THE LETTER M FOR MALBEC

Malbec begins with “M”

“We only need to drink an abundant glass of black Malbec, from a good harvest and this inspires us to speak thus of this mystic wine”
by: Winemaker Angel Antonio Mendoza &
Winemaker Juan C. Rodriguez Villa

Malbec begins with “M” for Mendoza, brought to this land of Argentina by the hand of Tiburcio Benegas, the aristocratic governor and founder of Trapiche Winery in 1883.
Miguel Pouget, was one of the first French winemakers that consulted with the Benegas family. He planted French varietals to differentiate them from the “Spanish wines” of the period.
The generically named “French grape” was the variety most widely planted in Argentina at the end of the 19th century. The first vineyard owners planted according to the European tradition: every six red plants, one white variety of Semillon. In this way, a blend was made, that following the old winemakers, balanced the great concentration of the color of Malbec by lessening the marked roughness caused by the tannins.
While the first Malbecs were from Las Heras, in El Plumerillo and Panquehua, (the Mendoza river region at 2300 feet above sea level), it was in Maipu and Lujan de Cuyo, where Malbec was born. They are so memorable the Malbecs of Medrano, Barrancas, Cruz de Piedra, Lunlunta, Perdriel, Agrelo, Ugarteche, Vistalba, Las Compuertas, Drummond, and Chacras de Coria.
Then the foothills of Valle de Uco, express their intense character of ripe black berries and their profound bishop red. The Malbecs of San Carlos, La Consulta and Vista Flores are impressive because these grapes grow with very cool summer nights of less than 53°F.
In the south of Mendoza, in San Rafael, exists some privileged land, which expresses in the variety a spicy, menthol character.

“M” for Macho, because it was a manly red wine. It was drunk by more men than women. It also integrated the blends of table wines in the first 7 decades of the 20th century, where the culture of wine grew by the hand of the European immigrants.
The winemaking grandfathers, wet the pacifiers of their grandchildren with Malbec to sterilize them against Cholera and Salmonella and to make them more delicious. These legendary grandfathers, conserved their good memory and never used Viagra! A well set table with Malbec was enough. With more than 7 children, they worked the vineyards until well into their 70’s.
“…Old man, my beloved old man, born in the century of industry and red wine…”
My father was a lover of this red wine that my mother sent him to buy at the corner store that he enjoyed with his lunches and dinners.
This wine was from Malbec and I never thought it would be our life’s work during these last 38 years.

“M” for Manso, (Tame), with a red, violet color so impressive, but with a friendly, long taste. With medium acidity and soft tannins that envelope you tamely like the Mendocinos that produce them.
This quality is one of the most appreciated in the world of wine and is the reason that French investors came to Argentina; to bet on a variety that was not able to express itself or distinguish itself in the aristocratic soils of Bordeaux.
A rich Malbec competes with better results, against the virtues of a blend of Cabernet-Merlot of the Medoc.

“M” for Malleable. Because this grape adapts well to be able to create seductive wines, like Blanc de Noir, the base of solemn sparkling wines, and Rosés for appetizers and eastern foods. Simple varietal Malbecs, with 4 to 5 days of maceration on its skins, wines to be consumed in the year with their rich fruit expression that match well with everyday food. Those superb cellaring Malbecs, matured in oak, that impress the world and those that are the pride of Argentine winemakers.
Also it is possible to create intellectual wines for the study, for cigars and for fall gatherings of the style of Port, Passito, Ripasso, Ricioto and Amarone.
Malleable for its participation in noble red wine blends, single vineyard wines of all kinds and blends of Malbecs from various microclimates.
It is also malleable for its reflection of the terroir of Argentina with over 1250 miles of distance between the North and the South, an oasis of mountain rivers in the foothills of the Andes mountain range.

“M” for Morado, (Purple). This red varietal, possesses a distinguished and unique composition of anthocyanins, where it is malvidin that lends the violet purple pigment with red borders, which is stable during the first 3-4 years of life.
This character distinguishes itself from the rest of the red wines, (Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Tempranillo), with different anthocyanins that are more unstable and rapidly show nuances of copper, ocher, and chocolate.
Its intense chromatic and purple pigment increases as the vineyard’s altitude rises on the solid eastern slope of the foothills of the Andes.
At 3280 feet above sea level, the most noble and biggest bodied Malbecs of Argentina are obtained. The synthesis of anthocyanins during the maturity of the grapes needs warm but not hot days. At 95° F, enzymatic activity of the phytochrome ceases. Also, cool nights of 59° F are required for biological compounds to be formed by photosynthesis the next day. The viticulture in altitude permits us to obtain Malbecs that are more notable.

