Sun 24 Nov 2013
“But, FK,” some readers are saying, “isn’t Argentine Malbecs redundant.” Oh ho, so you think perhaps that vineyards of malbec grapes sprang up unbidden in Argentina the way fully-armed Athena burst from the brow of Zeus? Tis not so. Malbec, which found a ready home in the soil of certain parts of the Little Silver country, came from France, where it was one of the so-called five classic Bordeaux red grapes — greatly diminished in use now — and forms the primary component in the wines of Cahors (70 percent required with the rest merlot and tannat), where the grape is called “côt.” Malbec cuttings were brought to Argentina in the mid-19th Century, though it was not until the 1970s and the experiments of Nicolas Catena in which he planted malbec vines at altitudes up to 5,000 feet in the Andean foothills of Mendoza that the grape began to fulfill its potential for producing fine wine as well as a moneymaker exported to the United States. Unsuperstitiously, I offer today 13 malbec wines from Mendoza at prices ranging from $15 to $120. As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes, I dispense with technical, historical, climatic and geographical data to bring My Readers incisive reviews, snatching from the very pages of my notebooks, designed to whet their palates and stimulate their imaginations. These were all samples for review or were tasted at trade lunches and other events. Enjoy!
Map of Mendoza’s wine regions courtesy of Vine Connections via mumulesvignes.com.
“1955” Malbec 2011, Mendoza. (TintoNegro) 14% alc. Very dark ruby-purple color; yes, the weight, the substance and extraction but unexpectedly flexible and resilient; not a kissy-face little pushover, though; very deep, dark and ripe, almost potent with spiced and macerated black and blue fruit, vibrant acidity and piercing graphite minerality; a lively and engaging but close to monumental malbec. Try from 2015 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $100.
Angulo Innocente Unisono 2010, La Consulta, Mendoza. 15.5% alc. Malbec 67%, cabernet sauvignon 26%, cabernet franc 7%. Holy moly; very dark, even opaque ruby-purple; black, black black, dusty and dusky; graphite, licorice, lavender and lilac; every element ground in the mortar of tannin with the pestel of granite; a huge wine in every respect, including alcohol, yet it’s neither rustic nor overwhelming. Try from 2015 through 2020 to ’25. Very Good+ with perhaps Excellent potential. About $42.
biutiful Malbec 2012, Mendoza. (Maal Wines) 14.5% alc. Deep ruby-purple color; very intense and concentrated, packed with spice and graphite; dark glimmerings of black currants, black cherries and plums encompassing myriad macerated and roasted aspects; not so much beautiful as hypnotic and daunting; stalwart but sleek tannins, bright acidity, a profound granitic mineral character, yet something enticing there. Try 2015 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $23. representing Good Value.
Bramare Malbec 2011, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza. (Vina Cobos) 14.7% alc. Deep ruby-purple color; amply fitted with graphite and granitic minerality, dusty slightly grainy tannins; black currants, blackberries and plums; very spicy oak, lively acidity; dense and chewy, a core of bitter chocolate, lavender and licorice; long finish packed with spice and minerals. Solid, well-built, powerful. Drink now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $45.
Bramare Malbec 2011, Valle de Uco, Mendoza. (Vina Cobos) 14.8% alc. Dark ruby-purple color, almost opaque; very intense and concentrated, coats the palate with dusty tannins and graphite minerality, loamy and briery elements; ripe black and blue fruit flavors are slightly macerated and roasted, enveloping notes of mocha, potpourri, cloves and violets; a serious expression of the grape. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $45.
Catena High Mountain Vineyards Malbec 2011, Mendoza. 13.5% alc. Very dark vibrant ruby-purple color; quite intense and concentrated but also ripe and juicy with blackberry jam, blueberries and plums; penetrating elements of graphite and gravel; smoke underbrush, forest floor; resolute, dense silky tannins; reveals the pedigree and cousinship with the Nicasia and Adrianna malbecs below, but at a fraction of the cost. Now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent. About $24.
Catena Zapata Nicasia Malbec 2008, Mendoza. 14% alc. Dense ruby-purple color; piercing graphite and granitic minerality; lavender and licorice, very intense and concentrated black currants, plums and blueberries but with tremendous ripeness and resonance; dense and chewy with finely-milled tannins; sleek, polished and chiseled, faceted yet retains an echo of earthy rusticity; leathery tannins come up more prominently on the finish. A soulful expression of the malbec grape. Drink now through 2024 to 2030. Very limited production. Excellent. About $120.
Catena Zapata Adrianna Malbec 2009, Mendoza. 13.9% alc. Very dark ruby-purple, almost opaque; exudes a terrific sense of immediacy, vitality and boldness yet feels a hair more balanced and integrated than the Nicasia 08 mentioned above; brooding but not truculent, substantial but not ponderous, in fact this malbec exhibits a fleet-footed feeling of style and bright acidity bolstered by deep mountain-like granitic minerality and dusty tannins; exquisite poise among ripe and dried black and blue fruit, fresh and dried floral elements and an insinuating herbal character. Malbec apotheosis. Drink from 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to 2030. Very limited production. Exceptional. About $120.
Chento Vineyard Selection Malbec 2011, Mendoza. (Cuarto Dominio) 14% alc. Deep ruby-purple color; dense, dark, spicy, rustic; smoke, ash, leather, briers, brambles and underbrush; dusty tannins and minerals; fruit? well, it offers glimmers of intense and concentrated black currants, black cherries and plums, but these are nuances that need a year or two to flesh out, if ever. Very Good. About $20.
Felino Malbec 2012, Mendoza. (Villa Cobos) 14.3% alc. Deep violet-purple color; leather, briers and brambles; blackberries, blueberries and plums; warm and spicy; adds smoky black cherries, bitter chocolate and graphite; the tannins emerge through the finish but a lively and appealing malbec for burgers, steaks, pizza and such. Very Good+. About $19
imposible Malbec 2011, Mendoza. 14.8% alc. (Maal Wines) Dark ruby-mulberry color; very clean, fresh and bright, displaying lovely purity and intensity of fruit, acid and mineral qualities; vibrant and alluring, stuffed with spiced and macerated black and blue fruit scents and flavors highlighted by notes of licorice, lavender and violets, hints of dried mountain herbs; great balance and integration, though the finish picks up the requisite flinty and dusty tannins. Now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $34.
TintoNegro Co-Ferment Malbec 2011, Mendoza. 14% alc. Malbec 90%, cabernet franc 7%, petit verdot 3%. Tres sauvage. Very dark ruby-purple; bright blackberry-blueberry-plum fruit deeply imbued with spice, potpourri and bitter chocolate; scintillating, unfettered graphite minerality and vivid acidity, sleek sinewy tannins and lithe texture; great personality. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $20, Great Value for the Price.
Tolentino Winemaker’s Selection Malbec 2012, Mendoza. (Cuarto Dominio) 13.5% alc. Deep ruby color, tinge of magenta; black currants, blackberries and blueberries, smoke and loam; dense and chewy yet smooth and supple; high intensity of vibrancy and resonance; tar, licorice, potpourri; loses some dimension in the finish but very enjoyable in its dark slightly roughshod manner. Now through 2017 to ’19. Very Good+. About $15, a Nice Price.