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There's a Malbec for Everyone

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So you love malbec. That's fantastic -- so do we. But how do you choose the right malbec for you? Every province in Argentina makes wine, and most of them make malbec. The country extends so far from north to south that it has every kind of terroir you can imagine, and there's a malbec for everyone along the way.

Though Mendoza makes most of Argentina's wine, malbecs are arriving in numbers from Salta, San Juan, and La Rioja further north, and from Rio Negro and Neuquen southwards in Patagonia. You might also be lucky enough to find a malbec from Cordoba or La Pampa in your neighborhood wine shop.

Generalizing about these wines is tough, but we'll give it a shot. Mendoza wines offer the classic malbec experience, with plum and dark berry flavors mixing with inky aromas. Up in Salta, the wines tend to be higher in alcohol -- the extremes of the climate and the desert soils concentrate the sugars in the grapes -- and very rich, if sometimes a bit rustic. In Patagonia, malbecs often carry a citrus note and a more flowery tone, like some pinot noirs. Indeed, Patagonia, where the climate can be similar to the Pacific Northwest, parts of New Zealand, and of course Burgundy, is known increasingly for its pinots.

Even in a single province, though, the differences can be staggering. In San Juan, malbec from the hot valleys of Caucete can be thin or austere, while those from the Pedernal area in the foothills of the Andes resemble the juicier malbecs from Mendoza, just across the border. In Mendoza itself, every village offers its own variation, much like the villages in Bordeaux: Agrelo, Tunuyan, Tupungato, La Consulta, Vista Flores, etc.

This week our tasting featured six 2010 malbecs, five from Mendoza and one, A Lisa by Bodega Noemia, from Rio Negro. A Lisa offers the distinctly tangier nose of many Patagonian malbecs, but also an Old World style that's truly refined. For an absolutely classic Mendoza malbec, try Finca Decero. And by adding a bit of cabernet franc and petit verdot, Alejandro Sejanovich has created a stunning flavor odyssey with Tinto Negro. Salud!