World Malbec Day is upon us (April 17th) and it's a day that is something of an oenological treasure hunt. On the plus side, there are very few bad outcomes—Malbec has ascended to its beloved platform in large part thanks to its astounding consistency as a grape. But the sheer number of variations available means finding bottles that stand out from the pack and requires a small bit of sleuthing. Obviously tasting and reading are your two best friends here, but for those looking for a shortcut, here are three hacks that can give you an edge when looking at a wall of Malbec and deciding which bottle to choose.
1. A Specific Location on the Label
Even the casual wine drinker will recognize "Mendoza" as the region of Argentina responsible for the the vast majority of Malbec production, but Mendoza is a huge Province in Western Argentina, so its presence on the label tells you very little. What you want is a more distinct sub-area that's known for producing superior wine. For me the Uco Valley (or sometimes Valle de Uco) is always a good sign and quite common. A little more rare is the Lujan de Cuyo (where the below bottle of Trivento comes from).
Even basic vineyards in Mendoza are quite high, but there are quite a few vintners who go even higher in search of great freshness and acidity to balance out Malbec's always plentiful fruit. The legendary producer Catena pioneered this work (and to be honest if I was doing one more hack, "Buy Catena" wouldn't be out of place) but there are other producers who go to the expense of planting up high and are willing to get lower yields to boot.
Often you'll see the phrase "High Altitude Vineyards," like on the label of the always- excellent Terrazas, but because I'm a nerd, I really like to see actual figures like Finca Decero (below) uses: Remolinos Vineyard, 3500 ft. And the resulting wine is fresh and vibrant and really show the benefit of going waaaay up.
3. Go Further Afield
We just mentioned how Mendoza is the centre of all things Malbec, but it's far from the only region growing the grape. And in my experience, if a producer is going to the trouble of growing the grape elsewhere, and then going to the trouble of exporting it, and then having to explain to North American consumers, "No, it's not from Mendoza," then they must be confident that they're making something unique. La Rioja is a region to search out (albeit an insanely confusing name, given that Rioja is already a famous Spanish wine), but my fave is the rugged, far Northern Province of Salta. Here you'll find the wonderful Bodegas Colome, as well as the widely available and excellently priced Amalaya (below) a wonderfully perfumed and dark fruit take on Malbec.