Wine: Malbec’s moment in the sun

Portillo Malbec 2011
Portillo Malbec 2011
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WEDNESEDAY next week marks World Malbec Day. In essence this offers a chance to pick up a few deals on this famous red grape.

Worldwide there are events taking place to celebrate Malbec’s current renaissance – from tasting dinners in London to Jamaica, to grape-crushing parties in New York, Toronto and Ottawa – and last year an English winery Chapel Down made the first English Malbec using Argentinian-grown grapes.

World Malbec Day gives me the chance to recommend a new book which has been hailed as a must-read for Malbec drinkers. The Vineyard at the End of the World: Maverick Winemakers and the Rebirth of Malbec (published by WW Norton, £10.99) charts the history, intrigue, science and a fair bit of gossip behind the rise of the Argentinian wine industry and Malbec winemakers.

Author Ian Mount has lived in Argentina for seven years. He might stay in Buenos Aires, ten hours’ drive from the heart of Argentina’s vineyards in Mendoza, but he has clearly done his homework. He really gets under the skin of the characters involved in making Argentina’s wine industry what it is today. As it is written for the general consumer, it mostly makes an interesting read for anyone who has visited or is thinking of visiting this astonishing beautiful country – or just armchair travellers who like an honest glass of Malbec and who want to know more about its history in Argentina.

It’s certainly a romping read: as Mount himself says, Argentina’s wine emergence is “a tale of greatness despite cultural prejudices, missed opportunities, institutional inertia and rampant corruption”.

Starting with 16th-century Spanish conquistador Pedro Ruiz de Castillo arriving in the oases of the desert slopes of the Andes, he takes us all the way through the story until we encounter the 19th-century Italian immigrants, and the decision to plant the first Malbec vines.

While enjoying Mount’s discourse, why not wash it down with one of my recommendations below? Mount himself suggests partnering Malbec with the classic choice: a good steak, but it’s a gutsy enough wine to match offal et al.

MALBEC TASTE TEST

Portillo Malbec 2011 Bodegas Salentein

(£6.99 each for 2 bts, Majestic Wine until 29 April)

Inky, dark, robust; a good-value Malbec from this very swish winery in Tupungato – winner of Decanter’s trophy for best Argentinian red under £10.

Vinalba Reservado Malbec 2011

(£7.99 each for 2 bts, Majestic Wine until 29 April)

Made by Herve Joyaux Fabre whose classic French background gives 
such elegance to this grape: lush, ripe, velvety, but with great 
poise.

Pulenta Estate Malbec 2010

(£13-£15, Woodwinters, Bridge of 
Allan & Edinburgh; Berry Bros & Rudd, www.bbr.com)

This estate has long been a real favourite of mine – make sure you buy the estate version, not the cheaper Flor. Gorgeous, lush, ripe fruit and incredibly smooth texture.

Vinalba Gran

Reservado Malbec 2011

(£12.99 each for 2 bts, 
Majestic Wine until 29 April)

Another superb effort from Fabre with a little more grace and length.