The Many Faces of Malbec

Sunrise in Mendoza, Flickr Tony Bailey

The Many Faces of Malbec

I’m sure you already know about Malbec and you’ve most likely seen it on wines from Argentina. In fact, much of the world has an intense love affair with Malbec.

Yet, you may not know that Malbec has many faces. In cooler sites and years, it can show red fruit such as raspberry or red plum but can gain blueberry notes and even riper black berry fruit in warmer areas. When all these fruits combine, they are said to have bramble fruits. Malbec also ages well and can gain a stewed fig and balsamic reduction notes. It can be gamey and smell like game meat, and may have oak spices that give it a sandlewood perfume or a cocoa note. It may even smell of mint leaves.

Some Malbec’s show an immediate sweet taste on the tip of your tongue when it first enters your mouth. Beware of these Malbecs – they are often the most inexpensive ones and have residual sugar in them which it doesn’t need. Malbec is fruit packed on it’s own.

That’s not to say that they’re aren’t great values on excellent Malbecs. I’m sure you’ve tried those too!

In fact, Malbec shows differently depending on where it’s grown. The grape  variety is originally from France. You can taste wines from Cahors AOC to try wines that have slightly lower alcohol levels and certainly an earthier, meatier quality to them.

Perhaps because the world loves Malbec so much, many sommeliers dismiss wines made with Malbec as being too proletariat and ordinary. Yet cool, high elevation sites will show a gravelly mineral note or iodine-blood saltiness that wine snobs love. And since Malbec is a grape that changes based where it is grown, it’s worth knowing more about Argentina’s wine regions to know which areas and producers have the styles you love most.

Here are some quick facts about Malbec and why you shouldn’t dismiss this incredible grape! I’ll also share some producers with you so that you can more easily navigate to the styles of Malbec that you like the most.



  • Malbec is a black grape originally from Bordeaux, France
  • In France, it has many synonyms such as Côt and Auxerrois
  • After the great frost of 1956, it simply isn't replanted in Bordeaux
  • Bordeaux’s climate is Maritime and wet so it doesn’t work well with poor Malbec who is susceptible to bunch rot.
  • Malbec wines are still made in the village of Cahors where it rains less than in Bordeaux
  • French agronomist Michel Aimé Pouget brought Malbec to Argentina in 1853

History of Malbec

Malbec berries are tightly packed and work well with the dry Argentine climate

Malbec berries are tightly packed and can be susceptible to bunch rot in humid climates. The grape is therefore well suited to the dry Argentine climate.

Quick Facts Argentina

  • Argentina has a dry climate with which works well with Malbec
  • known as the Zonda, a dry, dusty, hot afternoon wind helps to prevent fungal diseases yet can adversely affect flowering in the spring
  • a dry climate means that organic viticulture is easy here - horray!
  • They still have to worry about frost in many places. Vines in the north (Salta) are trellised high in perral (pergola) to avoid the coolest frosty air. Cool air is heavy and always sinks to the bottom leaving warmer air above.
  • The summer hail here is called Piedra. One feature of Argentinan vineyards are the black nets that cover the vines to protect them from frequent hail storms that can occur every month. These storms can be made of huge stones that also damage cars and trees!
  • Hail problems means that many producers have vineyards planted in different areas as an insurance measure
  • most vines are ungrafted because the biotype of Phylloxera here is mild. Many experts say that wines made from ungrafted vines are superior in quality.
Pergola trellising system in Argentina. In high elevation sites, Malbec will be trellissed high yet underneath the canopy to protect the grapes from sunburn and aerate them to protect the tight bunches from rot

Some high altitude vineyards have Malbec trellised in a pergola or parral. That is, the vines are tied high while the grapes fall below the canopy. This protects Malbec from sunburn as the high altitudes literally put them closer to the sun (more intense ultraviolet radiation). The parral training system also aids aeration so Malbec's tight bunches don't rot.



