The best Malbecs from the Global Masters 2020

While the South American powerhouse was rewarded in our competition, the Global Malbec Masters showed that other countries can hold their own when it comes to making exciting wines from this grape, writes Patrick Schmitt MW.

If you were in doubt as to the power of brand Malbec, then look at the range of medallists in this year’s competition. Not surprisingly Argentina dominates – this is, after all, the country that made Malbec famous. It elevated a sidelined French grape into an international superstar, but witness where it’s now grown, and the styles of wine it produces. We even tasted a ‘white Malbec’, then, as the sampling continued, tried reds from Turkey, Spain, and South Africa, all made with Malbec, despite those countries having no history of handling the grape.

This is because this variety is such a draw for wine drinkers, who love its deep colour, its fleshy dark fruit, spice, and firm tannins. It’s also one of those grapes that makes one hungry, so closely associated is Malbec with marbled red meat. Or maybe it’s the prevalence of steak that makes consumers so thirsty for Malbec? Either way, the grape is a global force, and, as a result, its supply base is expanding.

This should be good for Malbec, as new sources and techniques, as well as better examples, will retain consumer interest in this grape.

This is true too for Malbec from Argentina, where the diversity of wines from this single grape has expanded, from the rich to bright, and now from the white to the rosé and of course, near-black wines it’s famous for. Argentine Malbec has also moved with the times stylistically, as winemakers gradually show more restraint in their approaches, reducing the proportion of new oak, or picking a touch earlier for greater freshness, even though they are still crafting generous, juicy reds.

So what wowed the judges in 2020? Well, the sole white Malbec in the competition made for a novel, refreshing, inexpensive and well-made addition to the category. It was a fairly simple wine with flavours of apple and pear.

Among the reds, but sticking with the cheaper end of the tasting, it was a Malbec from South Africa that was the only sample to pick up a Gold medal for a wine under £10. Hailing from Linton Park Wine Estate in Wellington, it was loaded with black cherry and prune-like fruit, and creamy vanilla-tasting oak, impressing the judges for its quality and depth at this price level.

Further surprises came in the £10-£15 category. One of these was the quality of Malbec from Bodegas Norton that had been produced without any oak influence. Using grapes from Argentina’s Lujan de Cuyo, it was an intense red with layers of flavour from blackcurrant to plums, with fine tannins and a pleasing touch of dried herbs, and more than enough juicy fruit to make up for the lack of barrel-derived sweetness.

In the same price band, but within the oaked Malbec category, the judges were amazed to find that the sole Gold awarded was from Izmir in Turkey. Made by Yedi Bilgeler Winery, it was an intense style, with blackberry and wild cherry aromas, milk chocolate, and a fresh, plum-like finish, making for an opulent but bright style of Malbec.

Over £15, but staying below £20, and we had our first Master-winning Malbec. Given to Finca El Origen’s Gran Reserva from Uco Valley’s sought-after sub-region of Los Chacayes, it gained high scores from all the judges for its mix of creamy oak and ripe, fleshy, black fruit, and dry, cleansing tannins, all for a higher-than-average but still affordable price.

Moving beyond the £20 barrier, the Malbecs became more intense, and specialist, with a pair of outstanding single vineyard expressions from high up in the Uco Valley. Both from Trapiche, and forming part of its Terroir Series, they were equally good, with a lovely balance between fruit and oak, ripeness and freshness, while containing an appealing herbal, peppery note. However, the flavours and structure did vary, with the Orellana using grapes from the La Consulta sub-region, while the Ambrosia was made with bunches from Gualtallary. Attracting just a point score below these two was a third single vineyard expression from Trapiche, using fruit from a site called El Parel, which yielded a notably spicy style of smooth, fresh Malbec.

As for the other Gold in this price category, that hailed from Norton, and formed part of its Altura range, which, like the Trapiche wines, uses grapes from high up in the Uco Valley.

It was notable how good the blends performed this year, especially when they included Cabernet Franc, which seemed to give a fresh red-fruit character to the wines, not unlike summer pudding. Wonderful and relatively affordable Malbec blends containing this grape included Argento’s Aresano Organic sample and Aleanna’s El Enemigo – which gained a Master. Other successful complements to Malbec based on this year’s results included Tannat and Petit Verdot (Amalaya) and Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah (Domaine Bousquet).

Turning back to the issue of varietal Malbecs, we had some outstanding wines from Catena and Terrazas de los Andes in particular, with the latter picking up a Master for its Lican Parcel, which uses grapes from the Uco’s Los Chacayes, giving another endorsement for this high altitude sub-region.

But we also had a Master at this top end for a delicious Malbec from Doña Paula, capturing the quality of grapes from its Alluvia parcel of vines at 1,350m above sea level in Gualtallary in the Uco Valley.

Made in one of the coolest climates for Malbec in Argentina, this is a wine with masses of concentration, loaded with pure, intense black fruit, some bright red berries, notes of cigar box, and a tight dry tannin texture. It is an impressive, powerful red without the alcohol heat and sweetness that can beset such a wine style.

