Malbec World Day Challenge: Luigi Bosca Showdown

17 04 2015

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Malbec World Day Challenge contenders.

Malbec World Day Challenge contenders.

Happy Malbec World Day everyone!  If you weren’t previously aware, April 17th was declared an international day of Malbec celebration by the Wines of Argentina back in 2011 in commemoration of the date back in 1853 when the Argentine government submitted a bill to the legislature for the formation of a School of Agriculture and with the objective of boosting and diversifying the country’s wine industry.  The bill quickly became law and led directly to the introduction of the Malbec grape (among other French varietals) to Argentine soils by noted agronomist Michel Aime Pouget.  The rest, as they say, was history.  You might know Argentine Malbec as something of a recent trend, but it’s been a presence in the country for longer than Canada has existed as a nation, and one of the reasons it was well-positioned to take the world by storm in the 2000s was the wealth of remarkable wine infrastructure already present in Argentina, old-vine Malbec vineyards that had been planted a century earlier.  This is actually my second recent brush with a country feting its ex-French national varietal:  I helped Chile celebrate World Carmenere Day back in November.  If any other parts of South America have grape holidays they want broadcast (International Tannat Day, Uruguay?), I’m totally there.

Rather than simply crack a Malbec and extol its virtues, we’re going to spice up Malbec World Day a bit with a varietal challenge, squaring off Argentina’s most famous export against its second vinicultural focus (and the rest of the world’s red fallback):  Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wines come from one of the country’s most prolific and well-known producers, Luigi Bosca, whose name you will surely recognize if you’ve ever set foot in a Costco.  Bosca has a strong foothold in the value wine world and is likely best known for its entry-level bottlings that match varietal correctness with bright, accessible flavours in a sub-$20 package; however, it is not strictly focused on supermarket bargains and has also assembled a varied and impressive reserve-level lineup.  I got my first look at two of these higher-end wines, each of which still only falls in the $25 range:  the Malbec World Day banner-carrier 2012 Luigi Bosca Malbec D.O.C. and its challenger/villain the 2011 Luigi Bosca De Sangre, a blend of 70% Cab, 15% Merlot and 15% Syrah.

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The “D.O.C.” in Bosca’s Malbec D.O.C. refers to the Lujan de Cuyo subregion in Argentina’s top wine-producing area of Mendoza, which was the first in the country to obtain formal appellation status in 1993.  Lujan de Cuyo lies just south of the city of Mendoza itself at around 1,000 metres above sea level; its elevation is one of its defining characteristics, giving grapevines access to huge amounts of sun without excessive heat thanks to significant night-time cooling and a presence near or above the cloudline.  The Malbec D.O.C. is a single vineyard offering from the 70 year old Finca La Linda vineyard.  The De Sangre is from the neighbouring Mendoza subregion of Maipu, a 3 vineyard blend that sees each of the grapes forming part of the final wine vinified and aged separately before being combined.  I have to pause here before launching into the review to acknowledge the awesomeness of the Luigi Bosca website, which includes not only the standard information but also a graphic tasting chart and aroma wheel for each of its wines:  click the respective tabs for the D.O.C. and the De Sangre to check it out.

Side by side:  Malbec left, De Sangre right.

Side by side: Malbec left, De Sangre right.

Now:  to battle.  The Malbec D.O.C. looked distinctly different in the glass than the De Sangre, beaming a bright, translucent ruby-purple as compared to the De Sangre’s deeper, darker, thicker and more rust-coloured hue.  Back in my WSET class days, our instructor told us that one of her go-to identifying marks of Malbec, particularly New World Malbec, was a note of blueberry, which sang through here on the D.O.C.’s nose along with complimentary sweet yet controlled notes of Saskatoon berry, cinnamon, malt candy and a distinct mineral dustiness, like crushed quartz or smoked salt.  The aromas were certainly pleasant and varietally right on cue, but they paled in comparison to the amazing and multi-faceted nose on the De Sangre, which was less fruit (blackberry/currant) and more dark chocolate, tobacco, tomato leaf and smoke, all intertwined by a savoury, herbal, foresty aroma – earth and underbrush and dried moss.  This was a 4 year old Argentine Cab blend?

Cork Rating:  4.5/10 (Basically as down-the-middle as a cork can be.)

Cork Rating: 4.5/10 (Basically as down-the-middle as a cork can be.)

On the palate the story was similar:  the D.O.C. continued to be a precise expression of the grape that put Argentina on the world stage, while the De Sangre kept on shattering glass ceilings of what Argentina’s other red could be.  The Malbec paired explosive grape jelly and black cherry fruit with a pleasant tinge of rhubarb bitterness, with fairly relaxed acid and a quiet structure, although the fine tannins exert themselves a bit on the finish.  The De Sangre had much more up-front structure, both in its aggressive yet polished tannin and in its sneaky-high acidity, making it juicy but grippy, with unabashedly savoury bloody and meaty notes adding verve and intrigue to more expected notes of cedar, sunbaked earth and deep red fruit.  On the whole, the Malbec D.O.C. was classic modern-style Argentinian Malbec:  dark, fruit-centred, yet poised, balanced and in command of itself.  But the De Sangre was a revelation, and a wine that I would expect to keep improving in bottle for years; I wouldn’t be surprised to see it taste like a mature Bordeaux (with a twist) after a bit more time in the cellar.  Colour me very impressed.

As a result, even as the Earth celebrates Malbec today, the grape to which Argentina owes so much, I have to give the win to the challenger.  The Luigi Bosca De Sangre is well worth seeking out and buying in multiples — I’m going to track more down myself immediately.  The light that Malbec has shone on the Argentina wine scene has allowed progress to be made with other grapes as well, and this bottle shows the fruits of that labour.

WINNER:  2011 Luigi Bosca De Sangre — 91 points

RUNNER-UP:  2012 Luigi Bosca Malbec D.O.C. — 88 points

Each $25 to $30 CDN




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