What’s Up With White Malbec?

Drink Features white Malbec
What’s Up With White Malbec?

Malbec, a red wine grape that hails from France but has come into its own in Argentina, is known for its dark color, rich texture and smooth, lush finish. But some Argentinian winemakers are showcasing the grape in a new and unexpected way, proving that Malbec is far from monolithic.

Enter white Malbec. Bodega Trivento Argentina was among the first in the region to experiment with making a white wine from a red grape (and a dark, intensely pigmented one at that). Trivento’s winemaker, Maximiliano Ortiz, explains that this wine was conceived in an effort to raise funding for a community education product through a partnership with the Fund for Students, also known as FonBec. “Together, we decided to create a wine, the white Malbec, that was not only innovative but also has a positive impact in our community,” explains Ortiz.

It made sense to experiment with Malbec, Ortiz says, because it’s the winery’s flagship variety. Why not play with it?

The first thing you’ll notice when looking at a glass of Trivento’s white Malbec is the color: This wine is so incredibly pale, it’s hard to tell whether the glass is filled with wine or water. Malbec typically boasts a deeply colored hue, so achieving this color isn’t necessarily easy. “Malbec is well-known for its intense purplish-red color, so making a white Malbec was an exciting challenge,” explains Ortiz.

The wine’s beautifully subtle color is achieved through three main techniques. Firstly, Trivento harvests the grapes for its white Malbec very early in the season. Generally, Malbec is harvested in March, but the grapes for this particular wine are removed from their vines in late January, a whole 40 days before their counterparts that are destined for red bottlings. At this point, the grapes are lacking the strong pigmentation they achieve after more days on the wine. After the grapes are picked, they undergo a gentle pressing to separate the skin from the pulp of the fruit. (The skins are what give wine its color.) But Ortiz says the most crucial part of the technique is the process of adding small amounts of oxygen to the wine while it’s undergoing alcoholic fermentation. This, he says, “burns any remaining color.”

The winemaking process is only part of the equation, though. The wine’s light, bright, citrusy flavors are also markers of where the grapes are grown, half of which are sourced from the Uco Valley and the other half of which come from Luján de Cuyo, two of Argentina’s most celebrated wine-growing regions. “The grapes from Uco Valley provide acidity, freshness, and minerality, contributing citrus and floral notes on the nose,” explains Ortiz. On the other hand, he says, “the grapes from Luján de Cuyo bring sweetness and structure, highlighting typical red fruit aromas on the nose.” Despite this being a white wine, those red, berry-forward notes are palpable upon your first sip, creating an interesting—and almost head-scratching—experience.

These days, Trivento isn’t alone. Although Ortiz says the winery was among the first to produce a white Malbec, there are now more producers experimenting in this way with the grape. “Nowadays, you can find nearly eight wineries or brands selling Malbec whites in the local market,” he says. “This fills us with pride because in a way, we helped create an entirely new category!”

The wine industry is notoriously traditional, often opting to fine-tune classic, time-tested flavors instead of experimenting with new projects and employing groundbreaking techniques. Argentina’s willingness to handle Malbec in a new, creative and forward-thinking way highlights just how special these leaps of faith can be. Trivento’s white Malbec may not be the kind of Malbec you’re used to tasting, but it may just be the expression of the grape that graces your dinner table in the future.

Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.

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