This month, the wine world celebrates the malbec grape


Opinion: One of the early Malbec advocates was Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Article content

The wine world celebrates the Malbec grape later this month, a grape that’s transitioned from obscurity to prime time in less than three decades, but its history is far older.

One of the early Malbec advocates was Eleanor of Aquitaine. After marrying Henry II of England, she was crowned Queen of a sprawling European territory where she promoted the wines of southwestern France; the result saw Malbec become a favourite of nobility on both sides of the English Channel.

It’s thought the ancestral home of Malbec, or cot as it was known, was in Northern Burgundy. While it’s mostly found in the Cahors region today in southwest France, it’s fair to say that its early fame came from Bordeaux. It flourished as part of the blend under the Malbec moniker, thanks to nurseryman and marketer Monsieur Malbeck. Eventually, it made its way to Argentina in 1868 courtesy of Miguel Pouget, a French agronomist hired to improve Argentina’s wines and the rest, as they say, is history.


This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

The clone Pouget imported to Mendoza has disappeared in France, but its smaller grapes and tighter bunches mixed with high altitude and little or no rain have redefined the Argentine wine industry, albeit some 150 years later. If Mendoza isn’t the perfect place to grow Malbec, I’m not sure what is. Less than one per cent of organic matter in the soil ensures naturally low yields. Simultaneously, dry desert-like weather on the Andes mountains’ leeward side affords growers complete control over how much water is used in the vineyard. That means growing high-quality fruit is as much about attitude as it is about altitude.

Today, Catena Zapata’s Laura Catena joins a number of Argentine wine folks who have the requisite attitude to take on the titans of the wine world. And they’re doing it with some remarkable science. The Catena Institute of Wine recently announced groundbreaking research, irrefutably proving the existence of terroir and, more important, its persistence across vintages.

“Mendoza is one of the few places in the world with strikingly different wine terroirs within short distances,” says Catena. “For the first time, this study shows that the terroir effect can be chemically described from vintage to vintage in larger regions as well as in smaller parcelas (parcels). We were able to predict with 100 per cent certainty the vintage of each wine of our study through chemical analysis.”

Dr. Catena goes on to say: “Our study gives credence to what the Burgundian Cistercian monks called ‘cru,’ defined by Hugh Johnson as, ‘A homogeneous section of the vineyard whose wines year after year proved to have an identity of quality and flavour.’ Today, for the first time in the scientific literature, the French ‘cru’ gets a Spanish name, ‘parcela,’ because the wines studied at the Catena Institute of Wine were from Mendoza, Argentina.”


This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

It’s heady stuff for a country induced by foreign buyers and retailers to lead with nondescript, cheap, red wines that more often than not came dressed in clichéd labels of tango dancers or llamas. The new Argentina has so much more to offer as advertised by the aforementioned parcelas of prime vineyard sites.

This month we urge you to explore Argentina at all levels with participating private retailers celebrating World Malbec day and all Argentine wines all April. In Vancouver and surrounding municipalities, Everything Wine outlets will feature Amalaya Malbec, Bodega Norton Lo Tengo, Catena Malbec, Escorihuela Circus Malbec Organic, Santa Julia Reserva Malbec and Zuccardi Q Malbec.

Marquis Wine Cellars will feature Escorihuela Circus Malbec Organic, Zuccardi Q Malbec, Catena Appellation Vista Flores Malbec, Escorihuela 1884 Estate Grown Malbec, Luca Wines La Posta Cocina Tinto, Luca Wines La Posta Pizzella, Luigi Bosca Malbec Terroir Los Miradores, Luigi Bosca La Linda Malbec. Fially 13 Jak’s Wine Beer Spirits will feature Zuccardi Q Malbec, Septima Malbec, Tinto Negro Malbec and Finca Decero Malbec.

Good hunting.

Weekend wine picks

Doña Paula Los Cardos Malbec 2019, Mendoza, Argentina

$12.99 I 88/100

UPC: 836950000018

“The thistles,” or Los Cardos, are desert flowers known for their intensity of colour and super-sharp thorns, but their true meaning is that of a stoplight, as in stop and plant your grapevines here. In Argentina, that is at 1,050 metres on average above sea level on the Andes’ breezy side slopes. The colour is deep, those being a bright blueberry, black plum and blackberry affair with a long cool linear attack. Fresh and spicy, it’s hard not to see why this is such a fun wine to pair with hamburgers, beef tacos or even an Asian black bean dish. Ready to drink and well-priced. Stock up.


This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

Catena Malbec High Mountain Vines 2018, Mendoza, Argentina

$24.99 I 90/100

UPC: 7794450008053

Catena’s High Mountain Malbec is a blend of high-altitude, family owned vineyards situated in Maipú, Lujan de Cuyo, Tupungato and San Carlos. Two-thousand-and-eighteen is a good year, and you sense it as soon as the wine hits your palate. The precision you taste is a reflection of its mix of sites. Eighty-year-old vines in Lunlunta (Maipù) Vineyard lend soft, sweet textures. In Agrelo Vineyard (Luján de Cuyo), the Catena cuttings throw spice. The cold nights in Altamira (San Carlos) Vineyard lend bright, crisp acidity, and the intense sunshine in Gualtallary (Tupungato) Vineyard yields floral aromatics and structure. Simply a delicious mix of red and black fruits sprayed with umami deliciousness and finished with a touch of mocha-flavoured toasted oak. Turkey is an amazing match, but grilled steak is a more likely summer fare. Two-thousand-eighteen is Year 24 for a label now a million miles from where it began.

