World Malbec Day and a grocery store Malbec

Andes & Vineyard Lujan d Cuyo Mendoza

A few days ago, I realized that World Malbec Day was upon us. I, of course, had just placed an order for wine to be shipped to me and had NOT included a Malbec. In desperation, while power shopping in my mask at the grocery store, I scanned the wine section and picked up a Malbec. A middle shelf Malbec. But we will get to that later. Perhaps it will be good? Regardless, it gives me an opportunity to dive back into Argentinian wine.

The origins of Malbec

Malbec hails from Cahors a region in Southwest France. There it is known as “Cot”. It does have a flashier name, “The Black Wine of Cahors”. It was a wine so dark that you could not see your fingers through the glass. The region sits along the winding river Lot. It’s really very beautiful and worthy of a visit. You can read more about it below. But today we are talking about Argentinian Malbec.

Malbec and it’s journey to Argentina

It was the mid-19th century when Cot came to Argentina. Domingo Faustino Sarmiento was the President of Argentina in 1853. Her hired an agronomist Michel Aimé Pouget to bring french vine cuttings to Argentina.

Map of the most important wine-growing areas in Argentina
Map of the most important wine-growing areas in Argentina

These vines were planted in the Mendoza region in the foothills of the Andes and this grape found a new home and a new voice. Today it is grown primarily in the Mendoza region, but it can be found as far south at Rio Negro (which is near Patagonia) and as far north as Salta. Almost all of these regions are inland near the Andes.

For many years these wines were made and consumed domestically. It’s just been in the last few decades that the rest of the world has been able to enjoy Argentinian Malbec.

Stunning landscape

Argentina is 2, 268 miles North to South. The north can be almost tropical in climate and Patagonia to the south is cold and windy with the far reaches of the Tierra del Feugo being subpolar. The scenery here can be stunning. In the North the red rocks of the desert are astounding. East tucked into a corner between Brazil and Paraguay you find the Iguassu Falls. The Gauchos are a cultural symbol of the country. More than a cowboy, these nomads herded cattle inthe region from Patagonia to the border with Uruguay. Then there is Patagonia and the over 350 glaciers, with perito Moreno being one of the most impressive.

Mendoza

The Mendoza region is the primary growing region, were you will find over 70% of the nations wine grapes being grown. This might have something to do with the fact that the region sits at the best latitude for wine (around 32.89 south. Consider that 30-50 degrees is considered wine growing regions. Here in South America, further north gets too warm and further south too cold. Sometimes in the Southern Hemisphere, this gets shifted to 28-46 degrees south.

Andes & Vineyard Lujan d Cuyo Mendoza
Andes & Vineyard Lujan de Cuyo Mendoza Argentina

Vineyards here sit between 2,000 and 4,000 feet above sea level. The Andes tower above them protecting them from wind and rain coming from the Pacific over Chile. The mountains create a rain shadow, so the grapes stay dry, with no worries of mildew. The Andes snowmelt provides ample irrigation for the vineyards. Nighttime temperatures drop due to the dryness and are perfect for slow ripening and keeping acid in the grapes.

The Zonda Winds

On the downside, the Zonda winds, that travel up from the Pacific, over Chile and then down the Andes into Argentina in the spring and summer, can damage leaves and fruit. In Argentina they call it Huayrapuca which translates to “the witches wind”. You might think of it as a souped up version of Provençe’s Mistral Wind.

Wine Classifications in Argentina

There are 2 DOCs (Denominación de origen controlada) in the Mendoza region. They are in fact, the only 2 DOC’s in Argentina. These are the Luján de Cuyo DOC and the San Rafael DOC. This system is young and is still in it developmental stages.

On to our wine…

Gaucho Spur Espuela del Gaucho Mendoza 2018 Malbec Reserve

Malbec from Argentina Espuela Del Gaucho
Malbec from Argentina Espuela Del Gaucho

The name sounds great right! The label says “Case Select No. 0033” and is signed by Winemaker Johnson Scutt. So let’s dig deeper.

The wine is imported by WX Brands. They have a portfolio with a wide variety of wines that include Chronic Cellars from Paso Robles and Baileyana from Australia’s Edna Valley. They also have a variety of exclusive brands from around the globe from Chile, Italy, New Zealand, France, Germany, Spain, and in the US from Santa Barbara, Napa and Oregon. Gaucho Spur is one of their wines from Argentina. There is nothing more than a label shot in the portfolio.

