April 17 is a day of celebration for Malbec wine lovers around the globe. The annual Malbec World Day, initially started by Wines of Argentina, calls for everything from small get-togethers at home to full blown festivals and celebrations. Some cities choose to celebrate on the day itself, while others hold events the weekend before. For 2016, Wines of Argentina held a big event in Buenos Aires on April 9th — the day before we arrived!
While shopping at Ja!, one of Buenos Aires’ best wine shops, we found out about their Malbec Day event on April 15th. Over 100 Malbecs would be open to try, plus food, all for around $20 US per person…uh, where do we sign up?
Malbec Day 2016 at Ja! Lo de Joaquin Alberdi
The event was held on the second floor and rooftop terrace of Ja! Lo de Joaquin Alberdi in Palermo Soho. Despite thunderstorms throughout the day, there was quite a decent turnout. I’d read that most homes, and many businesses that have rooftop terraces, have a parrilla (grill) built in for weekend asados and events. The grill at Ja! is massive, and was already loaded up with sausages and meat when we arrived.
There was a giant cheese table, a boutique chocolatier on hand, a DJ playing tunes, and of course an impressive selection of Malbecs ready to be poured. This was quite a casual event, but the crowd was far more mature than some wine festivals and events I’ve attended — in the US especially.
No one was here just to get wasted, and people weren’t just crowding the tables the entire time to keep getting pours. Most guests were mingling, enjoying the food, and discussing some of their favorite wines. I was surprised by the amount of English I heard spoken throughout the event. Turns out, there were some expats and travelers on hand that night, including two new friends we made the night before at a local craft beer bar. It was pure luck that we were seated next to each other at the bar and started talking about craft beer, wine, and travel. After hitting it off so well, we invited them to join us at the event. I’m thrilled they came as I had the best time with them on the remainder of the trip, and hope to not only see them, but travel with them in the future. Buenos Aires 2017 anyone?
While the wine was meant to be the star of the show, what was happening across the room at the parrilla had the four of us fascinated for quite some time. After the sausages were passed around in sandwiches, called choripán, it was time to put the gigantic pork tenderloins on the grill. These were carved right on the table, and a local who attends some of the events told us this was the best quality pork you would find in Argentina. It was thick, fatty, and full of rich flavor — no condiments needed. Both the spicy sausages and the fatty, more subdued pork paired exceptionally well with each of the Malbecs we had in our glasses.
I came to Argentina admittedly not really a huge fan of Malbec, considering most of what I tried before were the cheap, mass exported ones you would find in the stores back home in the US. After studying and working on my Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) certification exam, I learned more about the history of Malbec in Argentina. While we weren’t visiting Mendoza itself this time, I was still determined to seek out any quality wines I could find in Buenos Aires and finally understand why this grape developed such a cult following here.
Unlike other big wine events like this I’ve attended, I can honestly say there was not one bad wine, or even a wine I didn’t like, over the course of the entire evening. Some of the wines that were opened were quite pricey as well — there was no skimping here on quality, whatsoever. We learned from one of the regulars that special bottles might find their way out throughout the night and you want to be nearby to try a little before they run out. We missed trying one of the highly recommended Malbecs, but managed to sample several others, including one we were told retailed for over $200 US.