And it is another example of why Argentina is still the benchmark for varietal Malbec – it manages to pack so much colour, flavour and energy into its wines.

See the tables below for all the medallists from this year’s competition.

White Malbec

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
Bodega Trivento Argentina Trivento Reserve White Malbec Uco Valley &
Luján de Cuyo
Argentina 2020 Bronze

Unoaked 100% Malbec

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
Bodega Norton Barrel Select Malbec Luján de Cuyo Argentina 2020 Silver
Beefsteak Club Beefsteak Club Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2020 Silver
Fecovita Botham Signature Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2019 Bronze
Rigal Original Malbec South West France 2019 Bronze
Aldi Ireland Grapevine Malbec Uco Valley Argentina NV Bronze
£10-£15
Bodega Norton Colección Malbec Luján de Cuyo Argentina 2020 Gold
Bodega El Esteco Old Vines Malbec Calchaquí Valleys Argentina 2019 Silver
Bodega Malma Chacra La Papay Malbec Patagonia Argentina 2019 Silver
£30-£50
Bodega Krontiras Krontiras Natural Luján de Cuyo Argentina 2019 Bronze

Oaked 100% Malbec

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
Linton Park Wine Estate Linton Park Estate Malbec Wellington South Africa 2018 Gold
Finca La Celia Graffigna Malbec San Juan Argentina 2019 Silver
Indómita Irresistible Bío Bío Valley Chile 2019 Silver
Bodega El Esteco Don David Malbec Calchaquí Valleys Argentina 2019 Silver
Bodega El Esteco Blend de Extremos Malbec Calchaquí Valleys Argentina 2019 Silver
Tapihue Wines Clava Reserva Valparaíso Chile 2018 Silver
Viña Santa Ema Gran Reserva Malbec Maipo Valley Chile 2018 Silver
Zorzal Vineyards & Winery Zorzal Terroir Único Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Silver
Indómita Zarper Bío Bío Valley Chile 2019 Bronze
Bodega Estancia Mendoza Malbec Reserve Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Bronze
£10-£15
Yedi Bilgeler Winery Solon Atica Malbec İzmir Turkey 2019 Gold
Tapihue Wines Q Gran Reserva Valparaíso Chile 2018 Silver
Finca La Celia Graffigna Glorious Selection San Juan Argentina 2018 Silver
Bodega Trivento Argentina Private Reserve Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2019 Silver
Trapiche Perfiles Textura Fina Malbec Luján de Cuyo Argentina 2019 Silver
Bodega Norton Winemakers Reserve Malbec Luján de Cuyo Argentina 2019 Silver
Bodega Argento Artesano de Argento Organic Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2019 Silver
Finca Ferrer Finca Ferrer Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Silver
Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Malbec Colchagua Valley Chile 2018 Silver
Finca El Origen Reserva Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Silver
Terrazas de los Andes Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Luján de Cuyo
and Uco Valley
Argentina 2018 Silver
Zorzal Vineyards & Winery Zorzal Gran Terrior Uco Valley Argentina 2018 Silver
Bodega Estancia Mendoza Uco Valley Estate Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Silver
Doña Paula Winery Doña Paula Estate Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Silver
Trapiche Perfiles Calcareo Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Bronze
Trapiche Medalla Malbec Luján de Cuyo
and Maipu
Argentina 2017 Bronze
Mascota Vineyards Unánime Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Bronze
Fecovita Botham 79 Series Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Bronze
Bodegas y Viñedos Pascual Toso Estate Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2019 Bronze
£15-£20
Finca El Origen Gran Reserva Malbec Los Chacayes Argentina 2018 Master
Viña Aresti Trisquel Series – Curicó Costero Curicó Valley Chile 2018 Gold
Bodega Estancia Mendoza Single Vineyard Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Gold
Finca Ferrer Colección 1310 Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Gold
Finca La Celia La Celia Elite Uco Valley Argentina 2018 Silver
Bodega Malma Family Reserve Malbec Patagonia Argentina 2018 Silver
Trapiche Gran Medalla Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Silver
Finca La Anita Finca La Anita Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2018 Silver
Bodegas y Viñedos Pascual Toso Selected Vines Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2018 Silver
Château Lagrézette Cuvée Marguerite Occitanie France 2016 Silver
Algodon Wine Estates Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2017 Silver
Mendoza Vineyards R&B Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Bronze
Mendoza Vineyards MV Gran Reserve Mendoza Argentina 2018 Bronze
Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Malbec Maule Valley Chile 2018 Bronze
£20-£30
Trapiche Terroir Series Malbec Finca Orellana Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Gold
Trapiche Terroir Series Malbec Finca Ambrosia Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Gold
Bodega Norton Altura Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2019 Gold
Grupo Colomé Colomé Lote Especial Malbec El Arenal Salta Argentina 2018 Silver
Millaman Paya de Millaman Curicó Valley Chile 2017 Silver
Trapiche Terroir Series Malbec Finca Coletto Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Silver
Bodega Norton Privada Malbec Luján de Cuyo Argentina 2018 Silver
Bodega Argento Single Vineyard Altamira Organic Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2018 Silver
Bodegas y Viñedos Pascual Toso Alta Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2018 Silver
Bodegas Clunia Clunia Malbec Castilla y Léon Spain 2018 Silver
Bodega Los Helechos Los Helechos Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Silver
Bodega Argento Single Block Black Mendoza Argentina 2017 Silver
Viu Manent Single Vineyard San Carlos Colchagua Valley Chile 2018 Bronze
Wakefield/Taylors Wines Taylor Made Malbec Clare Valley Australia 2019 Bronze
£30-£50
Bodega y Viñedos Catena Catena Alta Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2016 Gold
Fincas Patagónicas–
Bodegas Tapiz
Black Tears Uco Valley Argentina 2015 Silver
Château Lagrézette Le Pigeonnier Occitanie France 2016 Silver
Doña Paula Winery Selección de Bodega Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Silver
£50+
Terrazas de los Andes Parcel Nº 12 Licán Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Master
Doña Paula Winery Doña Paula Parcel Alluvia Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Master
Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Fortuna Terrae Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2015 Gold
Terrazas de los Andes Grand Malbec Luján de Cuyo
and Uco Valley
Argentina 2017 Gold
Terrazas de los Andes Parcel Nº 2 Los Castaños Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Gold
Finca La Anita Magna Finca Luján de Cuyo Argentina 2017 Bronze