This can be pretty confusing so we'll just discuss a few...


in the far west of the country next to the Andes Mountains are Cuyo's 3 provinces. Provinces such as Mendoza are divided into departments which are further divided into districs which are further divided into single vineyards. Often there is a department and a district with the same name. Here are Cuyo's 3 provinces.

  1. San Juan
  2. La Rioja – producing mostly white wines
  3. Mendoza

San Juan

Argentina's second biggest wine producing area.


Graffigna, Los Moras

most wine comes from the south in Tulum which is at lower elevations of 650 meters (2132 feet). Wines from here are rich and more blue/ black fruited than red. Watch out for those wines that have residual sugar in them!

Best quality wines come from higher elevations in Padernal Valley 1100 meters/3608 feet meters and Calingasta at 1500 meters/4921 feet. Wines from here taste fresher with more red fruit (plums and black raspberry) and may taste dryer and more old world in style.

Mendoza also has 3 subregions

the traditional heartland with the majority of wine production (makes 70% of Argentina's total).

Often Mendozan wines are a blend of all three regions as the producers mentioned on the right may have vineyards in all three regions to use as single vineyards or as a part in blends.

Old school wine press for making Malbec in Uco Valley, Mendoza
Old school wine press for making Malbec in Uco Valley, Mendoza
Producers to look for: Alfredo Roca

lower elevation and therefore warmer and traditionally known for higher yields and lower quality although districts of San Rafael (where Alfredo Roca is) and General Alvear can produce high quality wines

Luján de Cuyo
Producers to look for: Cheval des Andes, Mendel, Krontiras

the traditional zone of Mendoza at 800-1000 meters (2600-3200 feet) elevation, clay soils (Malbec likes this!) known for it's red fruit, elegance, mid-palate and texture. Highest elevation vineyards are in Las Compuertas and Vistalba

Uco Valley
Producers to look for: Archaval Ferrer, Salentein

The rising star of Mendoza between 1000-1600 meters (3280-5250 feet). Cool temperatures from higher elevations ensure the sunlight effect on thickening skins for higher tannin, fuller body and pretty violet aromas with natural high acidity. Soils are very poor and have high drainage together with constant breezes that ensure low yields and high quality. Most famous is the department of Tupungato taken from an extinct volcano of the same name.


Salta hosts the famous property of Colomé which is the regions best and grows Malbec at 3111 meters/ 10,206 feet elevation!

Other producers to look for: El Esteco, El Porvenir

vineyard at Bodega Colomé in Salta Argentina where Malbec vines sit at over 9000 feet
vineyard at Bodega Colomé in Salta, Argentina where vines sit at 3111 meters or 10,206 feet



If you like dark fruits, cocoa and oak flavours of baking spices to stand out in your wines try ...

Vista Alba (Corte A)
Graffigna (some have noticable residual sugar so skip those)
El Porvenir
Viña Cobos (especially the Bramare line that has very balanced oak and fruit)

If you like the bramble fruit and pretty violet notes to stand out...

Bodega Noemía

Dirt + Blood
or Gravel and Iodine- blood like saltiness

And if you want those notes of gravel or iodine make sure to choose the top bottlings of a producer from excellent sites. These include high altitude plantings in Uco Valley (Pajare Altamira, Gualtallary (Tupungato), and Vista Flores), or Colomé's Altura Maxima Vineyard (which means Maximum Height)

Argentine Wine Regions

Argentine Wine regions

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* There was no payment for the writing of this post. However, Wines of Argentina did graciously host me for a trip to Argentina in 2016.That’s where I gained a new appreciation for Malbec and all its many faces 🙂

7 Tips to get the most out of VinItaly Wine Tasting in Verona, Italy

Wine Tasting Tip #3 - Italian sommeliers host regional tasting bars at VinItaly. Use regional tasting bars as a great way to experience what the region has to offer in short period of time.
hillside of Verona with the ancient Roman theatre Teatro Romano
hillside in Verona with the ancient Roman ruins

Every wine tasting event is special. The paragraphs below detail 7 tips for getting the most out of wine tasting at VinItaly.

