion per adult.” A dining experience not for the faint of heart. And, of course, this is all washed down with Malbec.
During a week-long trip to Argentina in December, I visited 12 wineries, starting at Mendoza City, then down the Uco Valley to Vista Flores. I also tasted a variety of Bonarda (Argentina’s second most widely planted red grape), as well as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Tannat, Bordeaux blends, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Semillon, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, a selection of rosés, and some terrific sparkling wines (especially those from Chandon — Moët’s Argentinian operation) at bargain prices you would not believe.
But Malbec rules here. And these Malbecs, whether fermented in cement tanks, great oak foudres or barriques, are stylish, fruit-driven wines, reasonably priced so that Argentinians may enjoy them. (Note that annual wine consumption in Argentina is currently 18 litres per head, significantly down from 37.7 litres in 2004 and dramatically down from 90 litres in the 1980s.)
Here are the top ten Malbecs I tasted on my travels: Trapiche Terroir Series Malbec Finca Coletta 2015
Mendel Malbec 2017
As you go from winery to another, it is easy to concentrate only on the Malbecs. But I had an amazing experience with a Cabernet blend at Bodegas y Cavas Weinert in Lujan de Coyo, Mendoza.
Weinert’s winemaker Hubert Weber showed me an electronic copy of a Toronto Star column I had written, dated February 6th, 1988. It was a report on the Toronto Wine & Cheese Show and a competition held by the organizers: a blind tasting of all the wines to be presented at the show.
I had written that the “Best Imported Wine under $10 was Weinert Carrascal 1978, and our panel had voted it Best Overall Wine of Show.” I described it then as “a stunningly rich Bordeaux-style blend with ripe black cherry and chocolatey tones.”
Weber had a surprise for me. From the winery’s library, he produced a bottle of the 1978 Carrascal and opened it. Its colour was mature ruby and it had a spicy bouquet of soy, tobacco and plum. The fruit had a sweet core. It was beautifully balanced, with a lovely mouthfeel and ripe tannins. And it was still youthful! In 1978, you could get it for $7.75. Today, you would pay a hundred times that.
If I were to award “Best Wine of the Trip,” the honour would go to Zuccardi Finca Piedra Infinita Altamira Malbec 2015 from the southern end of the Uco Valley. Opaque purple in colour, it offered a concentrated bouquet of black fruits with floral notes and oak spice. It was full bodied, juicy but firm, and beautifully balanced with a long, lingering finish. ×