Unoaked Malbec Blend

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
Aldi Ireland Vignobles Roussellet French Malbec Syrah Loire Valley France NV Bronze

Oaked Malbec Blend

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
Viña Morandé Estate Reserve Malbec Maule Valley Chile 2018 Silver
Cono Sur Organic Malbec Colchagua Valley Chile 2018 Silver
The Show The Show Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2019 Silver
Vistamar Vistamar Reserva Maule Valley Chile 2019 Silver
£10-£15
Bodega Argento Artesano de Argento Organic Malbec Cabernet Franc Mendoza Argentina 2019 Gold
Domaine Bousquet Reserve Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2018 Silver
£15-£20
Aleanna El Enemigo Malbec Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Master
Domaine Bousquet Gaia Mendoza Argentina 2017 Bronze
£20-£30
Bodega Norton Lote Negro Uco Valley Argentina 2018 Gold
Domaine Bousquet Grand Reserve Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2017 Gold
Algodon Wine Estates Gran Cuvee Mendoza Argentina 2012 Gold
Bodega Amalaya Amalaya Malbec Cafayate Argentina 2019 Gold
Algodon Wine Estates Malbec Bonarda Mendoza Argentina 2014 Silver
£30-£50
Trapiche Iscay Malbec – Cabernet Franc Uco Valley Argentina 2017 Silver

About the competition

With high-quality judges and a unique sampling process, the Global Malbec Masters provides a chance for your wines to star, whether they hail from the great vineyards of Europe or lesser-known winemaking areas of the world.

The 2020 competition was judged over two days in November at the Novotel London Bridge Hotel, and judged by Patrick Schmitt MW, David Round MW and Simon Field MW.

The top wines were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stood out as being outstanding in their field received the ultimate accolade – the title of Malbec Master.

Please visit the Global Masters website for more information, or, to enter future competitions – giving you the chance to feature online and in print – please call: +44 (0) 20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at: sophie@thedrinksbusiness.com

Global Malbec Masters 2019: the results in full

All the medallists and extensive analysis from the latest Malbec-only tasting from the Global Masters, featuring the best samples from Argentina and Chile, and a surprising discovery from Spain.

The entries were judged on 7 November in The London Marriott Hotel, County Hall

The Malbec revival may be a recent phenomenon, but this single grape has already been through several phases. In fact, during the course of this century alone, it has swung to stylistic extremes, before settling into a happy medium, meaning that the development of Malbec has many similarities to Chardonnay’s changing character over the same period.

What’s the basis for such a statement? It’s an opinion formed from many years of Global Masters tastings for both grapes – and you can read more about Chardonnay’s style today on pages 68-73. As for Malbec, there was a point in the past decade when it seemed that being bigger was definitely better. This applied to fruit sugars, new oak percentages, alcohol levels and, it should be noted, bottle weights too. The result was something heavy in every sense, as well as deeply red, powerfully flavoured, tannic, sometimes slightly raisined, and definitely sweet to taste, mainly due to the amount of vanillin extracted from the brand new barrels. Like it or not, one couldn’t fail to remember it, and Malbec on a label became a shorthand for juicy, rich red wine. Ally that style to marbled steak, and you had a highly successful partnership that catapulted Malbec on to the global stage, but particularly in major wine-importing markets where red meat is consumed widely – so the UK and US.

As for the source of such a memorable wine style, that was Argentina, specifically Mendoza, and its sub-region Luján de Cuyo. This warm region on the outskirts of the city of Mendoza, home to the country’s oldest plantings of Malbec, was ideally suited to producing concentrated reds.

