What’s ‘Fun’ in ‘Funky’

It’s full-on summer. Kids are out of school; Canada Day is past and every weekend from now until the end of August will be packed with the warm-weather activities we all love but have such a short time to enjoy.

Seems I’m grilling every second or third evening (not that I mind) and looking for a casual red wine to serve with burgers. Last week I picked up a fun Argentinian Malbec wine, Funky lLama ($11.80).

I was looking for just a casual wine with interesting flavour and a little bouquet (nice smell) to knock back with a burger. This one worked well.

The Malbec grape in this wine is one of the world’s great wine grapes and almost exclusively associated with Argentina, where, over the last 15 years, it emerged as their signature grape. Its noble, old-world heritage has its roots in the Bordeaux wine region of France.

In the 1850s and 1860s, European settlers in North and South America began to identify ideal regions in the new world for grape growing and winemaking.

In California, post-gold-rush Italian immigrants and Spanish-descended Mexicans who had migrated north to look for gold, in 1849, realized that the hills and valleys north of San Francisco were ideal for planting grapes and there was an opportunity to replicate European-styled wines this side of the Atlantic.

Around the same time, Spanish-descended immigrants to Argentina and Chile were coming to the same conclusion, at the same latitudes, but south of the equator.

Farmers from California and South America planted vines they imported from the great wine-growing areas of Europe, but, overwhelmingly, sourced their grape vines from Bordeaux.

They planted the well-known Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines and, in Argentina, they also planted a lesser-known Bordeaux vine, the Malbec.

Between 1875 and 1890, much of Europe’s vineyards were destroyed by phylloxera blight (aphid-like flies that killed much of Europe’s grapevines). The blight and a killing freeze, in the 1950s, left most of the Malbec vines in the world today, in Argentina.

For the last 15 years or so, Argentines have focused winemaking efforts on developing this wine offering – a welcome addition to the world of wine tasting.

Taste-wise, the thin-skinned, deep-purple Malbec grape produces a robust red with a fair amount of tannin (tannin puckers your mouth and tongue).

This tannin works well with grilled meat as it washes fat off the tongue and cleanses the taste buds, preparing you for that next bite of burger or steak. Remember, Argentina is famous for its beef, so it’s a natural and winning combination.

The Funky lLama Malbec is a reasonably priced Argentinean wine with a pronounced and positive bouquet (unusual for its price), and its taste reminds me of dark fruit – plums, perhaps – with a moderately tannic finish.

This vineyard, in the famed Mendoza Valley of Argentina, has a success on its hands: they have taken a page from the marketing book from Australia’s Yellow Tail and Little Penguin wines and developed an approachable, affordable offering that captures the basics of a particular grape.

This formula has made the Yellow Tail lineup the best-selling wine line in North America.

If you haven’t tried a Malbec, try Funky lLama. I also recommend the High Altitude Cab/Malbec Blend ($15.65) or the Pascual Toso Reserve Malbec ($20.55).


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