Food and drink 

Malbec: The grape with altitude and attitude

If it's true that a region's wine can develop a certain synergy or simpatico with its food, then it makes sense to consider certain countries' wine and perhaps exclude others when you are looking for the classic barbecue red.

Think about it. Italy and barbecue, not really. France and charcoal grilled beef - no way. Spain, I believe, has more outdoor ovens than barbecues. German barbecues, who has ever been to one?

No, when it comes to barbecue I believe Australia, Argentina, South Africa and North America are the countries with the most backyard chefs.

Today we further refine our search by settling on one country - Argentina - and one varietal wine - malbec. The Argentines are the master of asado , explained in Wikipedia as "a technique for cooking cuts of meat, usually consisting of beef alongside various other meats, which are cooked on a grill ( parrilla ) or open fire." For some reason the smoke and char of the fire works perfectly with the un-marinated, salted-only, grilled meat and the savoury liquorice, black fruit flavours of malbec.

It seems that wherever I go, malbec is on everyone's lips and with over 20,000 hectares planted, 22 different clones and myriad growing zones at all altitudes the future for this ripe, soft, Argentine red is bright. The power-packed grape thrives in and about the region of Mendoza, where some vineyards reach as high as 1,200 metres above sea level. Its voluptuous, black fruit flavours that finish with a strong, earthy, savoury undercurrent are striking a special bond with consumers.

For now, if there are any question marks they are the rising levels of alcohol and the use of too much new oak. Both are natural results of modern winemaking, but they can and should be tamed. It takes vision and guts to go to the market with fresh wines offering fruit and complexity as opposed to chocolate and coffee and alcohol rates of 15 and 16 per cent, but it is possible.

Even better news are the numerous choices available in Canada especially at the affordable end of the price spectrum where malbec's price/quality ratio is as good as it gets in the wine business. Top all that off with the barbecue factor - malbec's ability to match most grilled meat dishes - and it's difficult to say "no" to this engaging varietal red.

This month we look at a series of malbec labels that speak to the new world of Argentine wines. Each is well worth investigating.

Finca Flichman Malbec Oak Aged 2008 $11 is the poster boy for inexpensive tasty red wine. Look for plenty of soft, smooth edged peppery fruit with bits of liquorice. Serve liberally around the barbecue or with pizza, chicken or spaghetti.

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