However, with time, the style and sourcing of Malbec changed. Indeed, a few years ago, our Global Malbec Masters was seeing a new type of Argentine red. This was a lighter style, sometimes with peppery flavours similar to Syrah from the Northern Rhône, or a hint of celery and spicy salad leaves, like rocket, suggestive of fruit that hadn’t reached full ripeness. This was partly a result of cooler Argentine climes, primarily a widespread move into the high-altitude Uco Valley, and partly due to the winemaker, who was intent on finding a fresher, tighter, sharper style of Malbec by picking earlier. A less structured red was also evident, achieved by reducing the influence of barriques and handling the grapes in a gentler manner during fermentations – less pumping and pushing of the must will lower the tannin extraction.

The shift in our tastings notes was marked. While common descriptors had included ripe, fleshy black fruit, creamy coconut, dense tannins, warming alcohols, and glass-staining colours only a few years ago, a scan over the judges’ tasting notes more recently would see words appearing regularly such as red cherry and plum, medium-weight, green pepper, and celery leaf. In a fairly short period of time the Argentine Malbec style had shifted from forceful red to restrained wine, and division among the judges was evident as some welcomed the brighter style, others saw the more herbaceous elements as a weakness.

So what about now? Following a day spent tasting mostly Argentine Malbecs from a range of sources within this country, and across all price bands, it appears that this grape has found a middle-ground. Yes extremes in style are still evident, but for the most part, the Malbec making its way on to the market today has ripe, juicy red fruit, firm tannins, a touch of toasty oak, and a pleasant hint of spice. It is neither too sweet, nor too lean. And it is identifiably Malbec, with its deep colour, and firm structure.

From my own perspective, I’m pleased to see Malbec has found a sweet-spot. Although I could understand the urge to experiment with a light, even slightly green style of wine, there are plenty of reds that deliver such delicacy, particularly with the fast-development of cooler-climate Syrahs from the New World. In my view, Malbec’s strength, particularly when sourced from Argentina, is its ability to create a concentrated, structured red, and one that can happily carry high-toast new oak. It is also this type of wine that made Malbec identifiable, and successful. In the same way that most consumers won’t choose a Chardonnay when they want a delicate white, few would opt for a Malbec when they desire a light red.

As for backing away from extremes in ripeness and oak-influence, that is a healthy evolution for the top end examples, where it would be a shame to lose the fresh fruit flavours from high quality grapes, either by leaving the bunches on the vine so long that the inherent berry characters get baked, or through burying their appeal beneath a wave of barrel-sourced scents and tannins.

With such an extended stylistic analysis concluded, what were the sources of Malbec greatness in our 2019 tasting? While this tasting was primarily a health-check on the state of the grape in Argentina, there were some other countries that surprised the tasters for the quality of their Malbec. With the grape’s popularity assured, more places have been trying their hand with Malbec, while its native home, Cahors in South West France, has seen producers work to create a richer style of red from the grape – one that’s more in line with the character achieved with ease in Argentina. By way of example, last year’s Malbec Master was from Château Lagrezette – a historic Cahors property with Michel Rolland as consultant. But this year, although not a Master, the judges were amazed to find a Malbec from Spain rubbing shoulders with respected Argentine names from Norton to Colomé and Salentein. Gaining a Gold in the £20-£30 price band was Bodegas Clunia in Castilla y León, which had crafted a ripe, dense, toasty, juicy and structured red to rival the finest in South America. It was also the highest scoring sample from outside Argentina.

As for those that weren’t from this Latin nation, there were some good Malbecs from Chile – with medals awarded to Viñedos Puertas, Via Wines, Viña Indomita, Concha y Toro, Viña Cremashi, Viu Manent, Viña San Esteban and Morandé. There was also a delicious example from Wakefield Estate in Australia’s Clare Valley, which picked up a Silver, as did, much to the surprise of the judges, an example from Burgenland in Austria, made by Kraft aus Rust, and loaded with plum and cherry fruit, along with a peppery spice, not unlike the wines from this nation’s flagship red grape, Blaufränkisch.

Within Argentina, it was notable to see the breadth of Malbec styles, with this year, the competition’s first ever white Malbec – a fascinating arrival to the category with an oily texture, and peachy fruit.

Among the Malbec Masters for 2019, it was impressive to see Bodega Aleanna pick up this ultimate accolade for its El Enemigo Malbec sub £20, with the rest of this year’s Masters all awarded to wines over this price point, and mostly over £30.

The tasting proved a particular endorsement for the quality of Malbecs being made by Bodega Norton, but also Colomé, Atamisque and Salentein, along with Trapiche and Doña Paula. Interestingly, the latter two producers, who specialise in isolating special sites and bottling single vineyard Malbecs, gained strong Golds for their expressive wines. However, the Masters went to Malbecs that blended grapes from across a broader area, lending the wines a touch more complexity perhaps?