Here’s what the label had to say:

A keeper of the grasslands, defender of the defenseless, the most passionate of lovers , and charming combatant, the South American Gaucho is a man of heavy manners and tall reputation. He rides by saddle and spur, protector of the fruits of the land.

Our Limited Edition Reserve Malbec is a superior wine hailing from vineyards located high on the mountains of Mendoza. This renowned region brings you stunning varietal character through luxuriously rich and concentrated fruit flavors. Like the Gaucho’s dominant character, this wine is reputably abundant with flavors of black cherry and blueberry. Notes of raspberry and modest toast aromas carry this wine of pride and passion. Will stand on it’s own or alongside grilled rack of lamb with pepper and rosemary spice rub.

On the bottle Gaucho Spur – Espuela del Goucho 2018 Reserve Malbec.

Johnson Scutt, Winemaker

So I went to look up the winemaker. I found him listed as a winemaker for a company called Revel Wine. He deals with the Southern Hemisphere and they call him “The Flying Winemaker”. He grew up on his family’s wine making estate in New Zealand, got a degree in Wine Science and traveled the world. They note that he joined them as the Director of Sourcing and is “devoted to finding and delivering honest varietal expression for the best value.” That’s all I’ve got. That’s as far down the rabbit hole as I could find anything.

It’s not the type of wine I like to drink. I usually want a bit more of a story, to hear about the actual vineyard. I like farm to table and vine to glass if I can do it! But desperate times…. Anyway, for just $16.99, it gave me an opportunity to explore Argentina!

Pairing the Malbec from Argentina

We paired it with steak. When I think Malbec from Argentina, I think Gauchos. So I rubbed the steak with cracked black pepper, fresh rosemary, dried sage and paprika. I roasted some potatoes in olive oil and herbs and made a salad of zucchini ribbons with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and sage blossoms.

  • Herb encrusted steak, roasted potatoes and zucchini ribbon salad with Malbec Espuela Del Gaucho
  • World Malbec Day with a Espuela del Gaucho Malbec from Mendoza Argentina

The wine went perfectly. It was not a show stopper, but it was fine as a table wine to accompany this meal. It was approachable and smooth with just the right amount of tannins.

I look forward to another occasion for diving in and further exploring wines from Argentina.

For more information on the Wines of Argentina:

Of course, we’ve written about Malbec before, but not always from Argentina:

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Robin Renken CSW (photo credit RuBen Permel)

Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.

When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.

Tasting blind – globetrotting at home

Table set for a blind tasting

We gathered a bakers dozen of folks for a blind tasting of 3 white wines and 3 reds. There were aroma jars and tasting sheets and lots of glasses! After the reveal for each, we had small bites to pair with each of the wines. People discovered varieties and places they did not know they liked. Here’s the run down on the wines we tasted.

The White Wines

When choosing these wines, we didn’t want to pick wines everyone was already familiar with and we also wanted them to be from a range of places around the globe. Without realizing it at first, we had chosen three wines, with somewhat similar profiles, which made the guessing a bit harder. Here are our 3 white wines.

White Wine #1 Carhartt 2018 Sauvignon Blanc

Carhartt 2018 Savignon Blanc bottle shot with apple, lemon zest and honeydew melon
Carhartt 2018 Savignon Blanc

This wine is from California, Santa Barbara Country and more specifically from the Santa Ynez Valley. It hails from 2 vineyards, the Carhartt Vineyard in Santa Ynez (60%), and Grassini Vineyard located in Happy Canyon (40%). Carhartt is great about the deets on their labels: 100% Savignon Blanc, Clone 1 on 101-14 rootstock, vertical trellis system, sustainably farmed, fermentation in both oak and stainless steel, cooperage :6 months in neutral oak and stainless steel 50% each.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

We set out scent jars for this wine that included pear, green apple, lemon zest and honeydew melon. We paired this with herbed goat cheese on crostini.

This is a great summer sipper sitting at 12.5% alcohol, it will drink fresh through 2022 and can age beyond that. They made 900 cases of this wine and it will set you back $25.00.

About Carhartt

And yes….this is the same Carhartt that you see on work wear. They family had a ranch in the Santa Ynez valley that Mike and his family decided to grow wine grapes on. They still have some livestock and they work the ranch and vineyard. Here is a link to a video that will give you a feel for Carhartt.

Carhartt Hand Made Films Presents: Carhartt Vineyard

You can find their tasting room in Los Olivos at 2939 Grand Ave If you have visited before, know that they are no longer in the tiniest tasting room at the north end of Grand Ave. You can find them in the new larger spot across the street about a block south.

