As most people know, Malbec is the signature grape of Argentina. It’s become the classic match for steak and anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s one of the few red wines that casual wine-drinking blokes are prepared to pay a little more for.
But as so often is the case, when a signature grape becomes almost synonymous with a country, other varieties are unfairly overlooked. Here are a few examples of Life After Malbec:
Callia “Alta” Pinot Grigio 2016 (13.5%, RRP 12.99 at Fresh Stores; McHuhes; D-Six Harolds Cross; DrinkStore.ie; Donnybrook Fair)
Regular readers may be quite flabbergasted by the inclusion of a Pinot Grigio, and it’s true that I rarely like wines labelled as such, but for me this wine is leagues ahead of the cheap “chick water” that flows out of Italy. Compared to Alsatian Pinot Gris it does exhibit some of the varietal characteristics such as stone fruit and spiciness (particularly ginger) and has decent acidity, but it isn’t at all oily (which I like but isn’t for everyone). Just so nice to drink!
Amalaya Torrontés / Riesling 2016 (13.0%, RRP €16.99 at Martin’s Off Licence; Red Island Wine Company; Red Nose Wine; World Wide Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Sweeney’s)
Apart from a few exceptions I rarely enjoy varietal Torrontés as I find it a bit too full on – too perfumed, too flowery, and in all honesty better suited as air freshener rather than wine. The Hess Family have a solution with their Torrontés / Riesling blend – 85% of the former is freshened by 15% of the latter, and it really is more than the sum of its parts. This is one of my go-to Argentinian white wines.
Domaine Bousquet Chardonnay Grande Reserve 2014 (13.5%, RRP €23.99 at Searson’s)
The Bousquets are a southern French wine-making family, now into the fourth generation of vignerons. They began looking into vineyard sites in Argentina in 1990 and took the plunge with a purchase in 1997. This is a fairly full on Chardonnay with eight to twelve months maturation in French oak, depending on the vintage. I found the 2014 still a little young so would benefit from being decanted; when I tasted the 2011 in 2016 it was already well-integrated. This level of quality costs much more in other countries!
Alta Vista Premium Bonarda 2012 (15.0%, €20.00 at Mitchell & Son)
Italian wine fans might be saying “Oh, Bonarda in Argentina? Makes sense with all the Italian migration to Argentina in the past”, and they’d be partially right – this isn’t the same grape as the Bonarda of Piedmont, but has been found to be the same as Deuce Noir which originated in the (formerly Italian, now French) region of Savoie. This is a fairly big wine (15% abv!) with lots of red and black fruit but enough acidity to keep it fresh.
Bodegas Salentein Portillo Pinot Noir 2014 (14.3%, €12.99 at Wines On The Green; Baggot Street Wines; Clontarf Wines; Fresh, Stepaside; McCabes, Blackrock)
Although widely planted in Chile, Pinot Noir is not that common in Argentina; it’s a finicky grape that needs fairly cool growing conditions and much of Argentina is just too warm. Bodegas Salentein make several Pinots at different price points, and this is the entry level from their Portillo range. Despite the low price tag this is proper Pinot Noir – it’s amazingly drinkable for the price.
Callia “Magna” Shiraz 2014 (14.5%, RRP €18.99 at Redmonds Ranelagh; Vintry Rathgar; World Wide Wines Waterford; Bradley’s Cork; Sweeney’s; McHughes)
Callia’s “Magna” range sits above their “Alta” (see Pinot Grigio above) and “Selected” ranges. All of Callia’s wines come from their home San Juan province, but for Magna wines the grapes come from specific sub-regions – in the case of the Shiraz (also labelled as Syrah in some markets) this is the Tulum Valley (don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it either). This Shiraz is round and full bodied with lots of delicious black fruit, but also some black olive / tapenade notes.