Having said that, among such stars of the day, was the single vineyard biodynamic Alpamanta Estate, which wowed for its fleshy cherry and blackberry frut, as well as tobacco and chocolate notes.

Another Master was awarded to Fincas Patagonicas, whose Black Tears Malbec is soft, dense and just plain delicious. While for me, the ultimate expression of the day turned out to be the famous Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino. The wine, which hailed from the 2017 vintage, was very much in its youth, with masses of taught tannins, but also intense pure blue, red and black berry fruit, and lingering characters of roasted coffee, pepper and plums. Certainly a great Malbec, but also a fine wine that’s capable of standing alongside the most celebrated reds of the world.

Over the following pages you can see all the medallists from this year’s competition, as well as comments from the judges (who are pictured below), and more information about the Global Sparkling Masters, including how to enter.

The judges (left to right): Patrick Schmitt MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Andrea Bricarello, Jonathan Pedley MW, Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW, David Round MW

The results in full from the Malbec Masters 2018

If you want to know who’s making delicious Malbec right across the price spectrum, then read on – our results will surprise you, especially this year’s top scorer…

Malbec is one of this century’s most notable and lasting vinous phenomena. And, as with any success story, it’s natural to ask why the performance has been so positive. With Malbec, the explanations tend to focus on its close association with one nation – Argentina – and its equally strong link with one ingredient – beef, especially steak. But such reasons aren’t enough if one wants to understand the sustained demand for Malbec from major wine importing countries around the world. For that, one needs to closely analyse the taste profile of this grape, which is something we’ve done over the course of several years with our Global Malbec Masters, which see us quality-assess samples from this grape from a broad range of sources, with only a knowledge of the basic style and price band.

Having chaired such a tasting now on a number of occasions, it’s clear that one fundamental cause of Malbec’s widespread take-up, in both retailers and restaurants, is the quality of red wine it manages to yield even at low prices. This is a grape, particularly when grown in South America, that can produce reliably juicy, fruity, generous and balanced results sub £10 – something that we can’t say is true of other noble grapes, such as Pinot Noir (based on our Masters tastings that consider the character and quality of all noble grapes).

Not only that, but if one wants to spend a little more, and surpass the psychological barrier of £10 for a bottle of wine in the UK off-trade, there is a lot of high-quality Malbec to choose from, with the offer between £10 and £20 notably strong in terms of excellence for your outlay. However, it’s over £20 that the truly outstanding results can be found, while there are some fine wines from Malbec being made today over £50 that can happily sit alongside some of the world’s greats, from any grape.

Indeed, this aspect to Malbec, it’s ability, even when the sole grape in a red, to create complex, age-worthy, and concentrated wines, is something that deserves greater recognition. While it can make lovely, albeit fairly simple, reds at low prices, it is also a source of fine wine. The areas yielding such greatness, however, are not myriad – although with the development of new places in Argentina, they are becoming increasingly numerate.

But, if there was one notable learning from this year’s Malbec Masters, it was this: the crown for the world’s greatest expression of Malbec has been passed back to Cahors. This region in France, the native home of Malbec, has been, relative to Mendoza at least, almost forgotten about in the modern life of this grape – although not without good reason. Sadly, despite the suitability of this variety for Cahors, with its dry climate, and varied terroirs based on clay and limestone soils, the viticulture and winemaking in the last century for the most part, wasn’t conducive to great wines. But, our winning Malbec in this year’s competition was from an estate that was pioneering in the region’s turnaround. Called Château Lagrezette, owned by the powerful and well-financed former CEO of Cartier, Alain Perrin, this Cahors property has been dedicated to making fine wine from Malbec grown in this appellation. And, instrumental in realising this ambition has been famous consultant Michel Rolland, who has just celebrated 30 years of working in Cahors with Lagrezette.

Indeed, speaking to db following this year’s blind tasting, and not aware that his wine had been our highest-scoring Malbec in the competition, he said that Cahors had “been in the Middle Ages, but now makes beautiful wine”.

Château Lagrezette in Cahors was the source of this year’s top-scoring Malbec. Picture credit: alain-dominique-perrin.com

Rolland is, however, best known for his work with Malbec from Argentina – where he crafts and part-owns the Clos de los Siete brand – and sees both Cahors and the south American nation as sources of first-rate Malbec at a range of price levels. While he says that the limestone soils and slightly cooler climate of Cahors brings a Malbec with more freshness, key to this grape’s performance in southwest France and across the full length of Argentina, is the dry nature of the climate. Malbec is very sensitive to moisture during both flowering, and the end of the ripening season, and both Cahors and Argentina have continental conditions, ensuring that precipitation during the growing season is very low.

There are of course other places where Malbec can produce lovely results, including parts of Chile, Colchagua in particular, along with California, especially Napa, and Australia – we even awarded a top accolade of Malbec Master to Wakefield/Taylors for its example from Clare Valley. More of a surprise in this year’s results was a delicious example from the Aegeon, where Turkey’s Kavaklidere is behind a varietal Malbec of note.

