Malbec is still king in Argentina, exclaims Anne Forrest, wine buyer for Laithwaites, part of Direct Wines, which sells directly to consumers in a myriad countries including the US, UK, Australia, Germany and Switzerland.
But there is a concern that, marvellous as Malbec undoubtedly is, the South American powerhouse might rest too heavily on it.
Tim Atkin MW, who is widely recognised as one of Argentina’s most authoritative observers, recently questioned in his column in UK off-trade publication Office Licence News whether Argentina is too reliant on Malbec.
Atkin, who has visited the country many times since first going there in 1993, cited the “partial commoditisation of New Zealand’s Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc”, as a place Argentinian winemakers and producers do not want to go.
While no one doubts the quality and pre-eminence of Argentinian Malbec – except possibly some French producers in Cahors which, hitherto, was the variety’s historical home (there the grape is called Côt or Auxerrois) – there is the worry of having all your eggs in the one basket or, in this case, all your (single variety) grapes in the one harvest basket.
Most Argentinian producers are only too aware of the danger. In fact, the demand for Malbec, particularly from the US, is affecting supply and, as a result, prices are rising. Not necessarily a bad thing, some might suggest.
Ramiro Barrios, regional export manager for the Trapiche brand, tells Drinks International: “Since Argentina turned from volume to quality and made its way on the export markets by the end of the 1990s, global consumers started to learn about Malbec.
“Today, this variety is a boom in some markets, such as the US and Brazil. The UK is experiencing a growing interest and recognises and identifies Argentina as the origin for the best Malbecs,” he says.
“On the down side, the big demand has been pushing grape prices up and Argentina is no longer able to offer Malbec on the entry-level price ranges,” says Barrios.
Andrew Maidment, who represents generic body Wines of Argentina, says: “The US has been a big boom market for the past 10 years – 60% of exports are Malbec. In the UK it is 35% and in the Netherlands it is 25%. The average (globally) is about 35%.
“The US has a love affair with Malbec – the flavour profile and demographics with eating out. They have grown up with big juicy US wines and they love steakhouses so the US matches well with Argentinian tastes. Also, there is the economic factor. The exchange rate has been favourable to the US so Argentina is a great value choice,” says Maidment.
But – there is always a but. Edgardo del Popolo is director of viticulture and winemaking at Doña Paula, which is part of the Santa Rita Estates group. He says: “Argentina’s best variety by far is Malbec so to make other wines that can capture the consumer’s attention, you have to make them at least as good.