In The Red Corner

Riesling or Malbec is what it boils down to in today’s (wine) World Cup final.

That’s right ladies and gentlemen, given that two South Americans won’t be competing in Rio de Janeiro today as had been previously hoped, we’ve got the next best thing on our plates: an old world versus new world competition. And despite their differences, what a game of two halves it’s going to be…

Reputation-wise, it looks like the white German grape will easily have today’s match in the bag.

Favourites such as a dry Spätlese from classic Riesling-growing region Mosel Saar Ruwer or an Eiswein whose grapes were harvested during snowy winters have been pleasing palates for decades. But don’t rule out our homegrown fruity purple-red wine whose best results start life in Mendoza: Valentin Bianchi’s Famiglia Bianchi Malbec 2012 from San Rafael in the southern part of the province was anointed the best red in the world in April by the Union des Enologists de France (French winemakers’ association) no less, and that’s quite an accolade to match.

While some wine guns will swear by old world vintages, believing the “big five” Bordeaux grapes could never be improved upon, others happily look to the brave new world and southern hemisphere vintages. Legendary critic Robert Parker, who has the ability to make or break a label, fortunately marks up various Argentine offerings with 94+ points on a regular basis with Catena Zapata Malbec and Chardonnays leading that pack, while the World Association of Writers and Journalists of Wines and Spirits ranked Zemlia Himno Malbec Bicentenario 2010 from Luján de Cuyo a mind-blowing second in the world two months ago.

That’s not all. Argentina took home 10 coveted spots out of 100 in that same list, while Germany didn’t even get a snifter in until the Anselmann Riesling Eiswein 2012 ranked 40 — and even then it was the first of two wines to make the list.

Of course, we’re comparing chalk and cheese here, red and white. But these representatives of Germany and Argentina have their fans, and for many reasons.

Usually high in acidity, the fresh dry Riesling that’s often brimming with citrus and tropical fruits has the ability to easily express its terroir. And beside retaining its freshness and youth — essential during 90 minutes — Riesling is also exceedingly versatile, which could prove valuable in Brazil on the pitch today. Enjoy it young and dry within a couple of years of harvest, keep an eye out for Rieslings with ageing potential whose notes offer an unusual yet valuable reminder of petrol or kerosene, or sip on a Riesling Beerenauslese whose grapes hooked up with some noble rot to create a whole new style of sweet wine.

Oh yes, versatility in any given situation could be key to this German grape coming out on top today.

<strong>A fruity and juicy champion</strong>
But in the other corner, a fruity and juicy champion who has discarded its French origins to fare extremely well far, far away from south-west France.

Currently writing its own 21st-century history, this red-skinned immigrant also known as Cot is making waves from Cafayate in the Argentine north to Río Negro in Patagonia, although its spiritual home is Luján de Cuyo.

All heart and plenty of body, the Argentine Malbec never fails to delight and often surprises drinkers with its plummy vitality and violet hue — that tone then transforms into a floral nose of the same flower. A youthful Malbec stuffed with tannins and young fruit on the economical side is a dependable team-mate at any casual barbecue, while a varietal aged in French oak for around 12 months then bottle aged for a year or two will prove experience and complexity — imagine vanilla-coated plums and cherry were dropped into your mouth one by one — comes with age.

Ah yes, the Malbec you back today could decide whether this Argentine ends up as champion of the world.


<strong>And the winner is?</strong>
Although Doña Paula’s first Riesling harvest only came to fruition in 2013, it’s doing rather nicely, thank you. Feeling right at home in the fresher climes of Gualtallary in Valle de Uco although at an altitude of 1,300 metres which rather higher than in its native Germany, stony soils rammed full of minerals make their way into this pale yellow varietal. A floral nose awaits and is backed up by fresh citrus, while the terroir’s minerals shout out at you in the mouth. It’s refreshing, rather like licking a cool stone on a hot summer’s day. For today’s match, drink it as an aperitif supported by some slices of smoked salmon.

Meanwhile, the Penedo Borges Icono Malbec 2011 from Brazilian-Argentine owned Otaviano winery, appropriately enough, is a perfect pairing with beef or simply on its own. Classic in every way a Malbec should be, savour the vibrant dark-purple hues before taking a bite of a medium-rare rib-eye.

Then savour this icon again. It’s so perky and alive, the traditional plum starts dancing with an unusual hint of raspberry and a rave kicks off right there in your mouth. Vanilla and chocolate join in too; 12 months in French oak assure they won’t be missing out on this Malbec party.

A wine of champions.

<em>Doña Paula Estate, Riesling 2013, Doña Paula, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, 120 pesos
Penedo Borges Icono Malbec 2011, Otaviano, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, 260 pesos</em>

<a href=””>Buenos Aires Herald</a>, July 13, 2014

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