Although Malbec is technically a Bordeaux varietal it is rarely, if ever, used in the region. Today in France its modern roots are found in Cahor where it is often blended with up to 30% Malbec and/or Tannat. But if you ask anyone today what country comes to mind when they think of this wine without hesitation they will say, “Argentina!”
On Day 6 of the ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Training program we tasted 7 wines; the 5th wine was the 2010 Pulenta La Flor Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina.
The Terroir of Mendoza
One of the most important characteristics of Mendoza’s terroir is its high altitude in the Andean foothills. In this region winegrowing areas average between 3,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level. As altitude increases, the average temperature decreases, in general 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Farenheit) for every 100 meter (328 feet) increase in elevation.
The result of the varying altitudes for vineyards in Mendoza is that there is a wide fluctuation in diurnal temperatures with bright sunny days and cool nights which enhances the gradual ripening of the fruit. The Mendoza also typically experiences mild weather during the harvest season which gives the grapes extended hang-time which enhances excellent phenolic ripeness. This degree of ripeness goes beyond a simple and measurable level of sugar in the grapes. It means that, among other things, the tannins taste fully mature which minimizes aromas and flavors of “greenness” or “herbaceousness.”
In addition to high altitudes, the vineyards in Mendoza are rooted in alluvial clay, sand and rock soils which are low in vegetation so they naturally control vine vigor and yield. The mountainous formation also provides thorough drainage which encourages the vines' roots to dig deep into the rocky soil rather than seek alternative water sources which would encourage constant growth and which would result in flabby wines.
In addition to its high-altitude and rocky soils, the Mendoza has a desert-like climate with an average rainfall of only 8 inches per year. Consequently the vineyards are dependent on irrigation from mountain spring water that flows from the melting snow caps high in the Andes. To make this possible an elaborate canal system, which dates back to the Pre-Columbian Incan Empire, channels the water to the vineyards below. The result is, although the Mendoza has an arid climate the extensive irrigation through the surrounding landscape sustains cultivation with Mediterranean characteristics.
Pulenta Estate Winery
The Pulenta family has been involved in the Argentine viticulture for three generations. In 2002 Eduardo and Hugo Pulenta founded the Pulenta Estate Winery. But the family winemaking tradition began 100 years earlier in 1902 when Eduardo and Hugo’s grandparents emigrated from Italy to Argentina. They then planted a vineyard on a 5 acre land with a small shed for a winery.
The Estate is located in Alto Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina, one of the most prestigious winemaking areas of the province. What began as only 5 acres has been expanded to 333 acre vineyard that grows at 980 meters (3,215 feet) above sea level. The vines, which were brought from France and Italy and planted by Antonio Pulenta, flourish at the feet of the majestic Andes Range which provides fresh water for irrigating the Estate.
The 2010 Pulenta La Flor Malbec is 100% Malbec. It is opaque dark purple at the core to violet at the rim with medium+ viscosity with pink tears staining the glass when swirled. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of blueberries, black cherries, violets, dark chocolate and vanilla with definite signs of new oak. On the palate it has medium tannins, moderate acidity but fairly high (medium+) alcohol that gives the wine a touch of sweetness on a medium length finish. It wasn’t one of the most impressive Malbecs I have ever tasted, but the La Flor is their entry-level tier which retails for only $16.99, so it is a fair quality wine for the price.