Within Argentina, the quality of the Malbec is well recognised from the historic area of Lujan de Cuyo, where old vines and great winemakers are combined to great effect (particularly in the Las Compuertas sub-region, home to producers such as Terrazas de los Andes). But relatively new to the Argentine Malbec story is the Uco Valley, and within it, the emerging sub-regions of Alta Mira and Gualtallary, where high-elevations and particular soil profiles are creating Malbecs of extraordinary balance and concentration. Not only that, but as the vines age, there is more to come.

Maybe not reaching quite the same level of quality and intensity, but coming close, are the top wines from Argentina’s San Juan – a region best-known for big volume production, but within it, in the higher attitude Pedernal Valley, a source of fine wines too (proven by the Gold medal for the Pyros Single Vineyard Malbec in this year’s Masters).

But the other change in Malbec making, particularly within Argentina, is connected less to altitude, soil, and vine age, but the winemaker, in terms of their handling of the grapes, from earlier picking times to gentler extraction regimes and shorter barrel-maturation times. In general, the top names in the country are becoming more confident in the inherent quality of the Malbec being produced today, and are happier to intervene less in the cellar, but also pick a bit sooner to create a fresher less jammy style of wine.

In short, Argentine Malbec is still a powerful style of wine, but today’s top examples are less likely to smell and taste so strongly of barrel-sourced characters, and more likely to showcase pure fruit flavours, from raspberry to blueberry, than something more raisined.

Cahors, on the other hand, which was producing rather hard wines with some unripe fruit characters is, as yields are reduced, and average temperatures increase, producing richer Malbecs. So, while French Malbecs are bulking up, Argentine equivalents are slimming down. The key in either case is balance.

And, the top examples over the following pages are wines where there is fruit concentration and ripeness, without too much sweetness and warmth from high alcohols. Furthermore, while we embrace some of the more fresh, floral and red berry characters of well-made Malbec from cooler sites, where early-picking produces greener flavours, we were less likely to award top-scores. Of course a touch of spicy pepper, akin to Syrah from the Northern Rhône in a cooler vintage, can be a complexing element to sharper, fresher Malbec styles, but our belief is that this grape should not yield wines with crunchy green characters, even in small doses, and particularly at the top end – where consumers are looking for ripe, concentrated wines.

While Malbec from traditional sources such as Cahors, and new higher parts of the Uco, still has potential for improvement, our feeling is that the next stage in the stylistic development of wines from this grape, will come by blending Malbec with other grapes. On its own, the grape can certainly deliver plenty of fruit and texture, but other varieties could be successfully used to add a bit of seasoning to Malbec, a touch more complexity and persistence, as well as stylistic diversity.

For now, however, if you want to know who’s making delicious Malbec right across the price spectrum, look at the medallists from this year’s competition – featured in full, below.

Malbec Masters 2016: results and analysis

For a long time, Malbec has been the preserve of Argentina, with producers there taking the French grape and making it their own. But while the country still reigns supreme, it faces stiff competition from its neighbour, Chile. By Patrick Schmitt MW

072-076-malbec-masters-2016-aals-1
BECAUSE YOU, our readers, want to know about the very best from each of db’s tastings, our reports on the Masters series tend to focus on the Gold medallists and above (we reserve the term Master for the very top wines of the day’s tasting; that is, if there are samples good enough to deserve this honour).

However, it is important, particularly with the results from this year’s Malbec Masters, to stress how good a wine must be to gain a Bronze or Silver medal. Chosen to judge the samples are Masters of Wine who hold a specialist knowledge of the grape or region being assessed, which means they understand the subject intimately, as well as, thanks to their qualification, its context in the diverse world of wine.

About the competition

In a crowded wine-competition arena, the drinks business Global Malbec Masters stands out for its assessment of wines purely by grape variety rather than by region. Divided only by price bracket and, for ease of judging, whether the style was oaked or unoaked, the blind-tasting format allowed wines to be assessed without prejudice about their country of origin.

The best wines were awarded medals that ranged from Bronze through to Gold, as well as Master, the ultimate accolade, given only to exceptional wines in the tasting. The wines were judged by a cherrypicked group of Masters of Wine on 7 October at One Canada Square Restaurant and Bar in London. This report only features the medal winners. For more detail on the top-scoring wines, including tasting notes, see thedrinksbusiness.com

Furthermore, all of them have to agree that any particular wine is good enough to gain a medal – and MWs aren’t renowned for being flexible.

That means the following results do not reflect the tastes of one person who happens to love Malbec, but the consensus of an exacting panel, fully aware of how any single sample must perform relative to other wines at similar prices, whatever the grape. For that reason, those wines with a Bronze are better than average, not just in the world of Malbec, but compared with red wines in general, while those with a Silver medal are excellent, and it is only the exceptional that gain a Gold or more.

