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New World: Malbec

Chile’s stealthy appropriation of Malbec continues, with a chronic oak addiction putting a large barrel-shaped hole in the chances of most Argentinian submissions

What on earth is going on with Malbec in Latin America? Why is it, for instance, that the Argentinian Malbec Varietal Classic section sees a range of rapturously received, well-priced wines from east of the Andes, yet in this section, where the prestige stuff ought to be, they end up playing second fiddle to their beloved neighbours?

The topsy-turvy nature of things is only enhanced when you consider that Chile got twice as many Gold-listed wines for Malbec as it did for the oceans of Cabernet that the country sent in. Curiouser and curiouser.

Because there is no price cut-off here (unlike the Varietal Classic section, where wines have to be under £12), we saw a large number of wines that had high prices and, judging from the weight of the bottles, high opinions of themselves.

And this seems to have been the problem. Tasters were looking for juicy, devil may care fruit and aromatic qualities. What they got, particularly from Argentina, was clunky, clumsy, tannic blockbusters.

‘I’d have preferred the fruitier, more elegant styles that have great drinkability, but this flight showed wines that were over-oaked and over-extracted,’ said Irina Atanasova of Madison Restaurant & Bar.

Maybe that style plays well in the domestic market and the States, but it’s not a good way to make friends with European sommeliers.

The Chileans, by contrast, were rather more restrained. There was plenty of fruit, but it was, as consultant Caspar Auchterlonie put it, ‘an iron fist in a velvet glove’, rather than an iron fist in an iron glove wrapped up with more iron just for good measure.

The added lift and freshness of the Perez Cruz and the Viu Manent saw them pick up two justified Golds, and a Bronze for the Vistamar left the sole Argentinian medal winner, Nieto, (described, interestingly, by tasters as ‘the most international in style of the four – made in the winery rather than the vineyard’) looking somewhat surrounded.

‘I was looking for juiciness, fleshy fruit and some meaty spice in the wine,’ said Galvin Restaurants’ Andrea Bricarello. ‘Producers have to be careful not to drown Malbec in too much oak and over-extraction if they want it to work with food.’