“M” for Mujer, (Woman). Surely, beside every winery owner, every Argentine winemaker or producer of good Malbec, there is a noble woman that inspires and counsels him in each piece of work on this emblematic varietal.
But also today, Argentine Malbec, enjoys its creation by beautiful feminine hands of important, professional women, many of which were licensed by the Don Bosco College, by the Umaza Enology School and Mendoza’s Agrarian Science College.

“M” for Music. A great Malbec, tasted in the tranquility of the family table or in the aristocracy of the restaurant, is like an exciting symphony of chords and sensory notes that tranquilize the spirit and predispose an excellent digestion.
This wine is a psychic stimulant of intellectual activity; its vivacious character brings returns of optimism, sociability and it is a producer of happiness.
We have always understood and compared the great wines as a masterpiece conducted by an excellent director of orchestra, which is the winemaker.

“M” for Madrigal, (short lyrical poem) Also a noble Malbec, made with love by many hands: viticulturist, agronomist, vineyard operator and cellar hand, winemaker, lab technician, salesman, general manager, all remember the brief poetic composition in which is expressed an affection or delicate thought. At times this transforms into a “lyrical musical composition of many voices”, that after the second cup, acclaims its seductive and respectful honesty.

These “M”s, mark their genetic quality and distinguish themselves in each vineyard site of Argentina.
But also, this varietal has an “M” for Mala (Bad):
In deep soils, it expresses itself with vigor with big broad, overlapping leaves that hide the fruit from the sun betraying its disagreeable, herbaceous and bitter tannins. This ampelographic character also impacts the differentiation of fruitful buds of the next harvest, beginning to express through the years, an infertility that does not help the producer, because it lowers the income from the grape production of the vineyard through the appearance of male plants.
This excess of leaves also impacts the harvest by passing bitter flavors to the crushed grapes. So, the high-end wines need a selecting belt, prior to destemming or crushing.
Cold springs provoke an incomplete fruiting flower set. This is the economic reason for which Malbec did not prosper in Bordeaux.
In viticultural regions with temperate springs and deep, generous soils with high fertility of flower set, grapes grow with more than two seeds and of large size and volume. These bunches, weighing more than 200 grams at maturity, possess less concentration and components that lend varietal personality.
“With fat grapes, you will always produce lean wines”

Translated by: Kirk Ermisch, Southern Wine Group

Southern Wine Group & Rage Productions announce world premiere of Boom Varietal, a documentary on the rise of Argentine Malbec

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Bend, Oregon (September 29, 2011) – Southern Wine Group, (SWG) “Importers of Latin America’s Finest Wines” is pleased to announce the world premiere of Boom Varietal, a full-length documentary about Argentina’s Malbec wine, on October 7th, 2011 as an official selection at the 8th annual Bend Film Festival.

“The film has been a lot of work, but it has been rewarding to document what we have seen happening in Argentina over the past decade during Malbec’s introduction into the U.S. This film captures the lives of both the wine growers and the Malbec grape itself in a very honest and captivating way. This film will stand with the best wine documentaries ever produced,” said Kirk Ermisch, SWG’s President and the film’s Executive Producer.

Sky Pinnick, Rage Production’s owner and the film’s Director added, “We are very proud of this film. We spent eighteen months following the lives of various wine makers, growers, producers and field workers in Argentina, a culture we knew almost nothing about when we first started this project. We transported our RED digital cinema camera down to Argentina, which provided some challenges but also allowed us to capture some really beautiful cinematography. It wasn’t easy producing a film in a foreign country, but we were able to cross cultural barriers and tell an amazing story that I think people will connect with in any language.”

The buzz among wine connoisseurs and novices alike is one word – Malbec. Originally from France, Malbec found its perfect home, its perfect terroir in the dry Argentine climate. Its booming popularity has swept through the U.S. and the world, reviving a varietal that had been nearly lost. Boom Varietal will inspire your palate and a love for Argentina’s rich culture.

About Southern Wine Group
Southern Wine Group is the pioneering national wine importer and producer of fine wines from Latin America. SWG began operation in 2000 and was among the very first U.S. importers of Argentine Malbec and Torrontes in the country. They have since expanded over the last decade to include in the portfolio, “best of class” wines from leading boutique producers in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico. Visit us at www.southernwinegroup.com.

About Rage Productions
Rage Productions has been producing award winning films, music videos and TV commercials since 1994. Their internationally distributed films have won awards such as Best Film, Best Core Film, Best Cinematography and Best Editing. Based in Bend, Oregon they offer a wide range of services from filming to editing to music composition. Learn more about Rage at: www.rageproductions.com.

