In the good old days before climate change, when man walked gingerly across the frozen tundra, Bordeaux was a very different place. Some grape varieties ripened consistently every vintage, while others did not. Malbec, a thin-skinned that produced a deeply colored and highly tannic wine, should have made a valuable contribution to the blend of the Médoc, but the region’s weather worked against it. After a severe frost in 1956 that killed off 75% of the Malbec vines, many estates decided to concentrate on Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
Antigal barrel room.
In the perpetually sunny climate of Argentina, however, Malbec blossomed and found a home. After the variety was first planted there in 1868, locals found that it produced a wine that was full-bodied, generous and less severe than its French counterpart. Even so, the quality of that wine didn’t matter much until more than a century later.
The triumph of quality over quantity in Argentina began in the 1980s, when economic pressures caused the country to focus on making wine for the export market. There was a tremendous influx of outside capital and winemaking talent into the country over the next few decades, focusing on high-altitude vineyards outside of Mendoza. At the same time, many historic wineries were revitalized and brought into the modern era.
One such winery is Antigal. Housed in a historic building in Maipu that dates to 1897, the facility retains the traditions of the past in a modern, gravity-flow operation that allows for careful and gentle winemaking. Antigal sources its fruit from a trio of choice vineyard sites in the Tupungato region of the Uco Valley, located at 3500 feet. The winemaker is Miriam Gomez, a native of Mendoza who has worked at some of the more prestigious Napa addresses, and who describes Antigal as “a winemaker’s dream environment.”
The result of all this is the 2013 Antigal Uno ($18), a deeply colored red with a nose of rich blackberry aromas and pronounced herbal notes. The wine enters the mouth smoothly, then explodes in the mid palate with a range of tart black fruits, mineral and fresh herb flavors arrayed against an assertive tannin structure. The fruit reverberates on a long and juicy finish. Antigal suggests lamb, duck, pork and game as food pairings, and like all good Argentine wines, Uno is most at home with beef.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. For more information, go to amazon.com