Global Malbec Masters 2019: the results in full
All the medallists and extensive analysis from the latest Malbec-only tasting from the Global Masters, featuring the best samples from Argentina and Chile, and a surprising discovery from Spain.
The Malbec revival may be a recent phenomenon, but this single grape has already been through several phases. In fact, during the course of this century alone, it has swung to stylistic extremes, before settling into a happy medium, meaning that the development of Malbec has many similarities to Chardonnay’s changing character over the same period.
What’s the basis for such a statement? It’s an opinion formed from many years of Global Masters tastings for both grapes – and you can read more about Chardonnay’s style today on pages 68-73. As for Malbec, there was a point in the past decade when it seemed that being bigger was definitely better. This applied to fruit sugars, new oak percentages, alcohol levels and, it should be noted, bottle weights too. The result was something heavy in every sense, as well as deeply red, powerfully flavoured, tannic, sometimes slightly raisined, and definitely sweet to taste, mainly due to the amount of vanillin extracted from the brand new barrels. Like it or not, one couldn’t fail to remember it, and Malbec on a label became a shorthand for juicy, rich red wine. Ally that style to marbled steak, and you had a highly successful partnership that catapulted Malbec on to the global stage, but particularly in major wine-importing markets where red meat is consumed widely – so the UK and US.
As for the source of such a memorable wine style, that was Argentina, specifically Mendoza, and its sub-region Luján de Cuyo. This warm region on the outskirts of the city of Mendoza, home to the country’s oldest plantings of Malbec, was ideally suited to producing concentrated reds.
However, with time, the style and sourcing of Malbec changed. Indeed, a few years ago, our Global Malbec Masters was seeing a new type of Argentine red. This was a lighter style, sometimes with peppery flavours similar to Syrah from the Northern Rhône, or a hint of celery and spicy salad leaves, like rocket, suggestive of fruit that hadn’t reached full ripeness. This was partly a result of cooler Argentine climes, primarily a widespread move into the high-altitude Uco Valley, and partly due to the winemaker, who was intent on finding a fresher, tighter, sharper style of Malbec by picking earlier. A less structured red was also evident, achieved by reducing the influence of barriques and handling the grapes in a gentler manner during fermentations – less pumping and pushing of the must will lower the tannin extraction.
The shift in our tastings notes was marked. While common descriptors had included ripe, fleshy black fruit, creamy coconut, dense tannins, warming alcohols, and glass-staining colours only a few years ago, a scan over the judges’ tasting notes more recently would see words appearing regularly such as red cherry and plum, medium-weight, green pepper, and celery leaf. In a fairly short period of time the Argentine Malbec style had shifted from forceful red to restrained wine, and division among the judges was evident as some welcomed the brighter style, others saw the more herbaceous elements as a weakness.
So what about now? Following a day spent tasting mostly Argentine Malbecs from a range of sources within this country, and across all price bands, it appears that this grape has found a middle-ground. Yes extremes in style are still evident, but for the most part, the Malbec making its way on to the market today has ripe, juicy red fruit, firm tannins, a touch of toasty oak, and a pleasant hint of spice. It is neither too sweet, nor too lean. And it is identifiably Malbec, with its deep colour, and firm structure.
From my own perspective, I’m pleased to see Malbec has found a sweet-spot. Although I could understand the urge to experiment with a light, even slightly green style of wine, there are plenty of reds that deliver such delicacy, particularly with the fast-development of cooler-climate Syrahs from the New World. In my view, Malbec’s strength, particularly when sourced from Argentina, is its ability to create a concentrated, structured red, and one that can happily carry high-toast new oak. It is also this type of wine that made Malbec identifiable, and successful. In the same way that most consumers won’t choose a Chardonnay when they want a delicate white, few would opt for a Malbec when they desire a light red.
As for backing away from extremes in ripeness and oak-influence, that is a healthy evolution for the top end examples, where it would be a shame to lose the fresh fruit flavours from high quality grapes, either by leaving the bunches on the vine so long that the inherent berry characters get baked, or through burying their appeal beneath a wave of barrel-sourced scents and tannins.
