Most Argentinean Malbecs you see the wine shop shelves these days come from the Mendoza Province in Eastern Argentina in the foothills of the Andes. I went to a Wines of Argentina Trade Show a couple of years ago and out of the 25 wineries represented 23 had been founded in the last 14 years. That is fairly typical of the Argentina wine industry, most of the wineries have been outfitted and most of the vineyards have been planted in the same time frame. Even many of the existing wineries updated their equipment and modernized their vineyards within the last 14 years. Mendoza has many advantages for growing grapes, it is one of the highest altitude growing regions, high enough so that most of the pests that plague other growing areas don’t exist here (making it easier to change over to organic farming practices). The overriding climate feature of Mendoza, is the high altitude allows the vines to have intense, prolonged exposure to the sun. Because the majority of the wineries are all the same age and the grapes are exposed to the same climate conditions, many of the Malbecs of Mendoza have something of a family resemblance. It is not fair to say they are all the same, because there are differences, but they are going to need more time to develop very distinct, unique characteristics. On the plus side, Mendoza Malbec is uniformly of high quality and very competitively priced, if you buy these wines solely based on what is on sale this week, the odds of grabbing a solid Malbec are very good.
After all that pontificating on Mendoza Malbec that brings us to the 2010 Ruta 22 (Route 22, the main highway) sourced from vineyards in Patagonia, the National Geographic part of Argentina, not Mendoza. Whereas Mendoza is located high up in the foothills of the Andes, Patagonia is a flat desert (one inch of rainfall per year), with generally cool temperatures and continuous strong winds. The grapes were grown in 2 vineyards, the Añelo and the San Patricio de Chañar located in Patagonia’s Neuquen Province. This is an area that shows promise in producing Pinot Noir grapes. 70% of the Ruta 22 was aged in stainless steel tanks and 30% was aged in oak barrels for 12 months. The alcohol content is 14.5%.
The color is a dark opaque mixture of black and scarlet. The nose is intense blackberry, vanilla, Snickers chocolate and raspberry. It starts with chocolate and strawberry, but not sweet, then fresh black and blueberries followed by a swirl of curry spice. The mid palate adds RC Cola, plums and a late hit of Altoids spice. There is a nice balance of rich fruit flavors and controlled blasts of spice. The tannins are in the mix, but are covered by all the strong flavors and the acidity helps the finish linger on and on.
The Ruta 22 Patagonia Malbec is a flavor riot, it does not have a ton of depth, everything it has is on the surface, but it does have a truck load of taste. This is a Malbec that is light enough to be a hot weather wine, while having enough body to stand up to burgers, BBQ and pizza. You should be able to find it for around $10, pick this one up along with whichever Mendoza Malbec is on sale and check out the difference climate and soil make on Argentinean Malbec.