When asked to name a good South American wine, most Phnom Penh wine drinkers will without a doubt mention a Chilean wine. This is surprising because Chile is only No 9 in terms of world wine production. Argentina on the other hand, produces almost twice as much wine and, in fact, is the fifth biggest producer of wine in the world. Whilst many of us have different associations with the country, Eva Peron, the tango and even good steak, Argentina's real passion is wine, and most Argentineans have at some stage experienced a love affair with one particular wine: Malbec.
The wine industry of Argentina is rooted in the mass immigration from Europe during the second half of the 19th century. Spanish and Italians, for whom wine is a way of life, flocked to Argentina and planted the first legal vineyards in the lee of the Andes around the cities of Mendoza and San Juan.
Until that time wine production in South America was forbidden, and the small amount produced was used in the churches for Sunday mass.
The new wave of immigrants produced wines to satisfy their own thirst, and it was not until the opening of Buenos Aires al Pacifico railway to Mendoza in 1885 that the market expanded to the capital and then the world.
Today Argentina is the fifth largest wine-producing country in the world, and while it produces wine from noble grape varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay, the country's signature wine is Malbec.
Malbec, originating from Bordeaux, had once been an important grape variety for the region before it was wiped out by Phylloxera disease during the second half of the 19th century.
Fortunately for today's wine connoisseurs it was brought to Argentina by the aforementioned immigrants and here Malbec found its new home.
Malbec is capable of producing both concentrated, full-bodied and deep-coloured wines with black-stone fruit aromas and round tannins as well as medium-bodied easy drinking fruity wines.
The Reservas, usually aged in American oak, tend to develop creamy vanilla and coconut hints on the finish. So, if you are a fan of full-bodied, concentrated wines or medium-bodied easy drinking ones, Malbec is your grape and there are plenty of options to choose from.
A quiet revolution
It is fair to say that in the last 5-6 years the world wine market has witnessed a considerable revolution in response to changing tastes.
Today's consumers are looking much more for elegant wines with finesse and freshness.
In their desire to satisfy consumers' taste, the Argentinean winemakers started to "mature" beautifully, just like a good wine. The evolution of their signature grape, Malbec, is a clear sign that the country's wine industry is in a new phase of development. The wines are more delicate, more feminine. The beast is turning into a beauty.
More and more vines are planted on the higher slopes of the Andes - the cooler climate gives more acidity and freshness, and also lower sugar levels, consequently lower alcohol levels (since 14 percent alcohol content is no longer fashionable amongst today's consumers).
Winemakers are also experimenting with French oak that leaves hints of leather and cedar on the palate instead of heavy vanilla and coconut flavours developed from the use of American oak. Wines are crispier, fresher and elegant with ripe velvety tannins. Even un-oaked styles are in line with the trend.
Last year, for example, on a Malbec blind tasting held in London, seven out of eight professional wine tasters preferred the un-oaked style Malbec to the heavy oaked versions.
Today's consumers are looking much more for elegant wines wth finesse and freshness.
The Phnom Penh wine market does not offer a huge choice of Argentinian wine, but what the capital offers is well worth searching out: Malbec is available and at very reasonable prices.
If you are a fan, or aspire to become one, drive over to Pencil which offers Argento Malbec at the price of US$9.50 - deep dark violet in colour, offering powerful aromas of black-stone fruits and notes of chocolate, the wine is very good value for money.
Lucky offers Terrazza Malbec at US$12. It has typical black fruit aromas with a hint of plums and medium body - it is easy to drink in Cambodia's tropical heat.
However, the best choice from the Phnom Penh wine sellers can be found at Red Apron - excellent Trivento Malbec Reserva at US$13.50.
One can find even the Trivento Golden Reserva Malbec, which is superb value at just US$24.50 - concentrated, full-bodied, loads of black fruit aromas, with silky tannins, delicate vanilla smoke and spices.
When dining and choosing a wine to accompany your meal, make sure to check out both the wine list and the beverage list since many Phnom Penh restaurants and cafes sell wines by the glass and this often does not appear on the regular wine menu.
K-West, for example, sells Trivento ‘Tribu' Malbec at US$3.70 per glass, a perfect match to the lok lak or the barbecue dishes they offer.
Riverside bistro can offer you Trivento Malbec Reserva at US$37 a bottle and Metro cafe has an even bigger choice - Trivento Malbec at US$26 a bottle and Argento Malbec for US$5 per glass.
Petko Kisyov is an advanced sommelier with diplomas from the Spirit Education Trust of London, the City & Guilds of London Institute and the MB Institute in France.