If you consider that almost every entry in this year’s Malbec Masters achieved a medal, you will be aware of how high the standard of wine is today from this grape. Not only that, but a remarkably high number received a Silver, even among the entries priced below £10, proving that Malbec is popular because it delivers a lot for the money.

To quote one of this year’s judges, Jonathan Pedley MW: “The tasting confirmed my view that Malbec can make lovely quaffable consumerfriendly wines.” Continuing, he said: “Malbec can offer joyous juicy drinking at everyday prices; I am sure that this explains a lot of the grape’s success.”

As for the style of wine that brings about this commercial achievement, he added: “A good Malbec delivers plenty of deep purple colour; attractive blackberry, blueberry and plum fruit; and a palate that is full and rich without being too tannic or acid.” Of course, the stylistic reference for the Malbec of today is Argentina, which has managed to adopt this French grape, craft its own distinctive expression, and sell it back to the Europeans.

And while Argentina dominates in terms of Malbec sales at present, other parts of the world are trying to cache in on this nation’s success with this single grape, particularly Chile – which has a longer history growing the variety than its neighbouring country.

CHILE REVELATION

As the results show, Argentina holds a significant lead in terms of medals, and dominates when it comes to Golds or Masters. Nevertheless, Chile is present at the top rung, with two Malbecs from Chile gaining Golds this year – one from Chilensis and another from Millamán. Such quality from Chile was a revelation for the judges, but for one in particular, it also served as a warning to Argentina not to become complacent.

Madeleine Stenwreth MW, who did her Master of Wine dissertation in 2007 on the effect of altitude on Malbec in Mendoza, said: “I was impressed with how fast the Chileans have improved the quality of their Malbec.” She said this has come at a time when “some Argentine producers are starting to take their success for granted… they been been too busy admiring their own success”.

072-076-malbec-masters-2016-aals-13Indeed, she observed how Chile is facing stiffer competition from Argentina when it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon, and, in return, Argentina is starting to see Chile produce stronger rivals with Malbec. However, the judges also noted that while Chile reached the high points, it also produced some disappointments.

“The few Chilean entries acquitted themselves reasonably well, but the country was less consistent than Argentina, and produced far fewer high scorers – but with far fewer entries,” said Neil Sommerfelt MW. Similarly, Pedley said: “The quality of the Chilean Malbecs was mixed: while there were a couple of very good wines there was a lot of average stuff.” Although relative to Argentina, the number of Chilean entries was small, it was not insignificant, prompting Pedley to add: “I was surprised by how many examples there were from Chile.

I guess that the Chileans have had a peek over the Andes and have seen the success of Argentinean Malbec and thought ‘Let’s have some of that action’.” Within Argentina, Sommerfelt noted the quality of Malbec from higher altitudes.

“The higher-altitude vineyards in Mendoza, such as Uco Valley and its subdistricts (Altamira/Gualtallary) contributed many of the higher-scoring wines, with more evident elegance and purity of fruit.” Stenwreth agreed but also recorded the success of other parts of Mendoza. “I was very happy to see that it was not only the much-hyped (and very worthy of the attention) Mendoza´s Uco Valley sites such as Gualtallary and Altamira that were stealing all the limelight.

There were some beautiful wines scoring Silver and Gold from the most historic vineyards of Mendoza´s Luján de Cuyo, Vistalba, Las Compuertas and Maipù. It is just too easy to forget the places where it all started when ‘the new kid on the block’ gets most of the attention.” Sources aside, what styles were getting the high scores? As noted after last year’s Malbec Masters, producers are moving towards a more restrained type of wine – one where the amount of new oak has been toned down to reveal the inherent characteristics of the fruit and the site on which it is grown.

Not only that, but vineyards are being managed to produce grapes that are ripe, but not overripe, while extraction procedures during fermentation appear to be getting gentler, ensuring that the wines end up juicy, not drying. Sommerfelt said: “Throughout the various price brackets there seemed to be less over-extraction and manipulation than might have been the case previously.

There were a good number of wines that offered attractive aromatic notes alongside the plump dark berry fruit. An element of freshness was noticeable in many wines too. As a category, the wines appeared to be less manufactured or contrived, and were more relaxed in profile and more appetising as a result.” This more refined approach was evident at the top end too.

“In the higher-price echelons the structure of the wines took a noticeable step up, with the best wines offering well sculpted, refined tannins as a framework to the beautifully aromatic, textured fruit.

072-076-malbec-masters-2016-aals-9There was much less evidence of the widespread overembellishment of the past,” he said. Nevertheless, the search for elegance may have caused some producers to go too far, and end up with unripe characters in their wines. Pedley explained: “In the search for more elegance and finesse I thought that a few of the premium wines had strayed into the ‘green and herbaceous’ aroma spectrum.

I can understand that at the top level there is a need to get away from the world of ‘jammy fruit and clunky oak’, but some of the wines have gone too far.”

Like Sommerfelt, Stenwreth recorded that: “There was less of the overextraction and heavy-handed oak management of the quite recent past.” However, she observed the challenge of striving for lighter fresher styles.

