What: Malbec is the wine that took U.S. wine drinkers by storm 10 years ago and never left our hearts. For several years, shipments of malbec from Argentina jumped by 30-60 percent each year.
Those increases have slowed dramatically, but Argentine malbecs continue to be popular with wine drinkers. It is a populist wine, and sales have grown through word of mouth rather than by sommelier recommendations. You still don’t see much malbec on most wine lists, but wine shops sell a lot of it.
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone say they don’t like malbec. It is such a pleasant wine it’s hard to go wrong. In fact, it would be a good wine to introduce a novice to wine drinking, or someone who thinks he or she doesn’t like red wine.
One of my favorites is Antigal Uno, a lush fruit-forward wine with a long finish. It is a deep red in the glass, with some violet along the edges. It opens with pleasant aromas of wild berries and plums with a hint of coffee.
On the palate, you taste the same dark fruit, chocolate and some spice and vanilla notes. The wine spends 8-10 months in French and American oak, so there are firm tannins, but they don’t overpower the fruit flavors. It is 100 percent malbec.
What makes this wine even better is the price has dropped by a couple of dollars over the past six years. You can’t say that about very many wines.
The grapes are grown at high altitudes in several valleys in Mendoza, Argentina. The best malbecs come from high-altitude vineyards, where the concentration of sun coupled with cool breezes produces the most elegant expressions of this varietal.
The higher the vineyard, the greater the sun’s effect on the fruit. Grapes grow thicker skins, which means more aromatics and tannins. Vines enjoy prolonged sunshine but do not suffer from excessive heat.
The Antigal Uno combines great fruitiness with finesse for a top-notch wine.
The bottle is a conversation piece, with a large numeral “1” on the bottle. It cleverly appears to be made of metal and riveted onto the bottle. The Uno is the general release version of the winery’s limited production flagship wine One.
Malbec came from France where it is mainly used as a blending grape in Bordeaux wines. The only place where pure malbec was made was in Cahors, but most of that was for domestic consumption.
The grape struggled in France because the vine was susceptible to rot and disease, so not much was planted. But when cuttings were taken to Argentina in the mid-1800s the vines thrived. The heat and sun in the valleys along the Andes Mountains were perfect for these grapes.
Mendoza is the fifth largest wine-producing region in the world, and is known for malbec. But because the region is so large, not all of it is suitable for growing malbec.
Malbec was mostly enjoyed in Argentina until rising prices of European wines forced many wine drinkers to look to South America, where they found this gem of a wine.
Winery: Antigal Winery &Estates was founded in 2000 on the site of an historic winery in Russell, Maipú, with origins dating back to 1897. The Peiro family left Europe for Argentina generations ago and had farmed Mendoza vineyards for decades before turning to wine making.
The historic building was given a multi-million-dollar upgrade with the help of consultant Angel Mendoza, one of the pioneers in creating the modern malbec viticulture. A key part of the new winery is a gravity flow system that treats the grapes more gently than a traditional pump system.
Winemaker Miriam Gomez says the ultra-gentle winemaking allows her to produce a smooth and flavorful wine with Uno.
“We produce wines that express in every bottle its terroir,” said Gomez. “Our philosophy is a gentle treatment of our hand-picked, high-elevation fruit, meticulously sorted for the highest quality and characteristics from our vines.”
Antigal owns more than 900 acres of prime high valley vineyards. Three vineyards are in Mendoza’s Uco Valley and a fourth vineyard and the winery are in Maipu.
Antigal has the capacity to produce 1.2 million liters of wine.
Goes With: We had this wine with one of those quick and easy meals where the wine makes it special. We thawed frozen lasagna, added a large tossed salad and had an instant feast.
The fruit flavors matched well with the tangy tomato sauce in the lasagna. Everything was in harmony.
This is a versatile wine and will pair well with many dishes, such as lamb, duck, game, beef and pork. It also goes well with semi-firm, nutty-flavored cheeses such as manchego or gran canaria.
I also have enjoyed malbec with wood-grilled beef at an Argentine asado. There’s nothing better.
Wine seminar: 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27, Wine World, 133 Georgia Ave., North Augusta; 10 Charles Smith wines; $25/$18 for wine club members; (803) 279-9522
Wine tasting: 5-7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27, Kroger, 435 Lewiston Road, Grovetown; free; (706) 619-3420
Wine and beer tasting: 5-7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27, and Saturday, Jan. 28, Vineyard Wine Market, 4414 Evans to Locks Road, Evans; (706) 922-9463.
Wine tasting: 5-8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27, Whole Foods, 2907 Washington Road; $5; (762) 333-0260
Craft beer tasting and art auction: 7-11 p.m. Friday, Feb. 3, Snelling Center, 3165 Washington Road; $75; (706) 840-7441