Ontario meets the World: Malbec Edition!

Hi everyone, Alex here – I’m excited to write about one of my favourite varietals, Malbec, as a feature in our first Ontario meets the World post!

Ontario meets the World is our way to make blind tastings fun – let’s be honest, the idea of tasting a flight of mystery wines and trying to figure out what’s what can be stressful. So our twist on a basic blind tasting is to pick four wines of the same grape variety – with at least one from Ontario – try them all, compare notes, and decide which we like best.

I’ve always liked Malbec because it’s a lighter red, with less tannins than a meaty wine like Cabernet Sauvignon. You can serve it as a cocktail wine at a party, but also with meals such as pork or chicken – it’s versatile.

It also has an interesting history. Though we tend to associate it with Argentina, it has its roots in France where it was popular until a frost in 1956 killed most of the vines. Today France’s production is centred mainly in the Cahors region, and you can still find the occasional French Malbec at the LCBO.

Malbec was brought to Argentina by French settlers in the late 1800’s, and with its thin skin is ideally suited to the long, dry growing season in the area. Argentina has come to dominate global Malbec production, and you can find many great Argentinian Malbecs for amazing prices!

More recently, production has taken hold in Southern Ontario – as I discovered during a recent visit to Hidden Bench in Beamsville. Hidden Bench has grown Malbec for years to use in its Meritage (a Bordeaux-style blend) but has recently decided the wine is strong enough to stand on its own. Seeing one of my favourite wines produced here in Ontario was an exciting moment, and I immediately purchased a bottle despite a rather steep price point, at $39.20.

We both like Malbec – and we wanted to see how the Ontario version stacks up against the best, so over Easter, we had a blind tasting and our first round of Ontario meets the World!

The Wines:

  • Chateau Haut-Monplaisir Prestige Cahors 2012 (France)
  • Piattelli Premium Reserve Malbec 2013 (Argentina)
  • “WTF” Malbec 2014 (a home-made Malbec, made from Argentinian grapes)
  • Hidden Bench Malbec 2016 (Ontario)

While all 5 participants knew they were tasting one French, two Argentinian, and one Ontario wine, they did not know the order of the tasting. That said, three of the five correctly guessed the correct origins of each wine.

  • Wine 1 was very dark, tannic, and had a very smooth texture. It was well balanced and light on the nose, with a hint of petrol and dried fruit.
  • Wine 2 had a floral, fruity aroma. It was lighter than the first in colour, and had a plummy taste.
  • Wine 3 was much like the second, very fruity in terms of scent and taste, with a hint of blackberries.
  • Wine 4 had aromas of barnyard and damp moss, and a very earthy taste with hints of dark chocolate. It was also fairly light in colour.

The Verdict: Nearly all participants enjoyed Wines 2 and 3, which were the WTF and Piattelli respectively – the Argentinians performed well. They were followed in ranking by Wine 1, the French Malbec.

While the Hidden Bench Malbec (Wine 4) wasn’t the crowd-pleaser in this tasting, I would caveat that by noting it was a much younger wine. Even in the course of the hour after we opened it we noticed an improvement in the smell and taste as it opened up. This tells me that if we had aged the bottle over a few years, it would probably be spectacular. While a little pricey, I may try and get my hands on a bottle to age and do just that.

Hidden Bench is a wonderful winery in the Beamsville Bench with high quality wines and attention to detail, and I hope they continue producing Malbec as a single varietal. With time, they will have a beautiful product and I appreciate them taking the risk and bringing a finicky grape to Ontario.

To all our readers, I encourage you to make your own tastings with friends. It’s a great way to get to know wine and have a lot of fun while doing it!

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