Mendoza is a large province (nearly the size of Illinois) that is home to 75% of the Argentina’s vineyards and Malbec is the region’s most celebrated grape. Of course, this wasn’t always the case. Malbec’s rise to international fame began in the early 2000s when the country’s political and economic situation stabilized long enough for the wineries to began investing in improvements once again. Since the 2005 vintage, several producers have garnered top scores for their Malbec wines. So, suffice it to say, Mendoza Malbec isn’t just a pleasant mid-week drinking wine, it’s serious business.
Mastering Mendoza Malbec
Let’s break down the details of Malbec from Mendoza to better understand how to find great quality wines.
Mendoza Malbec Price Pyramid
There are essentially three unofficial quality tiers of Mendoza Malbec based on price. While outliers do exist (overpriced introductory wines or underpriced superior quality wines), for the most part, you’ll find this pricing structure to hold true.
- $50–$250 Exceptional Quality: This is what you’ll spend for the top wines from the most iconic producers. The red wines are often hand-harvested from special vineyard sites and matured in French oak barrels for more than a year. Only a handful of producers charge over $150 a bottle for their top-tier wines and you can find many exceptional wines in the $50–$100 range.
- $20–$50 Great Quality: This is what you should expect to spend for higher-end reserva, or select vineyard wines from high-quality producers of all sizes. Extended aging (in tank or oak), brings out rich chocolatey flavors and velvety textures.
- $12–$20 Good Introductory Wines: Entry level wines, which are usually produced in large quantities, tend to focus on Mendoza’s smooth, juicy-fruity style without too much oak. Why use less oak aging? Well, oak barrels and aging cost money.
Now that Argentine Malbec has garnered top scores from critics, many of us who love the stuff want to add it to our cellars. But, that raises a very important question: if these wines improve with age, are they likely to give a good return on investment?
- 10–20+ Years Aging Potential: Structured, racy Malbec wines with dark fruit flavors, notable acidity, and a powerful, chewy, or tight (tannic) finish are usually anticipated for drinkability within 10–20 years of the vintage. Of the wines that were rated, we noted this style typically received over 93 points.
- 7–11 Years Aging Potential: Malbec wines with dark fruit flavors, notable acidity (“juiciness”), moderate tannin, and a chocolatey, oak-driven finish were usually recommended to be consumed within 7–11 years of the vintage. Of the wines that were rated, we noted this style typically received 90–92 points.
- Drink Now–5 Years: If the Malbec didn’t fit those two profiles, aging ranges were reduced or not listed.
Basic Tips for Seeking Quality Mendoza Malbec
Manual Harvested: Great wines are almost always hand-harvested. While mechanized harvesters continue to improve, there is still no comparable substitute for a delicate hand and a choosy set of eyes.
Extended Aging: Good Malbec can handle cellar aging. Typically, the more time a wine spends in the cellar, the higher investment the winery is making into giving the wine ample time to develop before it hits the market. It’s not uncommon to see quality Malbec wines age for 15–24 months prior to release (regardless of whether it’s oaked or neutral oak/tank-aged).
Tech Notes: Acidity (sourness) is usually between 5–7 g/L and pH ranges from 3.65–3.75 in the top-rated wines we could find tech sheets on. Also, residual sugar is little to none (less than 1 g/L).
- Region Specific: The Uco Valley and Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza’s sub-regions, consistently produce the top-rated Malbec wines. San Raphael shows upcoming potential but still offers good value.