Sommelier Wine Awards 2009: The year that Malbec came of age

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Drinks: Malbec, Wines

Malbec was one of the undoubted star categories of this year’s Sommelier Wine Awards, delivering a plethora of good wines across the price spectrum. Chris Losh takes a look at just what got the judges so excited


There’s something very gratifying about watching a fledgling wine category find its feet. And it is probably fair to say that 2009 was the year when, on the evidence of the Sommelier Wine Awards, Argentine Malbec finally came of age.

Just take a look at its performance in the three years that the competition has been going. 2007: one Gold-listed and two Shortlisted wines; 2008: one Gold-listed and four Shortlisted wines; 2009: three Gold-listed and eight Shortlisted wines.

QUANTITY AND QUALITY

Partly, this is because there were a lot more of the wines sent in. But this was no mere blanket-bombing from Mendoza. Not only were there plenty of entries, but those that came in were good. The end result: a performance that put it ahead of a good number of more famous wine styles.

Of course, Argentina’s ability to supply good-value-for-money Malbec to the off-trade has been on show for a while. But there were real signs this year that the wines are moving from being simply sweet and fruity, to also having the structure and poise to work on restaurant lists.

That said, consistency was a feature of the flight. There were very few bad wines, and the judges in the first round of tasting found it quite hard to come up with a shortlist. Particularly under £10, the wines really overdelivered and rejections were often carried out with a heavy heart.

‘These were good, really good,’ said an admiring Philippe Loiseau from Hakkasan. ‘They’re appealing to everyone’s palate, but still very definitely Malbec: dark, rich and spicy. They’re a genuine option for spicy food.’

In fact, what criticism there was tended to be reserved for the more ambitious wines, where some winemakers seemed to be following a ‘bigger is better’ philosophy and seeing just how much fruit and oak they could stuff into a 75cl bottle.

CRITICAL ACCLAIM

‘Wines on steroids,’ sniffed Le Coq d’Argent’s Olivier Marie, while Adam Wilson of Auberge du Lac reckoned the pricier wines needed to work harder to ‘get an identity. It’s not just about fruit.’

Having said that, much of the criticism of the last two SWA competitions revolved around a heavy-handed use of oak, and that certainly seems to have been reined in, which perhaps explains why the overall results were so good.

Certainly, to get two Goldlisted wines under £9 and one more ambitious one for the upper end of the list shows a category that is starting to believe it can deliver across the board. And, if the impressive number of Shortlisted wines is anything to go by, it’s one that has strength in depth as well.

Another performance like this, and there’s a good chance that this category will be upgraded to that of Varietal Classic – the ‘must have’ section of the Sommelier Wine Awards that includes the likes of Pinot Grigio, Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc and Aussie Shiraz. 


Argentinian Malbec 2009 Gold List winners

Filus Malbec 2007, Mendoza

£6.99 @ Waverley TBS

Pascual Toso Reserve Malbec 2007, Barrancas, Maipú, Mendoza

£8.20 @ Stratford’s Wine Agencies

Bodega Norton Finca Perdriel Single Vineyard 2005, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza

£20.57 @ Berkmann Wine Cellars


From the trade

TOBY ELLIS, THE ATLAS

‘We’ve just put an Argentine Malbec on as our top by-the-glass wine and sales are going absolutely great; if you can find good value in this category, it really can work for you, and ours is absolutely flying out of the door. Even though it’s £17.50 a bottle or £6 for a large glass – pretty keenly priced for a pub – it outsold our house wine last week! The public recognise the name ‘Argentine Malbec’ and it has a positive reputation as a wine style. As a pub, there’s no need for us to stock more than one, though a selection would work well for restaurants. It’s a great steak wine. A real classic accompaniment.’

AGUSTIN TRAPERO, THE RANDOLPH HOTEL

‘We sell the Terrazas Malbec, and the public like it because it’s got good fruit. As a category, Argentine Malbec has real potential, especially in terms of what it delivers for the cost. Malbec has the right fruit character for the public, and as a grape it likes oak, so it goes really well with meat. It’s always good value for money, too, though I suspect this will change in a few years’ time as it gets more popular!’

ALEX HUNT, PURCHASING DIRECTOR, BERKMANN

‘Malbec works with consumers because it’s fruity, not too alcoholic and has a savoury edge, but no austerity. It works oaked or unoaked, and its success isn’t tied into a price point – it can be good whether you spend a little or a lot. Our successful wines from this year’s Sommelier Wine Awards encapsulate this versatility: Finca Decero [Shortlisted] is a very modern new winery with a lot of money behind it, whereas Bodega Norton [one Gold-listed wine, one Shortlisted]dates from the 19th century. Stylistically, Argentine Malbec is diverse, but there’s a real confidence in the winemaking now. It’s come on a lot in the past 10 years.’


Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – September / October 2009

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