How Argentina's finest Malbec eventually won over our wine columnist

Malbec grapes hang from a tree at Famili
Malbec grapes hanging out in Mendoza, Argentina (Source: Getty)

If I were to choose an acronym to promote my luxury product, WMD wouldn't be my first choice. It’s hardly redolent of balmy days spent quaffing a glass of full bodied vino. But World Malbec Day – now sheepishly retooled as Malbec World Day – celebrates its third anniversary on 17 April.

Malbec is officially a phenomenon. It wasn’t always so: a couple of decades ago, this tricky dark skinned grape was regarded as little more than fertiliser and peasant swill. Today it’s the fastest-growing grape varietal in the world, with sales in 2015 up by a quarter.

Even more impressively, its advocates claim it achieves the highest average price per bottle of any wine in the UK, with many weighing in around the £15 mark.

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It’s a wine that Argentina has claimed as its own, and accounts for 98 per cent of its production. Argentina has grasped the opportunity that Malbec offers with a passion and new wine regions and producers are springing up across the country.

I’ve always been a Malbec sceptic. They may be big, brassy fruit-bomb wines, but to me they’ve always been rather samey, and as subtle as a smack in the face with a bag of plums.

So I called the archbishop of Malbec, Martin Williams, founder of M Restaurants in Threadneedle Street and Victoria. Martin and Zack Charilaou, his award-winning sommelier, have done more than anyone to promote Malbec in Britain as the red wine of choice for the hip diner.

At a tasting, they take me through the wine's finer points. Yes, Malbecs pack an enormous fruit punch. But the good ones have a silky finish, even when young, and then a complex length redolent of vanilla, liquorice, smoke and tar.

They are sipping wines, not quaffing ones, so well suited to today's modest drinker who wants a lot of taste in a sparing glass.

"Tasting Malbec for the first time was my eureka moment," says Williams. "It was one of the main reasons I joined Gaucho. It was a fruit explosion, followed by tastes of such complexity and sold with such passion."

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It turns out there are four very distinct Malbec regions. Mendoza is the main one, familiar to most, that delivers the classic big wines. Further North there is Salta, which boasts some of the world's highest vineyards at 3,000m and produces deep, dark wines that taste of salt and black olives.

Further south is the Uco Valley, where the wines are far lighter and more like Merlots. And in the Deep South is cool Patagonia, which produces mineral-heavy wines unlike any of the others.

The other draw for the oenophile is that while Malbec is not cheap, neither is it especially dear – you can drink some of the finest for under £25 a bottle. My favourite is the Domaine Bousquet from Mendoza, which is an elegantly-made archetype that weighs in at just £14.

The very smartest Malbecs are made in Lujan de Cuyo, a small corner of Mendoza analogous to the Paulliac. Even there you'd be hard pressed to spend more than £100 for the most aristocratic bottle.

M Restaurants’ wine shop in Victoria Street is stocking 100 Malbecs next month with a 25 per cent discount – the perfect way to celebrate Malbec World Day.

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