Argentina has adopted the Malbec grape as its own, even though the variety is originally a native of France – although whether its home is Bordeaux, Cahors or the Loire is open to doubt. But France has never really appreciated Malbec in the way it loves Cabernet and Pinot Noir, for example; perhaps that’s because they don’t grow it anywhere with sufficient sunshine and warmth to really ripen the berries. That isn’t a problem in Argentina, even though most of the plantings are around Mendoza, high in the foothills of the Andes. Malbec thrives there – and it just happens to make big, rich red wines that are a perfect foil to Argentina’s beef-dominated cooking.
Often, you see Malbec as a single variety wine – and it can be very good, especially in the hands of good producers, such as Catena – but, occasionally, it’s used as part of a blend; Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot are the most common partners, but Viñalba unusually combine it with the Portuguese variety Touriga Nacional (Majestic, £9.99) and the result is a real winner; and that’s not just my view – Decanter magazine awarded it a Gold Medal in their Wine Awards last year.
The wine is intense, rich and powerful – as you’d expect from one with 14.5% alcohol, but it’s well balanced at the same time and there’s no excess heat on the finish. The fruit comes through well – blackberries and other hedgerow flavours dominate – and there’s something quite floral in there, too (the label suggests violets) and some nice, spicy oak, too.
It’s not a wine to drink on its own; food – and robust food at that – is essential. No surprise that the producer suggests a grilled steak, but, for me, any red meat, game or hard cheese would work well.
It’s certainly an unusual blend – I know of no other example of these 2 grapes together – but it really does work and, for the quality, it’s quite a bargain.