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The ultimate crowd-pleaser: Malbec

Source: Irish Independent
By: Katherine Donnelly

If some grape varieties are instant friends, while others struggle to gain recognition, then Malbec is very firmly in the first category. Considering that Argentina has such a small presence on the Irish wine market, it says a lot about its signature grape that its name has gained such currency.

Malbec is one of those New Age crowd-pleasers like Pinot Grigio and Tempranillo, the grape of Rioja.

With a high drinkability factor at affordable prices, it can usually be relied upon to deliver plenty of lush fruit -- of the dark berry and damson variety -- often tinged in chocolate, and all wrapped in velvety tannins.

A lot of Malbec is made for early drinking, with the focus on concentrated fruit flavours. It doesn't have to spend time in an oak barrel to give it extra texture and round it out, but if that is done, and done well, all the better.

Some producers had a tendency to let the grapes over-ripen, leading to high alcohol levels, or to overdo the oak treatment, but there's a lot more effort now going into achieving styles that are less blockbuster, more balance.

Malbec made its way to Argentina from France, where it is still the main grape of Cahors -- the so-called "black wine", giving an indication of its reassuringly deep colour.

While in France it can have a problem ripening fully, in the foothills of the Andes mountains Malbec found the perfect combination of heat, light and cool to deliver the necessary ingredients for a satisfying glass.

Even in these foothills, vineyards are, on average, at about the same height as the top of our own Carrantuohill. At those heights, the vines get plenty of cool breezes and cold nights to allow for even ripening and they hold on to the acidity crucial for giving wine its bite.

Mendoza is the source of most of Argentina's Malbec, and sub-zones within the province, such as Luján de Cuyo, are marking themselves out as extra special.

Further south is the Uco Valley and its towering Tupungato, and further south again is Patagonia. Up north, Salta/Cafayate flies the flag.

If Malbec hadn't made its way to Argentina, they would have had to invent it.

What else would the country that eats more beef per head of population than anywhere else in the world drink with their dinner? And still leave them fit to tango for dessert!


Star Wine

Catena Malbec 2007 - from the highest of highaltitude vineyards and the great-granddaughter of the man who put Argentinian Malbec on the map, a solid, but supple wine with concentrated spicy fruit, streaked through with vibrant red berries, an underlying earthiness and a long, liquoricetinged finish.14pc alc. €14.50-€16. Available from Corkscrew, Chatham Street.

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