What is VinItaly?

Each year in April, the beautiful medieval city of Verona becomes a mecca for wine students, journalists and importers. They come for VinItaly, a cornucopia of wine and food tasting events over 5 days.

What makes this wine tasting event so special? It’s open to the public. At wine tastings, you get to try an amazing array of different styles of wine at a fraction of the cost.

‘VinItaly in the City’ is just one of the events. Brightly coloured flood lights highlight the ancient walls in the evening. Food trucks and wine producers peddle their wares as musician play live in the Centro Storico of Verona.

The ‘headliner’ for VinItaly is the grand tasting at Veronafiere exhibition space, a mere 10 minutes drive from the center. Free shuttle busses bring the masses to the exhibition space and back.

Veronafiere is massive. Each building houses 1000’s of producers.

Aethetically, this is my favourite wine tasting event of the year. Milano fashion suits and funky leather dress shoes meets old world wine tradition and large round wheels of stinky cheese!

Check out the photos in this post;  notice how each wine booth is independently designed. Italians use their sense of fashion and grace to turn a simple booth into a modelling runway.

You MUST go!

Borgogno Barolo booth at VinItaly wine tasting in Veronafiere. This gives you an idea of the style of the event. Each producer has their own unique style for each booth
Borgogno Barolo booth at VinItaly wine tasting in Veronafiere. This gives you an idea of the style of the event. Each producer has their own unique style for each booth


Since this is the only event that allows both the wine trade and the public together at the same time, it is important that you know how to look like one of the pros. So here are 7 tips to get the most out of VinItaly’s wine tastings.

7 Tips to get the most out of VinItaly’s wine tastings
  1.  Plan ahead.

This space is huge so plan ahead.  Choose 6 regions of Italy you want to explore and see where they are on a map of Veronafiere. Try to spend quality time in 2 maybe 3 regions per day.

Make sure the wine regions are close to one another in the exhibition area. You can easily waste a lot of time walking back and forth across the massive exhibition space. Check out the map of Veronafiere by downloading the brochure on the VinItaly website or by clicking here.

If you are a wine buyer for a store, it’s always great when you say hello to your importers (who have also flown from all over the world to work at the event).

However, if you are not part of the wine trade, VinItaly’s website allows you to email individual producers. Give them a day when you plan on being near their section and see if you can set up an appointment or two.

Give yourself plenty of time to find their booth but don’t stay with them too long. It’s really not easy to keep a timetable since there are soo many things to do. And know this; once you sit down, you will end up spending more time than you thought and time will fly.

Don’t feel that you have to book appointments either.  You WILL be invited to sit at a table for charceuterie and wine just by passing by. (This won’t happen with the top producers of Barolo or Brunello di Montalcino – you know, the most famous regions of Italy, but it will happen everywhere else!) Italians are the most welcoming culture.

For those in the wine trade, you can choose to just skip any bookings and simply text your importers when you happen to be nearby. (Importers will let you know in advance their booth numbers). They will appreciate you coming out of your way, and may provide you with immediate introductions to the best Italian producers they represent.

Veronafiere exhibition space from above; each building hosts 2 wine regions and 1000's of producers for the main wine tasting event
Veronafiere exhibition space from above; each building hosts 2 wine regions and 1000's of producers for the main wine tasting event

    2. Wear comfortable yet stylish shoes!

You will behave as a kid in a candystore since seeing this much luscious Italian wine in one place is mind blowing!

So, wear comfortable shoes! You will want to explore as much of the exhibition space as possible.

Furthermore, Verona is known for their high quality shoe shops and fashionistas which means, make sure your shoes look good! A little shoe polish goes a long way to avoiding that up and down look of Italian judgement and disdain.