If you’re interested in seeking out some better Malbecs, these are some of the wines we tried that night:
- VIÑA 1924 DE ANGELES Gran Malbec 2013
- Angelica Zapata Malbec Alta 2011
- Altupalka Malbec Extremo 2013
- Pascual Toso Malbec Alta Barrancas Vineyards 2013
- Riglos Malbec Gran Las Divas Vineyard 2013
- Vina Alicia Las Compuertas Lujan de Cuyo Malbec 2010
- Colomé Reserva Malbec 2010
- Bressia Malbec Monteagrelo 2013
- Bodega Noemia A Lisa 2013
- Bodega Noemia J. Alberto 2013
- VIÑA 1924 DE ANGELES Malbec 2013
- Lagarde Primeras Vinas Malbec 2013
- Bodega Noemia Malbec 2013
- Penedo Borges Icono Malbec 2013
- Cielo y Tierra Mendoza Don Juan Nahuel Reserva Malbec 2009
- Montechez Reserva Malbec 2012
- Melipal Nazarenas Mendoza Reserve Malbec 2012
- San Pedro de Yacochuya Yacochuya 2013
- Calamaco Gran Reserva Mendoza Malbec 2013
- LaGarde Malbec DOC Guarda 2012
- Finca La Luz Callejon del Crimen Gran Reserva Malbec 2013
- Catena Zapata D.V. Catena Adrianna Malbec 2011
- El Enemigo Malbec 2012
- Montechez Limited Edition Malbec 2013
- Finca La Anita Malbec 2014
Brief History of Argentinian Malbec
The Malbec grape was initially grown in Cahors, France. In older times, Malbec was known as the, “black wine of Cahors,” due to its dark color. Today, it’s known more as Côt or Pressac in Bordeaux and Auxerrois in French Alsace and Cahors. Malbec was very temperamental and didn’t necessarily thrive well in France. It’s a very thin-skinned grape with large fruit, requiring ample sunlight and heat to reach it’s full potential. Malbec was introduced to Argentina in the mid-1800’s by French Agronomist, Miguel Pouget.
When phylloxera decimated French vines in the 19th century, Malbec pretty much disappeared. However, it was thriving in Argentina thanks to the climate and terroir. Even still, Malbec didn’t immediately garner the following it has today. In fact, Argentina’s economic crisis during the 20th century saw many Malbec vines ripped out in favor of “jug wine” varietals. Towards the end of the 20th century, fine wine was once again in demand, and it was then that local producers began to really see the versatility and potential for Malbec.
If you’ve had a Malbec in Argentina and then see one from France, don’t expect them to be very similar. Thanks to the terroir of Argentina, you get a very fruit-forward flavor and a velvety texture, while French Malbecs are more strong with higher tannins. Not surprisingly, Argentinian Malbec pairs well with a variety of foods, especially grilled red meats and hard cheeses.
In France today, you’re most likely to find Malbec used as a blending grape. It’s one of the Bordeaux grapes used in conjunction with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to produce Claret. In the Loire Valley, you’re likely to see it mixed with Gamay and a Cabernet Franc.
How Malbec World Day Came to Be
In 2011, Wines of Argentina established April 17 as Malbec World Day. Why April 17 you might be wondering? April 17, 1853, was the day Argentina’s President, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, officially declared he would make it his mission to transform the country’s wine industry. President Sarmiento is the one who hired Michel Pouget to bring the new vines over from the Old Word.
In just a few short years, the popularity of Malbec World Day has grown significantly. You’ll typically find events in more than 60 cities around the globe — with a new theme each year linking Malbec and the Argentine culture.
Buying Wine from Ja! Lo de Joaquin Alberdi
If you’re looking for a shop to purchase good Malbecs while in Buenos Aires, I highly recommend Ja! While Joaquin himself doesn’t speak much English, he has several very knowledgeable staff members who do. I’ll be writing a separate post about the whole wine shop experience itself, but for now, go in and ask for Martin. His English is great, and he’s incredibly knowledgeable about every wine in that shop. Tell him what you like and your budget and he won’t steer you wrong. We went with the intent to purchase some of the top Argentine wines, especially any boutique or non-exported producers they carried. We went in prepped with a list, and wound up bringing home six bottles in the luggage — a great mixture of Mendoza Malbecs, Cab Francs, and even a northern Salta region Malbec made with the highest altitude grapes. We purchased our wines the day before the wine tasting event, and managed to try a few similar wines from the same producers that were open at the party — great choices and Martin nailed our tastes exactly.
Do you have a favorite Malbec producer? Please share with us as we aim to learn more about this increasingly popular wine!
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