With such an extended stylistic analysis concluded, what were the sources of Malbec greatness in our 2019 tasting? While this tasting was primarily a health-check on the state of the grape in Argentina, there were some other countries that surprised the tasters for the quality of their Malbec. With the grape’s popularity assured, more places have been trying their hand with Malbec, while its native home, Cahors in South West France, has seen producers work to create a richer style of red from the grape – one that’s more in line with the character achieved with ease in Argentina. By way of example, last year’s Malbec Master was from Château Lagrezette – a historic Cahors property with Michel Rolland as consultant. But this year, although not a Master, the judges were amazed to find a Malbec from Spain rubbing shoulders with respected Argentine names from Norton to Colomé and Salentein. Gaining a Gold in the £20-£30 price band was Bodegas Clunia in Castilla y León, which had crafted a ripe, dense, toasty, juicy and structured red to rival the finest in South America. It was also the highest scoring sample from outside Argentina.
As for those that weren’t from this Latin nation, there were some good Malbecs from Chile – with medals awarded to Viñedos Puertas, Via Wines, Viña Indomita, Concha y Toro, Viña Cremashi, Viu Manent, Viña San Esteban and Morandé. There was also a delicious example from Wakefield Estate in Australia’s Clare Valley, which picked up a Silver, as did, much to the surprise of the judges, an example from Burgenland in Austria, made by Kraft aus Rust, and loaded with plum and cherry fruit, along with a peppery spice, not unlike the wines from this nation’s flagship red grape, Blaufränkisch.
Within Argentina, it was notable to see the breadth of Malbec styles, with this year, the competition’s first ever white Malbec – a fascinating arrival to the category with an oily texture, and peachy fruit.
Among the Malbec Masters for 2019, it was impressive to see Bodega Aleanna pick up this ultimate accolade for its El Enemigo Malbec sub £20, with the rest of this year’s Masters all awarded to wines over this price point, and mostly over £30.
The tasting proved a particular endorsement for the quality of Malbecs being made by Bodega Norton, but also Colomé, Atamisque and Salentein, along with Trapiche and Doña Paula. Interestingly, the latter two producers, who specialise in isolating special sites and bottling single vineyard Malbecs, gained strong Golds for their expressive wines. However, the Masters went to Malbecs that blended grapes from across a broader area, lending the wines a touch more complexity perhaps?
Having said that, among such stars of the day, was the single vineyard biodynamic Alpamanta Estate, which wowed for its fleshy cherry and blackberry frut, as well as tobacco and chocolate notes.
Another Master was awarded to Fincas Patagonicas, whose Black Tears Malbec is soft, dense and just plain delicious. While for me, the ultimate expression of the day turned out to be the famous Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino. The wine, which hailed from the 2017 vintage, was very much in its youth, with masses of taught tannins, but also intense pure blue, red and black berry fruit, and lingering characters of roasted coffee, pepper and plums. Certainly a great Malbec, but also a fine wine that’s capable of standing alongside the most celebrated reds of the world.
Over the following pages you can see all the medallists from this year’s competition, as well as comments from the judges (who are pictured below), and more information about the Global Sparkling Masters, including how to enter.
|Bodegas Salentein||Osado White Malbec||Salentein||Uco Valley||Argentina||2018||Silver|
Unoaked 100% Malbec
|Miravelles||Dead Man’s Dice||Miravelles||Mendoza||Argentina||2018||Silver|
|Viñedos Puertas||Bone Orchard||Vinedos Puertos||Valle Central||Chile||2018||Silver|
|Andeluna||Andeluna 1300||Andeluna||Uco Valley||Argentina||2018||Silver|
