The Malbec grape originates from France but found its spiritual home in the outskirts of Mendoza, a major Argentine city just east of the Andes. From there, it spread south to a vine-growing oasis called the Uco Valley, where it began to truly sing from the soil.
The towering Andes to the west have gifted this land with alluvial runoff — a millennia of water and wind erosion loosening the soil and creating alluvial fans. The resulting soil is poor, which grapevines love. The area is also a high desert, meaning elevations can reach up to 4,000 feet above sea level. Here, Malbec gets all the sun it needs to grow and concentrate its fruit, while allowing the grapes to maintain a good natural acidity.
There are plenty of great Malbecs in and around Mendoza, and they have enjoyed local popularity for decades. And although there is innovation across Mendoza, it’s the Uco Valley that seems to have the most visible exploration of soils and microclimates. It’s the winemakers here who are unearthing the region’s potential through expressing the varying degrees of terroir among the 30-plus subregions in the valley.
From deep, dark concentration, to fruit-forward minerality, the Malbecs from Uco are coming in hard and fast to our market and demonstrating their individuality.
I say this because, of the six wines listed below, five are from the Uco Valley. There is an outlier on the list — and it’s not from Argentina. In the past few years, there has been only one Malbec outside Mendoza that has made me yell curse words (in a good way). It’s from New Zealand’s North Island, in a wine district that just may be the next big thing out of New Zealand.
These wines will get you familiar with the Uco Valley, an emerging terroir-driven subregion of Mendoza. And seek out that Kiwi Malbec; it shows some serious potential for the North Island.
This is your new weeknight, pair-with-anything red. It’s an affordable Malbec that tastes more expensive than it is, and doesn’t get lost in too much oak or vanilla. Just good, solid juicy fruit with a slight tannic balance and excellent acidity on the palate. Burgers, pizza, or just some good char on a piece of lean steak will match with this wine to perfection.
We’re dipping out of Argentina and taking a flight to New Zealand right quick. The Hawk’s Bay region on the east coast of the North Island (Te Ika-a-Māui) is a playground for skilled winemakers. There’s no single grape that defines this area, so winemakers just have at it and see which varietals work. Malbec is definitely one of those varietals. This is a Malbec done in a Beaujolais Nouveau style. It smells like cooking herbs and blackberries, and is juicy and round (almost fat) with fruit. Wild and crazy acidity runs through the wine, gifting it with verve. Chill this wine down, and pair with grilled lamb (drool).
This wine brings the juice. It smells like crushed blackberries and cherries. The palate is balanced with a slight weight and a chewy mouthfeel. The natural acidity lifts the wine up and unveils the remnants of tannins that otherwise disappear into this fruit-forward wine. It’s another perfect pair for burgers or pizza — just juicier and more fruit-forward than the Zuccardi.
Here’s a Malbec with some age on it to show how the varietal develops. The fruit softens into a concentrated, tart sphere in the center and pulses out a cadence of cherry and plum aromas. The acidity is there to keep the fruit active and alive, maintaining a refreshing palate. There is a whisper of mocha that tightens as oxygen has its way. It is right and ready to be drunk alongside a steak slathered with chimichurri.
The Zuccardi family spent over a decade studying the microclimates of the Uco Valley, finding the optimal soils for their revered variety. In doing so, they offer a wide range of terroir-driven wines that are must-tries. In addition, they employ a back-to-the-earth winemaking approach in which the concrete egg vessels they use to ferment and age their wines are made from the soil on their property. This wine is a shining example of that approach. Fermented in concrete, the depth of fruit is calmed by a channel of minerality slipping in and out of the core of the wine. When it slips away, your palate is welcomed by a nice, earthy concentration of blackberries just picked from the vine, still smelling of the wood they were pulled from. This wine deserves a mighty cheese plate with all the milks.
If the label doesn’t grab your attention (and I’m not sure why it wouldn’t), the wine will. This is Malbec in its most powerful form. Sticking your nose in the glass, you’ll be plunged into blueberry liqueur and floral feels. The perception of weight on the palate is real, but the moderate natural acidity shoots off a soft burst of refreshing mocha. There is a lot happening in this wine as it begins to open, and decanting will peel those layers right off and send them to your thankful brain. So yeah, the wine is as intense as its label, but also as subtle.