Argentina's scenery is filled with grassy fields, grazing cattle, and spectacular mountain peaks. The country is also one of the more robust winemaking countries in the world: There are more than 900 wineries within its borders. No Argentine varietal is more well known than malbec. Some of the country's more distinctive bottles come out of Mendoza, the name of both a comely city and a province.
A Grape Climate Out of the Desert
Though known for gracious plazas, bustling cafés, and tree-lined boulevards, Mendoza is also home to another unique feature. Cool, clear water flows continually through wide irrigation trenches that line most streets, feeding those trees and other landscape plants. Without irrigation, first devised in the area by the native Huarpe tribe, the city—
with only eight inches of rainfall per year—would be in a desert.
Sweeping a terrain of high plains and foothills, with the Andes looming in the distance, the region's altitude is equally striking. While most vineyards in the world settle well below 3,000 feet, those in Mendoza range from 1,500 to 5,580 feet above sea level.
A desert climate and such high altitudes might seem like two strikes against grape growing, but in fact, the combo hits a home run. At higher elevations, the fruit basks in intense sunlight, while cool nighttime temperatures keep it from over-ripening. This allows the grapes to gradually develop layers of flavor while adding a refreshing acidity.
Meanwhile, the grapes develop thick skins against the strong mountain winds, resulting in concentrated tannins.
Not Just an Ordinary Grape
Although winemaking in Argentina stretches back more than 400 years, it wasn't until the 1850s that the country found a real foothold in this
craft. Around that time, French agricultural engineer Michel Pouget introduced the first French vines to Argentine soil—specifically malbec.
In its native France, the grape's role had been minor; in the country's famed Bordeaux blends, small measures of malbec usually joined petit verdot, cabernet franc, and carménère in the supporting cast to stars like cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Argentina provided the perfect stage for malbec. The grapes bunched in smaller clusters, creating a higher skin-to-pulp ratio for vivid color and powerful flavor.
Malbec’s Launching Pad
Malbec's talents as a single varietal didn't get a chance to shine until the 1940s. That's when the Bodegas Escorihuela Gascón Winery in Mendoza began bottling a pure malbec.
Founded in 1884 by young Spanish immigrant Don Miguel Gascón, the winery is the oldest continuously operating one in Mendoza, and the only winery within the city limits. Here, visitors can step into winemaking history, enjoy a guided tour, and raise a glass in the tasting room. The winery houses the acclaimed 1884 Francis Mallmann restaurant, named for the venue's famous chef and cofounder. Behind the formidable castiron doors, there is plush soft seating, velvet curtains, and a lush inner garden. Out of the kitchen come dishes that reflect the heartiness of ingredients (Argentina's famous grass-raised beef is a specialty) and the freshness of the chef's approach.
Argentina’s Passions and Symbols
The winery's grassy courtyard, often lined with polo mallets, is a nod to a national obsession. The Catena family, which took over the winery in 1992, embraced the sport. Current winery president Ernesto Catena built Gascón Winery's first polo field, set alongside the grapevines of its Agrelo vineyard. For the Catenas and the winemaking team, the sport is emblematic of Gascón's wines.
“I've always been attracted to finding a balance between elegance and intensity,” says Gascón winemaker Ernesto Bajda. “I think that's a perfect description of what polo is—elegant and intense. Finding the delicate equilibrium between the two serves as my inspiration when I am in the winery.”
What to Pair with Malbec
Malbec's combination of deep fruits, structured tannins, and vibrant acidity helps it mesh well with a variety of hearty foods.
- For weeknight dinners: Pour a glass of malbec with burgers, pasta with meat sauce, pizza, and stews from your slow-cooker. Or, serve the wine with a rotisserie chicken and sides from the Publix Deli.
- For weekend dinners: Gather friends around for a few bottles and braised short ribs, beef bourguignon, or roasted beef tenderloin with mushroom sauce. The wine also goes well with rich, bold meats like lamb and duck.
- Party bites: Malbec pairs well with flavorful cheeses like Swiss and cheddar.
5 Malbecs to Try
Pick up a Mendoza bottle from your neighborhood Publix.
Diseno Malbec: An old-vine style of wine that's richly replete with blackberry and red cherry flavors.
Trivento Malbec: This malbec shimmers in the glass with a carmine-red color and delights the palate with lively raspberry and plum flavors, and zippy acidity.
Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec: A touch of black pepper accents both plum and black cherry notes for a softer flavor as well as full tannins.
Alamos Malbec: Warm spice and vanilla tones beam through the ripe cassis and blackberry flavors, making this an especially good pick for winter.
Gascón Malbec: Black raspberries, plums, and mocha come to mind as you sip this velvety wine, along with the lingering tastes of spice, licorice, and black pepper.A blend of syrah, Grenache, zinfandel, petite sirah, and mourvèdre.
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