2939 Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441
Ph #: 805.693.5100
Open daily 11am-6pm
No reservations. First-come, first-serve.
Closed only on Christmas Day

White Wine #2 Spier 2017 Vintage Selection Chenin Blanc

Spier 2017 Vintage Selection Chenin Blanc
Spier 2017 Vintage Selection Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc hails form the Loire Valley in France. While it is grown in France and elsewhere, this is a variety that has become most notable in South Africa, where locally they refer to it as “Steen”.

Spier Wine Farm

This wine is from South Africa from Spier Wine Farm which dates back to 1692. The fruit comes from the Western Cape in the Breede River and Coastal regions. For a video about this winery…

A visit to Spier Wine Farm and Hotel

More details: alluvial, well-drained and aerated soils with decomposed granite from the mountain foothills. Grapes are both trellised and bush vines (head pruned). They hand harvest, destem and slightly crush before pressing. There is a bit of skin contact then they let the free run juic settle in tanks overnight. In the morning they rack from the lees and innoculate with yeast strains (so this is not a native yeast wine). They let the wine mature on the fine lees for 3 months to add body. We could see the results of this in the richer fuller mouthfeel of this wine.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

Fragrance jars for this wine included pear, peach, vanilla beans and a mango/guava/passion fruit jam, as there were notes of tropical fruit and green guava in the wine. We paired this with two different bites, a cracker with brie and a dab of the mango/guava/passion fruit wine as well as smoked trout on a baguette slice with either a russian pickle or a cucumber slice. (Here we were lucky that one of our guests had recently been fishing and caught a trout and another had taken that trout and smoked it! Thank you for this great bite to pair with this wine!)

You can look for this wine locally as it is widely distributed. It sits at a higher alcohol level than the Sav Blanc at 14.5% and you can find it for around $18.00.

Here is a video to give you a little more information on this South african Winery. https://www.spier.co.za/

White Wine #3 Martin Codax Albariño

Martin Codáx 2016 Albarino from Rias Baixas Spain with pear and green apple
Martin Codáx 2016 Albarino from Rias Baixas Spain

We headed to another country for our final white wine. This is an Albariño from Spain’s Rias Baixas region. Michael actually tasted this wine last year at a session at WBC18 on Rias Baixas.

Rias Baixas

The region of Rias Baixas, if you are unfamiliar, is on the coast of Spain above Portugal. The area is known as Galacia. Most grapes here are grown on pergolas, and the region is green and lush. This wine comes from Val do Salnés, which runs along the coast south of the Ria de Arousa. This area is known as the birthplace of the Albariño grape.

Bodegas Martin Códax was founded in 1986 and was named after the most known Galacian troubadour whose medieval poems, the oldest in the Galician-Portuguese language, have survived to the present. In the poems, the troubadour sings to love, the sea and the coastline.

http://www.martincodax.com/en/

The winemaker for Martin Códax is Katia Alvarez. That she is a woman is unsuprising in Spain’s Rias Baixas region, where roughtly half of the winemakers are female.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

The scent jars for this wine were simply, pear, green apple and the mango/guava/passion fruit jam (this time for the passion fruit). We paired this with a slice of Guyere and a slice of pear. It sits at 13% abv and runs about $16. Widely distributed, this is a fairly easy to find wine.

Find out more about this beautiful wine region by visiting the Rias Baixas site.

The Red Wines

When looking to red wines, we again wanted to go a bit out of the box, but not too far. Here though, the wines that we chose had flavor profiles that varied quite a bit so it was easier to differentiate the wines. All of these wines were international varieties that have ventured out from their homeland.

Red Wine #1 Carhartt 2016 Estate Sangiovese

Carhartt 2016 Estate Sangiovese with wet stones, strawberries, black tea, clove, and cedar plank
Carhartt 2016 Estate Sangiovese

We spoke earlier about Carhartt. We have been fans of Carhartt for awhile and on two separate occasions were able to visit the ranch. Once for a wine dinner (which was a blast) and once to take a tour with Joe, who at the time ran their wine club. We walked the Hilltop vineyard and he pointed out the Sangiovese on the 11 Oaks vineyard across the way.

Sangiovese? Think Chianti

This is a Sangiovese, the famous Italian variety that you might think of as Chianti. You remember the wine in those straw wrapped bottles?