|Bodega Norton||Colección Malbec||Bodega Norton||Lujan de Cuyo||Argentina||2019||Bronze|
|Grupo Colomé||Colomé Auténtico||Grupo Colome||Salta||Argentina||2018||Silver|
Oaked 100% Malbec
|Trapiche||Trapiche Pure Malbec||Trapiche||Mendoza||Argentina||2016||Silver|
|Finca El Origen||Finca El Origen Estate Malbec||Finca El Origen||Uco Valley||Argentina||2018||Silver|
|Bodega El Esteco||Don David Blend of Terroirs Malbec||El Esteco||Salta||Argentina||2018||Silver|
|Finca Lunlunta||La Chamiza Polo Profesional||Finca Lunlunta||Mendoza||Argentina||2018||Silver|
|Graffigna||Reserve Malbec||Graffigna||San Juan||Argentina||2018||Silver|
|Via Wines||Chilensis Reserva Malbec||Via Wines||Maule Valley||Chile||2018||Silver|
|Finca Las Moras||Barrel Select Malbec||Finca Las Moras||San Juan||Argentina||2018||Bronze|
|Trapiche||Trapiche Pure Malbec||Trapiche||Mendoza||Argentina||2018||Bronze|
|Bodegas y Viñedos Pascual Toso||Alta Malbec||Bodegas y Viñedos Pascual Toso||Mendoza||Argentina||2017||Bronze|
|Viña Indómita||Truly Irresistible||Indómita||Bío Bío Valley||Chile||2018||Bronze|
|Bodegas y Viñedos Pascual Toso||Selected Vines Malbec||Bodegas y Viñedos Pascual Toso||Mendoza||Argentina||2017||Bronze|
|Finca Lunlunta||La Chamiza Polo Legends||Finca Lunlunta||Mendoza||Argentina||2017||Gold|
|Estancia Mendoza||Estancia Mendoza||Estancia Mendoza||Mendoza||Argentina||2017||Gold|
|Grupo Colomé||Amalaya Malbec||Grupo Colome||Salta||Argentina||2018||Gold|
|Finca El Origen||Reserva Malbec||Finca El Origen||Los Chacayes||Argentina||2018||Gold|
|El Esteco||Don David Malbec||El Esteco||Salta||Argentina||2017||Silver|
|Bodegas Salentein||Salentein Barrel Selection Malbec||Salentein||Uco Valley||Argentina||2018||Silver|
|Doña Paula||Doña Paula Estate Malbec||Doña Paula Winery||Uco Valley||Argentina||2018||Silver|
|Bodega Norton||Winemaker’s Reserve Malbec||Bodega Norton||Luján de Cuyo||Argentina||2018||Silver|
|Trivento Bodegas y Viñedos||Trivento Private Reserve||Trivento Bodegas Y Viñedos||Uco Valley||Argentina||2018||Silver|
|Trivento Bodegas y Viñedos||Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec||Trivento Bodegas Y Viñedos||Luján de Cuyo||Argentina||2017||Bronze|
|Bodega Malma||Malma Finca la Papay||Bodega Malma||Patagonia||Argentina||2018||Bronze|
|Concha y Toro||Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Malbec||Concha y Toro||Colchagua Valley||Chile||2018||Bronze|
|Bodega Antigal||UNO||Bodega Antigal||Uco Valley||Argentina||2017||Bronze|
|El Enemigo||El Enemigo Malbec||El Enemigo Wines||Mendoza||Argentina||2016||Master|
|Pyros Wines||Pyros Appellation Malbec||Pyros Wines||San Juan||Argentina||2017||Gold|
|Beefsteak Club||Beefsteak Club Reserve Malbec||Beefsteak Club||Uco Valley||Argentina||2016||Gold|
|Finca Ferrer||Finca Ferrer Colección 1310||Finca Ferrer||Gualtallary||Argentina||2015||Gold|
|Andeluna||Andeluna Altitud||Andeluna||Uco Valley||Argentina||2017||Silver|
|Viña Cremaschi||Cremaschi Furlotti Limited Edition Malbec||Vitivinicola Cremaschi Barriga S.A.||Valle del Maule||Chile||2017||Silver|
|Bodega Malma||Malma Reserva de Familia Malbec||Bodega Malma||Patagonia||Argentina||2008||Silver|
|Los Helechos||Los Helechos||Los Helechos||Mendoza||Argentina||2015||Silver|
|Finca Lunlunta||La Chamiza Polo Heritage||Finca Lunlunta||Luján de Cuyo||Argentina||2016||Silver|
|Finca El Origen||Finca El Origen Gran Reserva Malbec||Finca El Origen||Uco Valley||Argentina||2017||Silver|
|Viu Manent||Single Vineyard San Carlos Malbec||Viu Manent||Colchagua Valley||Chile||2017||Bronze|
|Langmeil Winery||Black Beauty Malbec||Langmeil Winery||Basrossa Valley||Australia||2017||Bronze|
|Alpamanta Estate||Alpamanta Camapal||Alpamanta Estate||Luján de Cuyo||Argentina||2018||Bronze|
|Viña San Esteban||In Situ Single Parcel||Viña San Esteban||Aconcagua||Chile||2017||Bronze|
|Bodega Norton||Lote Negro||Bodega Norton||Mendoza||Argentina||2017||Master|
|Bodega Norton||Altura Malbec||Bodega Norton||Mendoza||Argentina||2018||Gold|
