Mendoza, where about 80% of Argentina’s wine is produced, is not known for overly challenging weather or severe vintage variation. To the contrary, this high-elevation desert region regularly benefits from plentiful daytime sun backed by cool Andean nights devoid of humidity.
Yet the harvests of 2014 through 2016 were anything but normal, with frosts, hailstorms, rot and mildew, and even an El Niño year (2016) with drenching rains yielding wines that spanned the gamut of quality while often falling short of Argentina at its best.
Fortunately for fans of Argentine wines, those difficult years are now largely in the rearview mirror, replaced by a more familiar and welcome batch of wines from 2017, 2018 and 2019. By and large, the current crop of wines, led by the country’s signature Malbec, is in top form. Overall quality has proved to be high, especially among wines from 2018, a year that saw near-perfect growing conditions.
“We consider 2018 to be very nice, with more grapes compared with 2017, which had the lowest yields in the last 50 years,” said Karim Mussi, winemaker with Altocedro and several other labels. “We had a warm and dry season. Full ripeness came around 10 days early, with a great temperature range during the end of the season, assuring almost perfect phenolic ripeness.”
Signs point in the right direction for 2019 as well. “Both 2018 and 2019 were very good years, with normal yields, something that is important because when yields are too low, ripeness arrives faster,” said Sebastián Zuccardi, winemaker at Familia Zuccardi.
The bottom line: Now is a good time to stock up on Argentine wines. Malbecs from 2017 through 2019 are the best they can be and in full distribution, while other varieties (including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay) and blends also benefitted from excellent conditions.
4 Gatos Locos 2018 Malbec (Gualtallary); $42, 93 points. An opaque color and aromas of crisply spiced blackberry and smoke form the opening on this fine Malbec from Gualtallary in the Uco Valley. A concentrated palate is anchored by grabby tannins that should resolve with more bottle age. Toasty blackberry and cassis flavors are backed by chocolaty notes, while this feels smooth and doesn’t grind on the finish. Enjoy through 2023. Kysela Père et Fils. Editors’ Choice.
Luca 2018 Old Vine Malbec (Uco Valley); $35, 93 points. Concentrated black-fruit aromas alongside hints of cardamom and coriander open this lush Malbec. Blackberry, cassis and dark plum flavors are pure and agile on the palate. Enjoy through 2024. Vine Connections. Editors’ Choice.
Zorzal 2017 Eggo Tinto de Tiza Malbec (Tupungato); $30, 93 points. This red delivers a full blast of berry fruit aromas along with savory notes of beef stew and fine herbs. Like the nose, this tastes herbal and savory. In terms of feel, it is solid in stature but brightened by bold acidity. Drink through 2024. Brazos Wine Imports. Editors’ Choice.
Argento 2018 Single Vineyard Finca Agrelo Organic Vineyard Malbec (Mendoza); $40, 92 points. Mild herbal and gamy notes add character to meaty blackberry and cassis aromas, while this Malbec from an excellent vintage feels full, smooth and chewy. Fully ripe and dense blackberry and chocolate flavors finish warm and steady, with concentration and balance. Enjoy now through 2024. Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits.
Colomé 2018 Auténtico Malbec (Salta); $30, 92 points. A deeply saturated black-meets-purple color and cool aromas of herbal blackberry, cola and minerals open this lush Malbec from Salta. A sappy palate is dense and full bodied, while this tastes of wild berry, cassis and balsamic reduction. A thick and sappy finish is fitting even though this sees no oak. Hess Family Wine Estates.
Alta Vista 2018 Estate Malbec (Mendoza); $20, 91 points. Berry and plum aromas come with a meaty accent on the nose. This Malbec from a strong vintage offers juicy acidity and medium overall intensity. Lightly spicy plum and berry flavors are slightly gamy and wild on the finish. Kobrand.
Fabre Montmayou 2018 Reserva Malbec (Mendoza); $15, 91 points. Ripe blackberry aromas are reduced at first and then expand on a saturated nose. Ripeness continues on the palate, with flavors of lush berry fruits, cassis and chocolaty oak. While this is a bit heady and adheres to the familiar Mendoza style, it’s a highly satisfying Malbec at a good price. Vinovia Wine Group. Best Buy.
Kaiken 2018 Ultra Malbec (Mendoza); $20, 91 points. Baked blackberry and plum aromas include notes of coffee and raisin on the nose. Spiky acidity lends texture to the medium-depth palate, while this tastes of blackberry and cassis before transitioning to chocolate and toast on the finish. Drink through 2024. Guarachi Wine Partners.
Maal 2018 Biutiful Malbec (Mendoza); $22, 90 points. Ripe berry aromas fill out a convincing nose, while this unoaked Malbec shows intensity and bold acidity on the palate. Fresh berry and black plum flavors are clean and easy to enjoy. Overall, this delivers purity, verve and quality fruit. Vineyard Brands.
Salentein 2018 Reserve Malbec (Uco Valley); $19, 90 points. Spicy blackberry, cola and cool earth aromas set up a hefty palate with midlevel acidity and rubbing tannins. Ripe, lightly baked blackberry and dark plum flavors finish steady on a full and jammy finish. Palm Bay International.
Zolo 2019 Estate Grown and Bottled Malbec (Luján de Cuyo); $12, 89 points. Berry and plum aromas are generous, jammy and lightly spiced and bring a wild animal note into play. A full and flush mouthfeel supports spicy plum, currant and raspberry flavors. On the finish, dry spice notes and a composed texture are positives. Vino del Sol. Best Buy.
Domaine Bousquet 2019 Virgen Organic Malbec (Tupungato); $13, 88 points. Berry aromas are lightly reduced at first, with notes of fresh asphalt and purple flowers. The medium-bodied palate shows a deft touch, while it tastes of bright berry fruits. The finish of this organic Malbec is juicy and steady. WISD LLC. Best Buy.