The Malbec grape originates from France but found its spiritual home in the outskirts of Mendoza, a major Argentine city just east of the Andes. From there, it spread south to a vine-growing oasis called the Uco Valley, where it began to truly sing from the soil.
The towering Andes to the west have gifted this land with alluvial runoff — a millennia of water and wind erosion loosening the soil and creating alluvial fans. The resulting soil is poor, which grapevines love. The area is also a high desert, meaning elevations can reach up to 4,000 feet above sea level. Here, Malbec gets all the sun it needs to grow and concentrate its fruit, while allowing the grapes to maintain a good natural acidity.
There are plenty of great Malbecs in and around Mendoza, and they have enjoyed local popularity for decades. And although there is innovation across Mendoza, it’s the Uco Valley that seems to have the most visible exploration of soils and microclimates. It’s the winemakers here who are unearthing the region’s potential through expressing the varying degrees of terroir among the 30-plus subregions in the valley.
From deep, dark concentration, to fruit-forward minerality, the Malbecs from Uco are coming in hard and fast to our market and demonstrating their individuality.
I say this because, of the six wines listed below, five are from the Uco Valley. There is an outlier on the list — and it’s not from Argentina. In the past few years, there has been only one Malbec outside Mendoza that has made me yell curse words (in a good way). It’s from New Zealand’s North Island, in a wine district that just may be the next big thing out of New Zealand.
These wines will get you familiar with the Uco Valley, an emerging terroir-driven subregion of Mendoza. And seek out that Kiwi Malbec; it shows some serious potential for the North Island.
We’re dipping out of Argentina and taking a flight to New Zealand right quick. The Hawk’s Bay region on the east coast of the North Island (Te Ika-a-Māui) is a playground for skilled winemakers. There’s no single grape that defines this area, so winemakers just have at it and see which varietals work. Malbec is definitely one of those varietals. This is a Malbec done in a Beaujolais Nouveau style. It smells like cooking herbs and blackberries, and is juicy and round (almost fat) with fruit. Wild and crazy acidity runs through the wine, gifting it with verve. Chill this wine down, and pair with grilled lamb (drool).