A juicy red wine, gloriously pure, rich and very elegant; a powerhouse of lush black fruit, silky cocoa, black spice and cream, wrapped around blackberry, cherry and ripe plum. Layered and complex with a nose to linger over, a finish that never ends. This is Malbec as described by one winemaker. How did this largely unknown, blending grape from France find its way to Argentina where it has emerged as one of the fastest growing varietal-wine categories? For hundreds of years a minor blending component of red Bordeaux wines, Malbec is now the largest export of the fifth largest producer of wines in the world, Argentina. I recently sat down with Julia Zuccardi, namesake and granddaughter of the founder of Bodega Familia Zuccardi Santa Julia. Over a glass of her family’s Santa Julia Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, we talked about her family-owned winery in Mendoza and the wine industry in Argentina. Like much of the new world, Argentina owes its first vineyards to the Catholic church. As early as 1556, Spanish missionaries crossed the Andes from Chile, bringing with them vines for the production of communion wine. However, it wasn’t until 1880 that a French botanist planted the first French grape varieties, including Malbec, in the area. Other premium grape varieties were also introduced over the next few decades by immigrant European winemakers. So why is Malbec so successful in Argentina but not elsewhere? Malbec is very susceptible to rot and mildew and therefore is difficult to grow in even modestly damp conditions. Growing regions with any reasonable amount of rainfall while the vines are bearing fruit has difficulty with Malbec, including Bordeaux where only the smallest amounts of Malbec are produced. The major grape growing areas of Argentina, Mendoza, San Juan and La Rioja, are located in the foothills of the Andes where there is little to no rainfall at all. In this semi-arid, desert-like climate of western Argentina, rot and mildew are not a concern and Malbec, properly irrigated, grows in abundance. As in many wine-producing countries, the development of Argentina’s wine industry was driven by domestic demand. Spanish and Italian immigrants brought with them a culture of wine consumption that would see a bottle of wine on the table at nearly every meal. This demand encouraged the rapid development of high-yield vineyards aimed at bulk production to satisfy everyday drinking demands. At its highest, annual domestic wine consumption in Argentina was 90 liters per person, compared to the United States and Australia at around 10 and 20 liters respectively. Following the example of Chile, the Argentine wine industry began to aggressively focus on exports in the 1990s, shifting to the production of high-quality, fine wines for the international market. The transition required substantial foreign investment, largely from Europe and the United States. So-called flying winemakers from California, Australia and France brought modern viticultural and winemaking techniques. Today, Argentina. - Cellar Notes - These Cabernet Sauvignons, Malbec and Torrontes are really excellent for their modest prices and typify the quality and value coming from Argentina today. These three wines represent only a small part of the Santa Julia portfolio, so try others as you encounter them. Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva * Maker: Santa Julia * Style: Red Varietal * QuickClass: Dry Red * Grape(s): Cabernet Sauvignon * Appellation: Mendoza Argentina * Cost: $12 Tasting Notes: Ruby color with purple hues of good intensity. On the nose, complex aromas of ripe fruits as cherries, black cherries and plums. Vanilla, leather, tobacco and spices like black pepper and paprika. On the palate, full-bodied, sweet tannins. A rich red wine with good balance and complexity. Long finish. Torrontes * Maker: Santa Julia * Style: White Varietal * QuickClass: Crisp White * Grape(s): Torrontés * Appellation: Mendoza Argentina * Cost: $9.99 Tasting Notes: Silver yellow with brilliant pale green reflections. Notes of rose, orange peel, white peaches, fruit salad, chamomile and other aromatic herbs. A fresh flavor and light body with flavors of red grapefruit and ripe fruits like peaches and pears. A balanced wine with great fineness in aromas and flavors. Malbec Reserva * Maker: Santa Julia * Style: Red Varietal * QuickClass: Soft Red * Grape(s): Malbec * Appellation: Mendoza Argentina * Cost: $12 Tasting Notes: Dark violet and brilliant purple colors. Good complexity in the nose with typical Malbec aromas of ripe fruits such as figs, plums, blackberries and marmalades. Notes of vanilla, tobacco, coffee and chocolate. In the mouth, full-bodied red wine with sweet tannins, good structure and a long finish. A note about vintage – If you can’t find a particular vintage discussed here, with some significant exceptions, you may find the next vintage year very similar. Modern viticulture and production methods have reduced, although not eliminated, dramatic year-to-year variation. Food pairing suggestions are available at virtualwineknow.com. Local oenophile David Dickson has been a wine educator for nearly 30 years. He welcomes question and suggestions for columns at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..