Wine Tasting Tip #2; Wear nice comfortable shoes for Veronafiere wine tasting in Verona
Wine Tasting Tip #2; Wear nice comfortable shoes for Veronafiere wine tasting in Verona

    3. Make use of the regional bars.

Looking at the Veronafiere exhibition space (from the brochure you downloaded above), you’ll see that each building hosts 1-3 regions of Italy.

Once inside, find each individual producer by locating them on the large boardmaps at each of the main entrances.

OR you can go to one of the many ‘regional bars’ hosted by certified Italian sommeliers as in the picture below. The regional bars have a ‘wine list’ of producers and wines to sample from that region. The bars are a great way to understand a region in a limited time.

It also gives you the opportunity to rest your feet!

The sommeliers show equal support for each wine and producer so they won’t  tell you what their favourite wines are. However, after a time they get to understand your tastes, and they will pull out fantastic recommendations for you. 

Wine Tasting Tip #3 - Italian sommeliers host regional tasting bars at VinItaly. Use regional tasting bars as a great way to experience what the region has to offer in short period of time.
Wine Tasting Tip #3 - Italian sommeliers host regional tasting bars at VinItaly. Use regional tasting bars as a great way to experience what the region has to offer in short period of time.


4. Bring your own water bottle.

With all wine tastings, drinking water is important. You can buy water at Veronafiere, but it’s not always there when you need it. And you don’t want to waste too much time looking for it to buy it.

Tip #4 is the most important wine tasting tip for VinItaly.

It’s much easier to bring your own 1L water bottle and fill it up whenever you see a water fountain at the wall.  Full disclosure, I’ve even filled it up in the bathroom. So save the single use plastic and bring a 1L water bottle in your bag.

Food however, is everywhere! And it IS amazing. As Italians view wine as a food, Pavillion C is completely dedicated to it.  Olive oil, pasta, aged cheese, mortadella, every version of salami, you name it.

In addition to this, there are pop-up tents showcasing Italian restaurants where you can share lunch with friends over a white tablecloth.

    5. Some Southern Italian regions require more patience. 

Most of the pavillions are well mapped out so that finding the producer you are looking for is easy. However, when visiting Sicily, nothing seemed to match up. After finding the information booth and receiving an updated list and map of all of the producers, still nothing was where it was supposed to be. I wasted too much time searching instead of tasting.

    6. Don’t expect to get anything done on Wednesday

Wednesday is the last day of VinItaly and most of the producers are gone by 11 am. If they are still there, they are packing up. Wednesday is not the most productive day for tasting.

This year, I’ll see if I can visit the German and Austrian producers on Wednesday. I’m counting on them to stay until the end! Check back at the comments after April 10th and I’ll let you know if I am right.

    7. DO NOT GET DRUNK!!!

It is not appropriate to get drunk at any industry wine tasting. EVER. One of the complaints from the wine trade about VinItaly, is how some members of the public use the time to drink too much. That’s why most wine tasting events have separate tastings for the wine trade and others for the public (where the public is charged much more than the wine trade).

So don’t forget the spit part of sniff, swirl and spit.

Instead, practice the art of mindful drinking and think about what went into making this gorgeous liquid. This should be easy as the producer/ artisan is right in front of you.

Indeed, public drunkenness is completely unacceptable in Italy, overall. This holds true even where there is live music, dancing, and a free bar. Be an ambassador and respect the local culture; eat enough food and drink enough water to balance the alcohol in the wine.

If you’ve been to VinItaly and you have some insider tips on how to get the most out of the wine tasting event, please leave your comments below!

Or, if you know someone who is heading to VinItaly, you can share this by clicking on a social share button.

If not, but you would like to learn about more wine tasting tips, subscribe to Sommwine in the right sidebar at the top of this post.

Disclosure: Although I was not paid to write about VinItaly, I did recieve a scholarship to study with VinItaly International Academy in 2016. 

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