Ben Marco Malbec 2018, Mendoza, Valle de Uco, Argentina

$26.99 I 91/100

UPC: 007798068480539

Ben Marco is a range of wines from Susana Balbo made by esteemed wine grower/winemaker and current general manager Edy del Popolo. Post ferment, it spends 11 months in second-use French oak. The fruit is grown on sandy and rocky loam soils at 1,100 metres in Los Chacayes, Valle de Uco. It’s rich and black in colour, and the flavour is flecked black pepper and jarilla notes, lifted from the palate in the back end by bright floral/violet tones that electrify the finish. Drink or hold. Grilled sausages, spaghetti Bolognese or grilled pork chops all come to mind.


This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

Finca Decero Malbec Remolinos Vineyard 2017, Agrelo District, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina

$27.99 I 90/100

UPC: 00812105012105

Finca Decero started with bare land and a hands-on approach free of any traditional restraints. In fact, ‘decero’ means from scratch. The Malbec hails from the Remolinos Vineyard in Agrelo at 1,050 metres above sea level. The vineyard takes its name from the Remolinos, or whirlwinds, which keep the grapes dry and clean. It opens with floral notes and a mix of red and blue fruit. The palate is soft and seductive with more blackcurrant and black raspberry flavours and dense, soft tannins. Pleasing enough to drink now or hold for another two to four years and beyond. Beef tacos for lunch or a T-Bone steak for dinner.

Ben Marco Expresivo 2018, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina

$47.99 I 92/100

UPC: 7798068481062

Expresivo has been supercharged under Edgardo del Popolo’s watch, and it starts with a much higher percentage of Malbec. The nose has become more floral, and the fruit more red-black than black-black but still with a savoury undercurrent. The palate has an elegant, juicy flare upfront with ripe raspberry fruit, but it also comes with a fleshy mid-palate that entices and pulls you along to a well-textured finish. Impressive styling here and a clue that you could age this five to seven years with no issues. T-bone steak, anyone?

Recipe: Vegan French onion soup

Vegan French onion soup created by Chef Matthew Ravenscroft.
Vegan French onion soup created by Chef Matthew Ravenscroft. Violife

These days, embracing a plant-based diet doesn’t have to mean giving up past favourites. Thanks to a growing number of plant-based alternatives to traditionally animal-based ingredients, beloved dishes can be enjoyed with a vegetarian or vegan twist. This recipe created by Toronto-based Chef Matthew Ravenscroft of Rosalinda further proves this point by using plant-based Violife cheese for a spin on classic soup selection.


This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

— Aleesha Harris

Violife mozzarella-style shreds

Violife smoked-flavoured provolone style slices

1 baguette, cut into rounds

1 leek, rinsed

1 Vidalia onion, sliced

1 Spanish onion, sliced

1 shallot, sliced

5 cloves of garlic, sliced

2 quarts (about 2 litres) of mushroom or vegetable stock

Salt and pepper

3 tbsp (45 mL) olive oil

Thyme or chives to garnish (optional)

To caramelize the onions, in a 5-to-6-quart thick bottomed pot, heat three tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat. Add the combined onions, and sweat on low heat until caramelized. The onions should almost become an aromatic paste. Add salt and pepper, to your preference.

Add in mushroom or vegetable stock, and bring to a boil. To reduce by half to really concentrate your flavours, bring to a simmer. This will help develop some depth in there. Your broth should eventually be a bit thicker, which translates to big flavour.

Set your oven to broil. Once you feel the soup is right where you need it to be, as far as flavour, cover your baguette rounds with the Violife mozzarella-style shreds, and the smoked flavoured provolone-style slices. Place the rounds on a baking sheet with tinfoil, and a bit of oil. Broil until golden and bubbling.

Ladle up that soup, right into your favourite bowls. Add your melty, deliciously cheesy toasted baguette rounds on top, with a pinch of salt, and maybe some stunning chives, or a few sprigs of thyme.

4 servings.

Recipe match

Any soup is a challenge for wine, but this explosion of umami and cheese would be a fine match for a light, fresh white wine.

Fort Berens Pinot Gris 2019, Lillooet, $18.99

Dry and crisp with some attractive mid-palate weight, look for pear-and-melon flavours that will take on the cheese and the soup with ease.

Quails’ Gate Chenin Blanc 2019, West Kelowna, Okanagan Valley, $24.99

Big on freshness, look for a juicy pear-and-apple-streaked white with a twist of quince that will easily cut through the garlic, onions and cheese.


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.