The Geeky bits: 100% Sangiovese from 11 Oaks Vineyard in Santa Barbara’s Santa Ynez Valley. Fontodi & isole e olena clones that are own rooted, sustainably farmed, fermented in small lots with a cold soak, 18 months in barrel 25% of which is new. Unfined and unfiltered (see Zeina, that was the floaty stuff!)

Aromas, flavors and pairings

Jars for this included: wet stone, wild raspberry jam (couldn’t find wild raspberries), black tea, cedar plank, clove and strawberry. We paired this with an Asigo cheese topped with a bit of prosciutto and a touch of raspberry jam.

Asiago Proscuitto and raspberry jam
Asiago Proscuitto and raspberry jam appetizer

They made just 565 cases of this wine, it sits at 13.6% abv and is a crowd pleaser. It is medium to light bodied, so lots of folks guessed it was a Pinot Noir. It will drink well through 2029 and was the most expensive wine we poured at $40 per bottle.

Red wine #2 Gascon Malbec Reserve 2015

Gascón 2015 Reserva Malbec from Argentina with blackberries, plum and spice
Gascón 2015 Reserva Malbec from Argentina

This grape is a little more well traveled. Malbec is originally from Cahors in France where it is known as “the black wine of Cahors”. Long ago it travelled to Argentina where it found it’s voice. In Cahors he dressed in black, in Argentina he wears purple and red!

Don Miguel Gascón Wines

This particular wine is from Mendoza where more than 70% of the country’s vines can be found and most of which are high altitude at 2,000 to 4,000 feet above sea level. Argentina currently has just 2 DOCs: Luján de Cuyo and San Rafael. This wine hails from Luján de Cuyo, and more specifically from the Agrelo and Uco Valley regions. It is labeled “Reserva” which indicates it must have been aged at least 6 months.

The grapes for our Don Miguel Gascón Reserva Malbec were harvested by hand in the early morning hours in mid to late April from the high elevation vineyards of Altamira, Agrelo and Tupungato, then crushed and cold soaked for 72 to 96 hours. The juice maintained contact with the skins for up to three weeks through the end of fermentation, which occurred in upright conical tanks at 85°F for six days. Malolactic fermentation was completed prior to racking and aging. Sixty-five percent of the wine was aged for 15 months in a combination of medium toast French and American oak barriques.

http://www.gasconwine.com

You should really visit the Gascon site for great information on this winery that dates back to 1884.

This wine is 97% Malbec with just a touch (3%) of Petit Verdot. It sits at 14.8% abv and runs a little over $20 a bottle.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

Scent jars here included blackberries, plum and spice. We did two bites here a cracker with blue cheese and cherry jam, as well as a slice of smoked gouda.

Red wine #3 Larner 2014 Syrah Ballard Canyon

Larner 2014 Syrah Ballard Canyon  with plum, blackberry, cherry, peppercorn, earth and leather.
Larner 2014 Syrah Ballard Canyon

If you have visited our site before, you know we are big fans of Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard & Winery. He helped to put Ballard Canyon and their Syrah on the map. He was instrumental in founding the Ballard Canyon AVA in Santa Barbara County.

Michael’s background is in geology and he is an invaluable resource for discussing the soils of the entire Santa Barbara Region. He is passionate about the region and it’s wines, most especially the Syrah from this little corner of the universe.

This wine is all Estate grown fruit that is aged 22 months in 33% new French oak and 8% new American oak (the rest is neutral oak).

  • Larner Vineyard Syrah
  • Larner Fête 2016, Larner Vineyard
  • Larner Vineyard Sunset

Aromas, flavors and pairings

This wine was the biggest we served at 14.9%. With a complex nose, we set out scent jars of blackberry, plum, cherry, pepper corns, leather and earth. We paired this with our favorite bite with syrah, bacon wrapped dates.

Visit Larner

If you want a bottle of this wine, or to taste his other wines, head to Santa Barbara and Los Olivos. You can find the tasting room at the corner of Grand Avenue and Alamo Pintado Ave next to the Los Olivos General Store. Grab a tasting and a sandwich from next door and sit at a table in front in the shade, behind the historic gas pump.

2900 Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441
Email: [email protected]
T: (805) 688-8148

Open Daily 11-5

It was a fun evening and hopefully everyone discovered a new wine that they enjoyed! We got up today to 85 dirty glasses! I have a new appreciation for tasting room staff who deal with this, and then some, daily! Was it worth it? Damn straight! We got to explore the world with wine while sitting in the living room with friends. What could be better?

85 dirty wine glasses
A sampling of the 85 dirty wine glasses after last nights tasting.

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