Aldi Specially Selected Argentinian Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina 2020 (£5.99, Aldi) Is there a more reliable name on the side of a bottle than Argentinian malbec? By reliable I mean you know pretty much what to expect from producer to producer, in a no alarms and no surprises sort of a way. Certainly, at prices around £10 it offers a welcomingly reassuring predictability: generally these days you will get a wine of plump plummy fruit and generally unobtrusive tannins, a wine that satisfies the back-label cliché of boldly fruity “easy-drinking” in much the same, unthinking way that the best beach reads live up to their blurb’s “page-turning” promise. This knack is not to be under-estimated. It’s certainly made malbec an international bestseller. According to figures from Wines of Argentina, plantings of the variety have grown by some 171% since the beginning of the century, and by 56% since 2010, satisfying a thirst for the kind of affordable, bright blackberry and blueberry-filled reds embodied by Aldi’s thriftily sourced example.
Riccitelli This is Not Another Lovely Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina 2020 (from £12.79, allaboutwine.co.uk; lokiwine.co.uk; hic-winemerchants.com) The flipside to reliability is predictability, of course, and over-exposure to the many 100s of me-too malbecs being turned out by Argentina’s larger wineries can bring a craving for something else: a surprise or two, a little bit of excitement, some individuality. Many winemakers in Argentina want the same thing. Indeed, that desire to shake free of the formula is behind the name given to the adventurous winemaker Matías Riccitelli’s latest malbec. A rare outbreak of sarcasm and irony in the generally hyper-sincere world of wine, it’s Riccitelli’s way of signaling that this is a somewhat different style. Like many of the world’s most interesting producers at the moment, Riccitelli uses concrete vessels (rather than steel or oak) to make this and other, wines, believing that’s the best way to bring out the delightful scents of mulberry and cherry, and silky, slinky texture in a wine that Riccitelli might be disappointed to hear really does deserve the epithet “lovely”.
Amalaya Malbec, Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina 2020 (from £10.49, rannochscott.co.uk; noblegreenwines.co.uk; haywines.co.uk) Riccitelli is very far from being the only winemaker to deviate from the successful but suffocating mass-market malbec conventions. There are, in fact, plenty of wines that prove malbec can be every bit as diversely expressive, evocative and surprising as established big hitters such as cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir or syrah. Most of the exciting bottles are the direct result of Argentine winegrowers greater understanding of the effects of altitude in what are some of the highest vineyards in the world, a development which has also allowed them to start identifying the personalities of different sub-zones in the main growing area of Mendoza, and in the even higher altitude wine valleys of Salta province in the far north west. Recent top-end Mendozan standouts for me include Bodega Piedra Negra in the Uco Valley and tiny production Per Se in Gualtallary, while Amalaya’s expression of its 1,828m altitude vineyard in the Calchaquí Valley is a bargain: wonderfully vivid, silky and full of charm.
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