Malbec, the single grape varietal that is so potently lionized in Argentina, is the star this month across the Pacific Ocean in China’s capital Beijing, as Wines of Argentina united with nine of the country’s iconic wineries to showcase the diversity and quality of Argentine wines in a tasting dinner led by China’s top female sommelier.
The tasting dinner titled “Malbec Argentino’s Got Range” highlighted 11 of the country’s well-crafted wines that are carefully paired with regional Chinese cuisine by sommelier Li Meiyu, founder of DrinkArts and one of the top 10 most influential in China’s wine trade, in an effort to inspire more pairing options. Founder of DrinkArts.
Malbec and China
The event came at a time when Argentine wine exports to mainland China have been steadily rising, as China and Argentina this year celebrates 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations, says Lucas A. Candia, Economy, and trade Section Embassy of the Argentine Republic in China, who attended the tasting dinner.
According to data released by National University of Cuyo’s innovation center, between March 2021 and March 2022, Argentina’s bottled still and sparkling wine exports to China have climbed to 6 million liters and US$22.8 million; bulk wine exports reached 6.4 million liters valued at US$3.1 million.
Malbec, the signature wine grape from Argentina, in particular enjoyed brisk growth in export markets, where China counts as one of its top 10 export destinations in 2021.
The dark-skinned red grape today is synonymous with Argentina and its rise has spawned a generation of talented winemakers crafting elegant, age-worthy and terroir-driven Malbecs either in 100% single varietal or in blend.
The grape alone today accounts for 46,366 ha of planting area in Argentina, which is roughly 23.8% of the country’s overall land under vine. Last year, the country’s Malbec exports totalled 162 million liters worth about US$531 million, reaching 122 countries.
To promote and celebrate the success of Malbec globally, the first Malbec World Day (MWD) was created on April 17, 2011 by Wines of Argentina, the same date when Malbec entered the country. Since then MWD has become an annual cultural event for wine lovers around the world.
Entering its 12th anniversary this year, MWD is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Trade and Worship of Argentina and the Argentine Wine Corporation (COVIAR), and is also framed in the Argentina 2030 Strategic Wine Plan.
The theme of this year’s WMD is ‘Malbec Argentino’s Got Range’, alluding to the great diversity of terroirs, which gives rise to a range of different Malbec expressions depending on altitude and soil type.
Pairing with Chinese cuisine
The diverse style of Malbec from the brooding yet fresh Malbecs of Cafayate in Salta to the fleshy and powerhouse of Uco Valley’s northernmost Tupungato, all the way to the floral, vibrant and silky wines of Altamira in southern Uco and Patagonia means there’s no shortage of food pairing options.
Whether with seafood, poultry or game prepared in different cooking methods, Malbec as it turns out proves to a chameleon with different Chinese cuisines. Sommelier Li Yumei handpicked a flight of wines from nine flagship Argentine wineries to match with Chinese cuisine at Zhiguan Courtyard, the only Michelin-starred Northeastern Chinese restaurant.
No. 1 Zuccardi Serie a Torrontes 2020, Salta
The iconic Argentine winery is led by Sebastián Zuccardi (3rd generation of viticulturists) since year 2000. Today, Zuccardi is one of Argentina’s most well-known wineries. Working in harmony with the environment, Zuccardi continues to produce premium Argentine wines. In 2007, Decanter magazine acknowledged Sebastián and his father, Mr. José Alberto Zuccardi, as being among the five most influential personalities of Argentine Wine. And recently in 2016, José Alberto himself received Lifetime Achievement Award by International Wine Challenge (IWC).
Torrontes is a quintessential white wine varietal in Argentina. This aromatic wine from Zuccardi’s high altitude Salta vineyard shows intense yellow colour with silver hues. A delicate and intense nose, full of white flowers and citric fruits. Notes of orange peel and oregano. This wine is well structured and has lively acidity and very aromatic. A delicate but long finish.
No. 2 El Esteco Cuma Malbec Rosé 2016, Calchaqui Valley
Bodega El Esteco, founded in 1892 by David Michel and Gabriela Torino, is located in the Calchaqui Valley, which is in Argentina’s far northwest province of Salta. With nearly 1,000 acres of vineyards in what is known as the world’s highest growing region for wine, the Calchaqui Valley, Bodega El Esteco’s wines are reflective of their place of origin. Today, the winery is owned by the Peñaflor Group, Argentina’s biggest wine exporter and one of the top 10 wine producers worldwide, and produces a diverse range of wines which includes red, white, rosé and sparkling wines.
Showing vibrant and deep pink, the Cuma Malbec rosé is a fruit forward wine with plenty of red fruits, strawberries, fresh, lively and aromatic. Easy drinking.
