April 17th is celebrated as Malbec World Day. Malbec has become Argentina's signature wine grape variety, and it is the perfect wine to pair with Argentina’s fabulous beef.
To learn about Argentinean Malbec I visited London’s Gaucho, the premier Argentinean Steak restaurant located by Piccadilly Circus, to meet Phil Crozier, Gaucho’s Director of Wine.
Crozier recalled creating the wine list for the first UK Gaucho restaurant. “There were just 13 wineries available in 1999”, he said. “Now we have the largest Argentine wine list in the world outside Argentina, and we have 70 different Malbecs, the greatest choice of Malbec outside South America. We had the first Argentine wine list in the world, outside Argentina.”
Crozier says that “my naiveté helped back then: I was ready to learn but felt very alone. I was sneered at because of my championship of Argentine wine.” He feels he has since been vindicated.
“2002 and then 2006 and every vintage since has been outstanding. The Argentineans woke to their own terroir. There is no influence from the sea; it is all about latitude and height. Mendoza wine region is about the size of Spain, with the highest mountains outside the Himalayas. It is the largest wine producing area in Argentina and arguably the world. They have 320 days of guaranteed sun with little cloud cover and low humidity, and there’s just 15-22 millimetres of rain annually. Irrigation is necessary. They utilise channels bringing water from the Andes that were built thousands of years ago.”
Phil Crozier frequently travels to Argentina to source and make wines. He commissioned an exclusive bottling from Donald Hess, owner of Hess Collection winery in Napa Valley, Glen Carlou in South Africa and Colome winery in Argentina’s remote north of the country.
The estate grapes for Colome de Terruno Gran Altura are grown in the world’s highest vineyards, 3111 metres (10206 feet) above sea level. “I wanted the wine to honour traditional methods and so no oak is used. This gives a wine that has dense black fruits with soft and silky tannins,” Crozier told me.
In 2007 Crozier discovered a 6.5 acre Malbec vineyard planted in 1929. “I suggested to Gaucho’s owner that we bought it,” he said. “And we did. Our first vintage of Vina Patricia was 2008. We have 30,000 vines, all organically grown, and each one of these very old vines produce just enough grapes to make one bottle.
Malbec originated in France. It is one of six black varieties permitted in Bordeaux red wines. But its main fame is producing the ‘Black Wine’ of Cahors. This traditionally tough dark wine is produced around the town of Cahors, south east of Bordeaux, where Malbec is better known as Cot.
Since the popularity of Argentinian Malbec there has been co-operation between the two countries' winemakers, with international Malbec conferences alternating between Argentina and Cahors. There has been a subsequent softening of Cahors wine and updating of labels to a more new world appearance with new emphasis given to the Malbec name.
But Argentina is, in my opinion, producing the best Malbec in the world. And with their growing condition I can’t see anyone taking their place.
What is your favourite Malbec? Tell us on our forum.
Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle, Nook and iPad.
Peter May tasted Argentinian Malbec in the Gaucho Picadilly wine shop, 25 Swallow Street, London as a guest of Phil Crozier and Gaucho http://www.gauchorestaurants.co.uk