Wednesday, 31 August 2016
I'd been reading The Vineyard at the End of the World, by Ian Mount, and learning a lot about what not to do with vines and grapes and winemaking. It's a fascinating story about the Mendoza region of Argentina. But even more fascinating is the wine that resulted...Argentinian Malbec. I have already posted about this book before.
For centuries, Argentine wine was famously unpalatable — oxidized and drinkable only by Argentinians who were used to the potent grape juice. The Vineyard at the End of the World tells the often tedious four-hundred-year history of how a wine producing region arose in the high Andean desert.
Inspired by the success of California wines, a couple of maverick enologists decided to reproduce the success of the Americans by planting and creating Argentinian cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. They wisely decided that to play on the world stage you have to produce what they value first. After all, if their Californian and Chilean neighbours were being taken seriously, why couldn't they?
But then, a few characters wanted to stand out, to make something truly remarkable. They discovered land planted many years before with a low-class French grape called Malbec. They recognized that it wasn't the grapes but the winemaking that needed to be drastically modified. The land was very suitable for grapes and the Malbec was proving to be a truly unusual grape, producing a strong, richly dark ruby juice which, in the right vintner's hands, could be molded into a superior wine. They didn't even have to plant new vines, only acquire the high mountain land and alter everything about how the grapes were treated and the wine was made. No small task.
It's then that book really gets rolling. Profiling the colourful figures who fueled the Malbec revolution — including revered enologist Michel Rolland, honoured American winemaker Paul Hobbs, and the dedicated Catena family — the author describes the brilliant innovations, schemes and politics that put Malbec on the map. In 2001, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec blend beat all contenders in a blind taste test featuring Bordeaux’s and Napa's finest reds.
I had been to a Malbec wine tasting and food pairing evening several years ago and even sat next to the guest speaker who described the rise of the Argentinian winemaking scene; but somehow, it didn't impress upon me the same need to get to know Malbec. This book did. And it made me understand and truly appreciate the effects that geography (and terroir), wine growing and wine making have on the outcome.
Fortunately, we stepped into the Black Pig, a tapas restaurant and wine bar in Kinsale, County Cork, and were hooked. They have 200 wines on their list at all times, 100 by the glass. We were overwhelmed until I spotted Alta Vista Malbec. It's one of the wines Ian Mount covers in his book. After reading their story, I was curious to see what it would taste like. So we splurged and ordered a bottle, along with several very nice tapas selections. (Highly recommended!)
From that moment on we were driven to sample as many Malbecs as we could source locally. It made for a fun holiday and we continue today to see what we can find. Somewhat reasonably priced, remarkably consistent and delectable, Alex and I found ourselves savouring the rich deep colour, the enticing nose, the velvety feel, and the long finish. Today, Argentina and its signature wine are on the top of every smart wine lover’s list, including ours.