The bold varietal that's easily tamed
Argentina is the fifth-largest producer of wine in the world following France, Italy, Spain and the USA. And in this majestic country, the wines follow in that dramatic style, with the reds being big-hearted wines with a pulse that beats to an up-tempo Latino rhythm.
Most vines are planted at the foot of the snow-capped Andes Mountains. The Mendoza region produces 85pc of Argentina's wine. Surprisingly, it is a desert. Cultivating the parched vineyards is made possible only by irrigation.
The vines are watered by a complex system of water channels supplied by gigantic reservoirs holding the mountain tops' melted snows in springtime.
With no sea influence to moderate the excesses of the climate, planting vineyards at higher and cooler altitudes gives the winemaker more options for greater complexity and refined characteristics.
Argentinean wines have many grape varietals planted from France, Italy, and Spain. However, it is the mighty, long-lived Malbec, originally from France's Bordeaux and Cahors, that has dominated the reputation for Argentinean reds.
Most Malbecs are typically generous in fruit and full in body, with potent alcohol and an assertive oaky influence. The bold masculine flavours need full-throttle, dark meaty dishes to match the drama.
1) Malbec 2009 Alpamanta Natal, Mendoza, 14pc
Rich, meaty black pudding and a spicy bouquet. Very smooth texture and mellow, ripe, juicy dark-fruit flavours. Soft tannins and a long berryish finish. Enjoy with duck on puy lentils and smoked bacon lardons.
€15.50 at tindalwine.com
2) Malbec Reserve 2010 Salentein, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, 14.5pc
Perfume of violets and ripe blackberries. Delicious, luscious fruit, accessible tannins and fruity berry compote. Gravelly texture and an intense berry finish. Try with corned beef and pickled red cabbage.
€15.99 in Dublin at Baggot Street Wines; Lilac Wines; Red Island Wines; McCabe's, Blackrock and Foxrock; Blackrock Cellars; Nolan's Supermarket; Wines on the Green, Dawson Street
3) Malbec 2011 Catena, Mendoza, 13.5pc
The palate has a solid foundation of fine tannins supporting black tarry fruits. A graphite mineral finish rounds the wine off in a reserved and balanced style. Match with a Hungarian goulash.
€17.99 at The Vintry, Rathgar; Cheers, Delgany; Deveney's, Dundrum; Redmond's, Ranelagh; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; Hole in the Wall off licence; McGrath's, Drumcrondra; SuperValu, Donabate and Ashbourne; Maguire's Wine Merchant, Dundalk
4) Malbec 2011 'Aruma' Domaines Barons de Rothschild & Nicolas Catena, 14.5pc
An exotic perfume of sandalwood is matched by a palate of opulent black berries, spiked with star anise. Smooth and seductive with tonsil-coating richness and full-bodied warmth. Grill a rib-eye steak slicked with a smoky barbecue sauce.
€17.99 at O'Brien's off-licences nationwide
5) Malbec 2010 Luigi Bosca, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, 14pc
Full-bodied and generous flavours corset the tongue with leather, blackberries, plums and tarry fruit. So much character needs a rich, intense meat – oxtail stew.
€18 at Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Ardkeen Quality Foodstore; Nolan's, Clontarf; The Ice Box, Swords; the Drinkstore, Stoneybatter; La Touche Wines, Greystones; O'Sullivan's, Cork
6) Malbec 2011 Achaval Ferrer, Mendoza, 14.5pc
Spiced meaty aromas. Tasty, inky black berries and an echo of the vineyard's terroir with a granite note. Smooth, polished, classy and elegant. Serve with lamb cutlets glazed with mint jelly.
€23-€24 at Redmond's, Ranelagh, Dublin 6; Donnybrook Fair, Dublin 4; jnwine.com