For more information, see www.BOOMVARIETAL.com or contact Kirk Ermisch or Sky Pinnick directly.

Contact:
Kirk Ermisch
Southern Wine Group
kirk@southernwinegroup.com
Or
Sky Pinnick
Rage Productions
sky@rageproductions.com

See the release on the wire service

2011 Mendoza Harvest and Reflections on the State of the Industry

Hello everyone,
I don’t consider myself a “blogger” so I don’t update this very often. Nor, does there seem to be enough time in the day to allow to get to this as much as I’d like. However from time to time the need does seem to arise. Either someone surprises me by saying “hey you haven’t written anything for a while, why not?” or something happens that tends to grind in the back of my mind until I attempt to express it here or in private email form. So here goes, what’s on my mind, North American Summer 2011.

I am just finishing my harvest stay down here at Bodega Calle. It was our 10th harvest. I cannot believe it and I was kinda surprised to realize this, (I was at Vina Altair in Chile when I asked them how many harvests they had done, Ana Maria the expert winemaker there told me, “this is our 10th harvest, we started in 2002” to which I replied, “gosh, I guess this is our 10th harvest in Mendoza too”). 10 years. Wow, what a ride. We haven’t yet had any kind of big party to celebrate. We just keep our heads down and keep working. Seems to be our character. Eventually we will have to organize something…

I personally have been involved with 13 harvests in Mendoza. I have seen better harvests than others, but Mendoza generally delivers on the promise. Not at all like other major growing areas in the world. That said, to understand harvests in Mendoza think of a tuning device that has 4-5 knobs. One for early harvest frosts, one for dry, scorching summer heat, one for hail, and one for harvest time rain. If you want to throw in one for Zonda, the super-blustery winds that happen from time to time that can blow off grape flowers, then we could throw that in too.

2011 the knob was way up on spring frosts in Valle de Uco. Up on Zonda, way up, then suddenly down on heat, up on severe hail in Valle de Uco and Agrelo, and down on harvest rains. What we got was a very reduced crop in Valle de Uco and parts of Lujan de Cuyo, (Agrelo). Grapes came in substantially late because of the cool, dry harvest conditions. Because of the reduced yields in Valle de Uco, quality was very good with deep black red colors that were out of this world. Lujan, did not have its best year. Not a bad year by any means, but not the best. Yields were standard, and the early hot summer heat seemed to last too long for quality’s sake in Lujan. Once the nights got cooler, it was too late to really help things.

I guess you could say that it was a bit of a “global warming” harvest. Intense climatic episodes, with lower altitudes getting blasted too much for their own good with summer heat, albeit that the duration of the heat wasn’t as long as feared.

We’ll see how it all goes from here. Despite what I said, we have a lot of great quality wine (having bought lots of good fruit this year), to watch going forward. We were generally pleased with everything and glad to have another harvest under our belt.

The climatic conditions of harvest this year had a huge impact on grape prices once you factored in demand for Malbec grapes. Throw cronic double digit Argentine inflation into the mix and the continued weak dollar and you got a pretty tricky situation for everyone. On the bright side, it means Argentines will get what they want, diversity in sales. As Malbec prices move up, the consumer world will be willing to purchase lower priced, other varietal wines when they can get equal quality non-Malbec wines for a few dollars less on the shelf.

The silver lining may be indeed that Argentina firmly evolves beyond the “one-varietal” “one-hit-wonder” status that it seems to have laid before itself. I won’t say I know the content of John Gillespie‘s speech at the Foro Vitivinicula in Sept this year, but the title I understand has something to do with a consumer’s willingness to “trade-down” when prices of their favorite wines go up in price. Basically, wine drinkers are only brand or varietal loyal to a point. Wine drinking is generally about exploration and if your staple wine gets too expensive then that is a good reason to try something new!

In almost 14 years being involved in Argentina, Malbec was the most expensive per kilo on average than ever before; and I mean in real dollar terms too. Just to get a snapshot of what I am dealing with: Malbec grape prices were up almost 50% this year; and this after a string of years of grape prices increase. Bottles have effectively doubled in price in 12 months. As have cardboard boxes, and labels. Labor? Remember the stereotype that Latin America had cheap labor? Forget about it. Now, Argentina’s minimum wage is nearly that of the USA. Would have anyone thought this would happen so soon? The decision for wineries this year is a true ‘rock and a hard place’ proposition: Make no money this year at the winery or mark up prices, and risk having the consumer, “trade down” and stop buying your product. Not a fun place to be.

