I might as well say it up front: Argentine Malbec is best with food, especially red meat and, maybe soft smelly cheeses.
After all, most of the world’s Malbec comes from a country known for its grilled meats.
This hit me recently when I tried Septima Obra Malbec, a bottle that was a gift from a friend and one priced beyond my comfort zone at about $25.
The Obra was very good when my wife, Sandy, and I first sipped it, but it really sprang to life when we paired it with a dry-rubbed grilled pork tenderloin. It suddenly took on new character. The tannins smoothed out, and the deep red, jammy wine burst with fresh berry and plum flavors that we hadn’t noticed before. I’m sure there were a lot more things going on with the complex wine that someone with a more sophisticated palate could pick up, but at that point, we were just enjoying it and amazed at how well it accompanied the meat and the rest of the meal.
Obra is the Spanish word for a work, as in a work of art, and is the result of the skilled efforts of Septima’s Paula Borgo, a young winemaker who grew up in Mendoza, where Septima is based, and learned her craft working in Spain and the Napa Valley before returning home to take the helm at Septima in 2010.
Septima is owned by Spain’s oldest and second largest wine producer, Codorniu Raventos, a family-owned operation that got into the business in 1551 and is today heralded for its Cava.
Probably not by coincidence, Septima, the Spanish word for seventh, is the seventh winery that the Codorniu Raventos family owns in Argentina. The modern winery, located in the country’s premier Malbec region, is built of Andes Mountain stone and reflects the architecture of the native Huarpe Indians. The family also has an eye on running sustainable operations. The vineyards are farmed using organic practices, and at the winery, almost everything is recycled, the company’s website says.
For a special bottle of wine, Septima Obra Malbec is an excellent choice and a good value. But it isn’t something that I can afford very often, so I tried the lower priced 2014 Septima Malbec, which I found on sale for $9.99. I’d prepared myself for it to be a disappointment after the Obra, but I was pleasantly surprised.
I shouldn’t have been. Borgo puts the same attention to detail into making the Malbec that she does with the pricier Obra.
“I’m looking for freshness from our Septima Malbec. I want to taste the fruit with minimal oak. I believe we accomplish the most with Septima Malbec when the fresh, elegant character comes through as clearly as it does on the vine,” Borgo said in an interview posted by the winery.
Both wines are blends of 100 percent Malbec and are made from grapes hand-picked from the same high-elevation vineyards in Agrelo, a micro region in Lujan de Cuyo with deep alluvial sandy loam and rocky soils, and from Valle de Uco, where the temperatures range widely between hot days and cool nights. The soil there is a rocky limestone clay, prized for producing high-quality, complex wines.
Borgo’s blends produce classic, fine Malbec: inky, but not heavy, wines with a light rim around the top, full of rich layers of flavors with a smooth tannic finish.
Both the Malbec and Obra are lightly oaked — Obra is aged in second-use French and American oak barrels for 10 to 12 months, and the Malbec is aged in third-use French and American oak barrels for six months. Borgo most likely blends the wines differently to make the tannins in Obra a bit smoother, but overall, the differences are subtle.
So, if you can’t afford Obra, the Septima Malbec is a close second and a terrific bargain. With both wines, we found that they benefitted from breathing for about an hour, or you might decant them for a faster result. Also, Obra likely would be enhanced by putting it back for a few years. The winemaker says up to six.
The Septima Malbec is widely available throughout the Upper Valley. Obra is newer to the market and might have to be ordered. If you’ve noticed the price of Malbec has increased lately, blame it on the economy. Among other things, Argentina is suffering from inflation and a depressed peso.
As the weather begins to warm, I’m starting to think about grilling, and I’m planning to have Septima Malbec, even when I’m cooking hot dogs and hamburgers. I feel confident it will pair nicely.
Suggestions of wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.