As I was grilling both Saturday and Sunday this last weekend, it really brought to my mind food and wine pairings for grilled meats. I have mentioned before that my favorite wine to drink with a big slab of grilled dead cow is Malbec. I want to just talk about Malbec briefly, and give a little bit of nerdy information.
If you have paid much attention to the wine section of your local liquor store or restaurant lately, you have undoubtedly noticed that wines from South America are on the surge. In fact, this is one of the only sectors in the wine industry in America that actually grew in 2008. The grape that is truly becoming the king on the scene in Argentina is Malbec. This "new Merlot" is on the rise because it is easy to pronounce, easy to drink, and you can get some stellar examples for relatively short money. This wine didn't get its beginnings in Argentina however, but rather in France. It is still considered one of the 5 noble grapes of Bordeaux, and is also grown in the Loire Valley and the Cahors, where it is known as "Cot". It is starting to be produced in California and mediterranean areas in some quantity.
The geography of Argentina has really helped out in the development of quality, inexpensive Malbec. You see, Argentina has the largest concentration of high altitude vineyards in the world. Whereas an altitude upwards of 1600 feet in Europe is considered the upper limit of where you can grow grapes, Argentina has a plethora of vineyards that are between 3000 and 6000 feet above sea level. I have even heard of one at 9000 feet! These high altitudes allow the grapes to have a longer hang time, thus developing physiological ripeness. However, they don't gain the huge jumps in sugar (resulting in high alcohol levels) that would occur with these long hang times at lower levels. These high vineyards also require irrigation, which means that the vines are a bit stressed and results in better grapes. One major problem with these vineyards on an annual basis is hail. This is why you don't see very many single-vineyard wines from Argentina as the vintners don't want to risk their annual production on one vineyard that might get wiped out by a single storm.
Malbecs from this region have come onto the wine drinking scene in full force over the last few years. In fact, almost all well-thought wine programs at restaurants carry a couple of Malbecs on their list, and usually one by the glass. The taste profile of this grape is remeniscent of Merlot, with the plummy, blueberry notes. I also tend to get a smokiness out of a lot of them (thus making it a no-brainer to pair with steaks), and sometimes a dried-tobacco component.
My suggestions for Malbecs run the price range gamet, ranging from $10 retail to around $35. Look for labels from Crios, Familia Zuccardi, Santa Julia, Susana Balbo, Luca, Tikal, Mapema, Budini, Decero, and Ben Marco.
Until tomorrow, Cheers- may the sunshine be on your face, and the wind at your back.