No. 3 Kaiken Aventura Malbec 2019 Canota Valley, Mendoza
Established in 2001 by Aurelio Montes, founding partner of Chile’s Viña Montes, to capitalize on the popularity of Argentinian wine. The winery itself actually dates back to 1920. Kaiken is one of the most popular Argentine wine brands in export markets. Located just to the south of Mendoza, the winery produce a large array of wines, primarily from Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Aventura Malbec shows intense red with slight purplish tints, with spicy notes of thyme and dark fruits. Great concentration and long finish.
No. 4 Trivento Eolo Malbec 2017, Luján de Cuyo
Trivento is founded by Chile’s wine giant Concha y Toro in 1996 and ranks as one of Argentina’s top five wine exporters. Trivento was also named the best-selling Argentine wine brand in the world by international consultancy IWSR in 2021.
EOLO, the Keeper of the Winds in Greek mythology, is the pinnacle of Trivento’s pursuit of the best Malbec in Argentina. Found only in a small refuge in Luján de Cuyo, the birthplace of premium Malbec, Eolo is brought to life by winemaker Germán Di Césare. Made with meticulously selected parcels of fruit from old, low-yielding vines planted in 1912, the wine is rich, complex and powerful.
No. 5 Mora Negra Gran Vino 2015, San Juan
Finca Las Moras is a pioneer winery dedicated to the elaboration of high-quality wines in San Juan since the restructuring of the vineyards in 1993 by Richard Smart. The vineyards are surrounded by mulberry trees and therefore the name to the winery.
Mora Negra is a unique blend of Malbec and Bonarda grapes coming from the most ancient vineyards of the region in Tulum Valley and Pedernal Valley between 650 and 1350 meters above sea level. Of a violet red color, with ripe berries’ taste and aroma together with vanilla scent, sweet spices and smoky bouquet, Mora Negra has an intense flavor and soft texture that persists in the palate.
No. 6 Norton Privada Family Blend 2018, Luján de Cuyo
In 1895, British engineer Edmund Norton founded Bodega Norton and became an ambassador for quality Argentinian winemaking. Since 1989, it has been owned by Austrian Gernot Langes-Swarovski of the famous cut-crystal Swarovski company. Bodega Norton has five vineyards spread over the main terroirs of the province of Mendoza, at the foothills of the Andes Mountains, all of them within a privileged zone known as the First Zone for the quality of its grapes.
Originally reserved for the family’s private cellar, this exclusive high-end blend sources grapes from the winery´s oldest vineyards, between 50 and 90 years old. A truly unique wine, it is a special selection of the best barrels of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which results in a harmonious, complex and elegant blend.
No. 7 Trapiche Terroir Series Coletto 2017, Tupungato
Trapiche Vineyards stands out for its premium standards in viticulture and winemaking. Founded in 1883, Trapiche is one of the oldest brands of wines produced in Argentina. The leading export winery of Argentina, Trapiche produces more than 3.5 million cases of wine per year and is available in over 80 countries.
‘Terroir Series’ is a wine collection from Trapiche that reflects the best expression of the terroir in the Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, chosen each year among all the producers by Sergio Casé, Chief Winemaker of Trapiche. The single vineyard ‘Coletto’ wine shows deep and intense red-violet color, with aromas of red fruits, plums, black cherries and forest berries such as blackberries and blueberries. Fresh and full as it enters the mouth, with sweet, juicy and ample tannins and a very elegant finish.
No. 8 Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino 2019, Mendoza
Catena Zapata, the iconic Argentine winery, was founded in 1902 and is perhaps most known for pioneering high altitude wines made from Adriana vineyard, revered as “South America’s Grand Cru Vineyard”.
Argentino is an instant icon wine from storied Catena Zapata winery. The newly designed label itself is a conversation piece. It charts the epic tale of the noble Malbec grape, its history in France and rise in Argentina through four female figures. This is a wine made from pre-Phylloxera old vines from Catena Zapata Family vineyards, Nicasia and Angelica. No matter what the vintage, this 100% Malbec is really more than 100 years old. Deep purple, the wine shows good tension and precision in winemaking. The wine is textured and tasty, fresh and vibrant. Rich and deep. Roughly 25,000 bottles made.
No. 9 Rutini Felipe Rutini 2006, Uco Valley
Rutini Winery, one of the oldest wineries in Argentina, was founded in 1885 by Italian immigrant Don Felipe Rutini and is the founder of Uco Valley, Argentina’s current core producer. The chief winemaker Mariano Di Paula was selected by Decanter in 2015 as one of the greatest winemakers in the world.
This is the winery’s ultra-premium label, as a tribute to founder Don Felipe Rutini and the centenary of the work of the winery that he founded. Its production began in 1985 and it was the first Argentine wine to carry its own name on the label. It constitutes the quintessence of the highest quality that Rutini Wines can offer in the creation of wines considered extraordinary.