|Bodega Colome||Colome Estate||Bodega Colome||Molinos||Argentina||2017||Gold|
|Bodega Atamisque||Atamisque Malbec Andrea Vineyard||Bodega Atamisque||Uco Valley||Argentina||2013||Gold|
|Bodegas Clunia||Clunia Malbec||Bodegas Clunia||Castilla y León||Spain||2016||Gold|
|Salentein||Salentein Numina Gran Corte||Salentein||Uco Valley||Argentina||2016||Gold|
|Wakefield/Taylors Wines||Taylor Made Malbec||Wakefield /Taylors Wines||Clare Valley||Australia||2018||Silver|
|Bodega Norton||Privada Malbec||Bodega Norton||Luján de Cuyo||Argentina||2017||Silver|
|Bodega Colome||Colome Lote Especial Malbec||Bodega Colome||Salta||Argentina||2018||Silver|
|Salentein||Salentein Numina Malbec||Salentein||Uco Valley||Argentina||2016||Silver|
|Kraft aus Rust||XBEC||Kraft aus Rust||Burgenland||Austria||2016||Silver|
|Finca Sophenia||Sophenia Synthesis Malbec||Finca SOPHENIA||Uco Valley||Argentina||2017||Silver|
|Bodega Malma||Malma Universo Malbec||Bodega Malma||Patagonia||Argentina||2017||Bronze|
|Mendoza Vineyards||Finca La Anita Malbec||Mendoza Vineyards||Luján de Cuyo||Argentina||2017||Bronze|
|Fincas Patagónicas||Black Tears Malbec 2014||Fincas Patagonicas||Uco Valley||Argentina||2014||Master|
|Alpamanta Estate||Alpamanta Terroir Malbec||Alpamanta Estate||Luján de Cuyo||Argentina||2012||Master|
|Trapiche||Trapiche Terroir Series Finca Ambrosío||Trapiche||Mendoza||Argentina||2015||Gold|
|Doña Paula||Selección de Bodega||Doña Paula Winery||Valle de Uco||Argentina||2016||Gold|
|Trapiche||Terroir Series Finca Coletto||Trapiche||Mendoza||Argentina||2015||Gold|
|Mendoza Vineyards||R&B Malbec||Mendoza Vineyards||Godoy Cruz||Argentina||2014||Silver|
|El Esteco||Chañar Punco||El Esteco||Salta||Argentina||2016||Silver|
|Catena Zapata||Malbec Argentino||Catena Zapata||Uco Valley||Argentina||2017||Master|
|Doña Paula||Parcel Alluvia||Doña Paula Winery||Uco Valley||Argentina||2014||Gold|
Oaked Malbec Blend
|Trapiche||Iscay Malbec – Cabernet Franc||Trapiche||Mendoza||Argentina||2013||Gold|
Patricia Stefanowicz MW
What a revelatory tasting! In the past I have sometimes treated Malbec as a wine for summer barbecues or gaucho-style steaks, but no longer. The quality of the wines we judged is remarkably high from inexpensive to extremely high-priced. There are very few wines that one would not drink a glass, or even two, albeit that one would like something stronger than water biscuits as an accompaniment; they really are, to use the much-maligned phrase, ‘food wines’.
In 2019, most of the wines are from South America with Argentina dominating the ‘harvest’ of medals, especially of top silvers and golds. Chilean wines can be good when properly ripe and we found a few more-than-respectable examples, showing good balance and concentration.
Most intriguing are a few wines from Australia; Malbec may have a proper future in that area. And a sample from Austria is delectable and shows potential for further development there also.
Lively acidity, well-controlled tannins and appropriate use of oak with high alcohol less evident are all attractive features in the wines judged. At the end, not too much palate-fatigue!
Other positive aspects of the tasting were the blends of Malbec and other varieties. Many of these blends were succulent and aromatic, showing how well Malbec can work with other grapes. In particular, adding extra dimension and filling the sometimes slightly hollow mid-palate make the wines somehow more complete.
At the stratospheric price levels, many of the wines are stunningly delicious: great fruit, appropriate oak accents, bright acidity and velvet-textured tannins-textured, layered, complex wines, worth every pound.
If there were minor disappointments… A few of the wines are quite reductive, which detracts from both aroma and palate. And, some of the wines seem a little hollow in the mid-palate. Sometimes oak can help, but too much oak appears to overwhelm more delicate, floral-accented styles. Oak is not a substitute for high quality ripe grapes.