Such a tight spot unfortunately brings out the corruption in those that it comes naturally to. In Argentina, wineries that have been in business many years have an accumulated “number” of Malbec volume built up. Understand that in Argentina, if it comes in as “Malbec” and goes out in a red blend and not as “Malbec” the Malbec volume “number” stays on the winery books. Very useful in this time of high prices and high demand that you might have a little bit of Merlot and Cab laying around and want to export it as “Malbec” to one of the more price point conscious importers looking for a deal.

Therefore, beware those $6.99-9.99 wines marked as “Malbec” on the front label. I would say that it is virtually impossible to make a 100% varietal Malbec wine these days at the above prices confronted with the real costs associated with making such a product. If the wine isn’t on close out or from a vintage dating prior to 2010 then forget about it. It isn’t pure Malbec my friends.

Good Malbec starts at about $14.99 retail these days, still a great deal. Things start to get interesting at about $18.99 and above. Still a deal when these wines compete with the best wines of the world. Unfortunately, Malbec is no longer “cheap” so who knows what is about to happen to volume. At only about 2% of the import market, one would think that continued growth is probable, (especially since Australian Shiraz grew to be about 7% of the same market) . But like everything from Argentina over the last 80 years, it is the Argentine’s (READ lousy Government) themselves that seem to always mess up a good thing. So muchachos, where do we go from here?

Another thing I have been working on this year is a film with Sky Pinnick of Rage Films on the Boom of Malbec. It will be called Boom Varietal we think, (see http://www.Boomvarietal.com). It hopes to explore and answer this question.

Finally, unlike most other boutique importers of Argentine wines, we have always sought to sell more than Malbec and we have always sought to sell more than wines from Argentina. We sell wines from 4 Latin American countries now and have successfully created niches for them. We sell a diversity of different varietal wines from Argentina and have done so since the beginning. I think that Malbec will remain important for us as a business and for wine drinkers around the world. However, now more than any other time before, it makes sense to explore other wines from Argentina, not to mention all the great wines to be discovered in Chile, Uruguay, Mexico and beyond.

Happy tasting!
Kirk

SWG Adds Uruguyan and Mexican Wine Leaders

Hello all:

After much hard work we are pleased and honored to announce that we have pioneered again in creating the first premium book of top suppliers of fine wine from Uruguay and Mexico.

Also, due to thier limited nature, some wines will be exclusively sold on our web site.

In the case of Mexico, we have added Baron Balche, Vinisterra, and Quinta Monastario. The wines are of different styles and from different winemakers. Each reflect a passionate drive for achievement where they have striven to honestly interpret Baja’s terroir. Each wine has layered, rich fruit flavors, true integrity and are what I would consider “serious” wines.

However, because wholesale importing is 95% of what we do, we will always add items where we can secure well priced buys of greater quantity for our wholesale network. In the case of Mexico, we have purchased 300 cases from Villa Montefiori. The wine is a delicious 07 Cab/Sangiovese ‘Mexican-Super Tuscan’ blend. Beautifully packaged and in perfect condition, this should be a hit. Ask for it at your better wine outlets. Also available online at http://www.southernwinegroup.com.

From Uruguay, we have added Viñedo de los Vientos and Bodega Carrau for online sales and Bodega Bouza for our wholesale network. Bouza is widely touted as Uruguay’s best boutique winery. Among their other wines, they make luscious, black velvet Tannat, fine mineral rich Chardonnay and citrusy, smooth Albarino. All of these will be available in a mere few weeks.

I wish to encourage you to try these wonderful wines soon. With the addition of these fine producers, we are now truly pan-American! Thank you.

Carmelo Patti 2005 Malbec Has Arrived

If you are looking for a gutsy, traditional style, terroir-driven Malbec bottling (something we come across less and less in these days of heavy extraction and new oak), you will be thrilled. While the wine shows plenty of the delicious boysenberry and plum fruit that make this varietal so popular, it is the wine’s beguiling earthy, mushroomy notes and slippery texture that make it memorable. The timing cannot be better, as Carmelo’s Malbec is perfect with fall foods – think roast chicken with fresh chantrelles or pumpkin risotto with guanciale.

Tabali 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Now In Stock!

After much anticipation, the 2008 vintage of Tabali Sauvignon Blanc Reserva is here. Load up the station wagon, as you will want to have this around all summer!

“The 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Reserva is a great value. It exhibits a fragrant bouquet of mineral, passion fruit, and citrus. This leads to a mouth-watering, vibrant, lengthy Sauvignon that way over-delivers for its humble price. Tabali is producing high quality wines from the newly developing cool-climate region of Limari. 90 Points.” – Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Issue 182