“Some wines showed how difficult it is to walk the very fine line of being slightly underripe to express the beauty of showing a slight herbal whiff of wild thyme and ruccola in the perfectly ripe cool-grown Malbec in Uco Valley. “Green character in wine is such a controversial issue among tasters, judges and critics, and should be much more openly discussed,” she said.

Continuing, she noted: “Still too many people expect Malbec to be the big and bold ‘macho-wine’ resulting in overripe fruit and loads of oak, especially at hefty price tags.” In essence, while the tasting showed that there is a drive to make less heavy Malbecs in Argentina specifically, some of the judges felt the pendulum may have swung too far the other way as the country tries to evolve its wine style.

Furthermore, as such changes occur, long-time Malbec consumers could end up disappointed, particularly if they buy a slightly herbaceous example when they are accustomed to a ripe, concentrated and oak-laden version.

ULTIMATE EXPERSSIONS

However, if you want to know which wines managed to deliver the complexity that comes from sensitive handling of grapes picked at optimum ripeness, as well as the juicy richness that has made South American Malbec so popular, then look no further than the top medallists in this year’s tasting.

Among those that impressed the most were the ultimate expressions from Pascual Toso, Trapiche and Doña Paula, particularly the latter two producers’ parcel series.

Such wineries are already adapting viticulture to the characteristics of their best, unique sites. And, as more take the same tack, the number of top-scoring Malbecs will increase, augmenting that strong base of good-value juicy wines, highly demanded for their sweet blue fruit and steak-friendly tannins.

But Argentina had better watch out – Chile is working hard with Malbec to create Master-quality wine. Indeed, we almost awarded the nation this ultimate accolade in this year’s tasting. For Stenwreth, however, such competition is what Argentina needs, because it will encourage producers to try harder. Afterall, she states, Mendoza is yet to realise its full potential with Malbec.

The judges (clockwise, from top right)

Patrick Schmitt MW,
Dee Blackstock MW,
Madeleine Stenwreth MW,
Patricia Stefanowicz MW,
Jonathan Pedley MW,
Neil Sommerfelt MW

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The Malbec Masters 2017: results and analysis

Argentina may have single-handedly tranformed the fortunes of the once-ignored Malbec grape, creating a global star, but other countries are getting in on the act, with expressions that impressed our judges, writes Patrick Schmitt MW.

The modern history of wine has witnessed many phenomena, but no grape has risen as quickly from obscurity to mainstream popularity as Malbec. Despite the variety’s global presence, just one country should be credited for this turnaround: Argentina. This single nation has reinvented Malbec, elevating it from a French rustic rarity to the sumptuous Latin blockbuster it is today.

But like the formation of new landscapes, change occurs beneath the surface, and Argentine Malbec makers are still busy behind the scenes tweaking styles while seeking new expressions. At the same time, other parts of the world are waking up to the power of Malbec, crafting their own examples in the hope that they too can win some share of this successful red wine trend.

About the competition

In a crowded wine-competition arena, the drinks business Global Malbec masters stands out for its assessment of wines purely by grape variety rather than by region. Divided only by price bracket and, for ease of judging, style too, the blindtasting format allowed wines to be assessed without prejudice about their country of origin. The best wines were awarded medals that ranged from Bronze through to Gold, as well as Master, the ultimate accolade, given only to exceptional wines in the tasting. The wines were judged by a cherrypicked group of Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers on 7 September at Bumpkin in London’s South Kensington.

Whether it is the stylistic evolution in Argentina, or new products from elsewhere, our Malbec Masters serves to identify the overriding winemaking developments concerning this single grape and, at the same time, the best producers at a range of price levels.

In line with the market, the competition is dominated by samples from Argentina, although we did see a growing number from Chile, while Cahors in France – the native home of Malbec – also featured. But it was the consistent quality of Argentine Malbec, particularly at entry level prices, that really impressed the judges, and explained why this grape and-country combination has become so popular.

Nevertheless, if there were a sweet spot, it was among those samples priced between £10-£20, where the wines were not only concentrated and complex but also relatively good value, coming close in quality to examples priced much higher – where, to draw on a cliché, bigger wasn’t necessarily better.

So what did the judges like? Certainly a combination of Malbec’s juicy, fleshy, ripe dark fruits combined with its plummy freshness, and firm but fine tannins. Malbec complements ageing in barriques, and the best wines had found a pleasing balance between fruit concentration and barrel-sourced flavours and tannins.

Where wines were marked down, however, it was usually because there was some jammy, or baked character to the fruit, or, conversely, too much greenness, with some wines containing pyrazines, evident in a whiff of bell pepper (although in small doses this character was favoured by some of the judges). Restrained styles, however, were rewarded by the judges, including those Malbecs with overt peppery aromas, reminiscent of Syrah from the Northern Rhône. While their aromatic complexity excited the panel, we did wonder whether the consumer of Malbec, who is, for the most part, used to ripe and rich expressions, would be so enamoured.

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