In summation, a truly delightful judging day.
Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW
The tasting slightly changed my perception of Malbec. There seemed to be some wines that expressed fresher fruit with more acidity and less apparent alcohol. In my experience, Malbec in the past was jammy with lots of oak and that trend seems to be changing for the better.
I felt that there were excellent wines in the expensive brackets – elegant, balanced wines with good structure and judicious use of oak.
I was a bit perplexed by the mid-price wines (£15-£20 and some over £20) – some wines were a bit over extracted and oaked, I can only assume they were trying to justify the price point. It was a tail of two halves – good value at the under £10 (and the brackets slightly over £10) and some fantastic wines over £20.
In general, Ii was surprised at the good quality of wines under £10. Seemed to be more emphasis on fresher fruit and less oak which allows the grape to shine through.
The conclusions from Global Masters chairman Jonathan Pedley MW
The good news first: We had no cases of cork taint and only one wine showed traces of reduction. I am delighted with the latter – when I started helping out with the Masters Series in 2015 we would often have a dozen or so reductive red wines in each tasting. We had one or two wines that showed some clumsy oxidative traits. There were also a couple of suspected cases of Brettanomyces. The most shocking fault occurred with wine 139: the first bottle was hideously volatile (complete with tell-tale surface deposit) but strangely the second bottle was completely clean. As far as I could see both bottles were from the same batch – very odd.
Overall Quality and Styles
Whinge One. Once we got clear of the entry point (more on this below) there were some very good wines. However, there were also a significant of number wines that showed poor handling of tannins and/or clumsy use of oak.
Whinge Two. At the top end I can understand why producers are striving for more harmony and finesse. However, I would appeal to them not to forget that it was the deeply coloured, richly fruity, full bodied but supply tannic versions of Malbec that put the grape variety (and for most consumers in the UK and US the vinous identity of Argentina) on the map. There is no shortage of weedy anaemic red wine in the world so why try to produce more?
I. We squeezed a decent number of Silvers out of the <£10 category but try as we might we could not manage a Gold. At this entry point level the better wines were juicy and gluggable. Amongst the poorer wines there was evidence of less than brilliant fruit (some wines showed jamminess and greenness simultaneously – never a good sign) and amateurish use of oak. I had thought that the days of poorly integrated oak (be it chips, staves or barrels) were largely behind us but there was plenty of evidence today to the contrary. I cannot but conclude that the massive demand for cheap Malbec has led some winemakers to cut corners and “cobble together” wines to hit a price point. Being a little more charitable, it has to be said that the precarious state of the economy in Argentina cannot make obtaining winemaking supplies (such as oak) cheap.
II. Given the above, it should be no surprise that there was a massive step up in quality with the £10-15 wines (much more than say our recent foray with Syrah). It is amazing what decent quality fruit can achieve! It was great to find a Gold (113) at this moderate price point. The £15-20 bracket yielded even richer pickings with three Golds (118, 122 and 123). More Golds (129 and 130) and a Master (133) followed in the £20-30 category. We ended in a blaze of glory with a Gold (134) and two Masters (135 and 136) at the £30-50 price level. In conclusion, there was no evidence of “mid-price/range sag” (something we often see with other varieties) and that to a large extent it seems that with Malbec “what you pay is what you get”.
Argentina dominated the entries and dominated the top of the medal table. All of our Golds and Masters came from this country. It should also come as no surprise that all of our star wines were from Mendoza except for wine 118, which was from San Juan.
Studying the crib sheet after the tasting I was fascinated to find that the vintages for our Golds and Masters covered every year from 2018 to 2012 inclusive, including the problematical 2016 harvest. I guess that this shows that despite some shocking weather events, and some big swings in crop size, Argentina can make excellent Malbecs in most years.
About the competition
The Global Malbec Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business, and is an extension of its successful Masters series for grape varieties, such as Syrah and Pinot Noir.
The competition is exclusively for Malbec wine, and the entries were judged using Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic glasses supplied by Wine Sorted.
The top wines were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Malbec Master.
The entries were judged on 7 November in The London Marriott Hotel, County Hall. This report features the medal-winners only.
Please visit the Global Masters website for more information, or, to enter future competitions – giving you the chance to feature online and in print – please call +44 (0) 20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at: email@example.com