Manchester’s renowned steak restaurant Gaucho is celebrating one of Argentina’s greatest gifts to the world – alongside silver, superb beef and superstar footballers – Malbec wine.
It’s World Malbec Day on 17 April and Gaucho, set in the impressive surroundings of an old Methodist church on St Mary’s Street, is staging an event designed to explore the grape’s fascinating journey from tannic also-ran in south west France to some of the finest, most fashionable and popular red wines on the planet.
There are more than 50 Malbecs on the wine list at Gaucho – one of the most comprehensive in the UK – representing styles ranging from the big, intensely rich wines from the warmer vineyards in the north to the spicy blockbusters from high altitude around Mendoza and the elegant and earthy examples from cooler Patagonia.
One of them – Vina Patricia – is very special to Gaucho. It is produced in its very own vineyard in the Zona Primera region of Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, which Gaucho bought in 2007. They teamed up with winemaker Mauricio Lorca, who has made every vintage since.
In its French homeland in the Lot Valley, the “Black Wine of Cahors” – so called because it was so tannic – was a notoriously poor traveller. Except in the middle of the 19th century it turned out that Malbec vine cuttings travelled very well indeed – all the way across the Atlantic to Argentina.
World Malbec Day commemorates the date – 17th April 1853 – when President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, who made it his mission to transform Argentina’s wine industry by asking French farming scientist Aime Michel Pouget to bring over some vines. Malbec was one of his selections and was eventually planted widely across what was still a fledgling state, Argentina having won independence from Spain just 40 years before.
Though Argentina has long been one of the most prolific wine producing countries in the world, little was exported to the UK until relatively recently. European wines – particularly from the traditional French vineyards in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone and the Loire and to a lesser extent Italy, Germany and Spain – held sway in a much smaller market.
It was as late as the mid-1980s that the UK’s love of wine exploded, its fusty old image swept away by the “discovery” of easy-drinking, fruit-driven, approachable wines from the New World. Australia led the way, then California and Chile and then in the late 1990s, Argentina joined the party in style. But it wasn’t straightforward at first.
Leading wine writer Jancis Robinson explains: “In the 1980s Argentina’s vineyards, particularly those in the dominant wine region Mendoza, were awash with Malbec and the Argentine wine industry was rather ashamed of the fact, assiduously pulling it out in favour of something more obviously fashionable [at the time] such as Cabernet Sauvignon.”
And it wasn’t until the 1990s that foreign visitors to Argentina’s wine lands convinced growers and producers that Malbec was the jewel in their crown, though not soon enough to stop many vines being uprooted, so that for a time Bonarda became the country’s most planted grape variety.
Robinson observes: “Good Argentine Malbec, and there is a great deal of it, for Argentina is one of the world’s most prolific wine producers, is deeply coloured, spicily rich with an exuberant juiciness and has as a trademark an almost velvety texture. Some Malbecs are made for long ageing but generally the wines have much softer tannins than Argentine Cabernet Sauvignon, for example. With its high levels of alcohol and fruit, Argentine Malbec is not difficult to like.”
The event at Gaucho will include starter nibbles followed by samples of four different cuts of prime Argentine beef paired with four different Malbecs.
“From north to south and high to low altitude we will taste how the wine changes depending on where it is grown,” says general manager Stephen Oliver. “To finish, an artisan Yorkshire cheeseboard by Cryer & Stott will be paired with Malamado, a port-style Malbec from the Mendoza region.”
I’ll drink a glass of Malbec to that.
Tickets are priced £25 each and are available from [email protected]