Fri 17 Apr 2015
Marketers and trade groups, of course! Do you think that notions like “National Riesling Month” and “Grenache Day” are carved in stone on the lintels of the Sanctuary of Holy Days? You know better than that. And I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts, as my late mother used to say, that Argentina is behind “World Malbec Day” like white on rice and ducks on June bugs. Usually I ignore these marketing and PR feints because life is too short and I have plenty of other matters to attend to, but I decided, oh what the hell, I’ll mention “World Malbec Day” on the 17th and that will allow me to taste the dozens of malbec wines that doubtless litter my shelves and racks. Surprisingly, I only had a few examples on hand, though a couple came in the mail, all these, of course, from Mendoza, Argentina.
For many years, malbec played a minor role in Bordeaux as one of the five “classic” red grapes, along with petit verdot, cabernet franc and the more important merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Malbec, however, suffers from a susceptibility to various forms of disease and rot, and particularly after the historic frost of 1956 it began to disappear from the vineyards of Bordeaux. The grape is widely grown, under a number of pseudonyms, all over Southwest France and is especially useful in Cahors, where it is called Cot and must make up 70 percent of the blend. Malbec was first planted in Argentina in 1852, and despite vicissitudes — thousands of acres of old vines were stupidly pulled out in the 1980s — it became synonymous with red wine in that country. Now let’s be honest. Argentina turns out oceans of mediocre malbec wines and sells them cheaply in North America. On the other hand, the grape also receives its apotheosis there, especially when grown in the dry, mile-high vineyards of Mendoza, backed up against the Andes. If you ever get a chance to try the Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec, throw caution and credit card to the winds and see how transcendent malbec can be when it is carefully cultivated and thoughtfully made in precisely the right location.
Of these Argentine models, one rates only Good, one Very Good, one Excellent and the others fall into the solid, well-made and enjoyable Very Good+ level.
The Trapiche Oak Cast Malbec 2013, Mendoza, wears its titular oak on its sleeve and can’t seem to tear it off to reveal anything other than a warm spicy feeling and vague elements of black fruit scents and flavors. It’s the most generic and innocuous of this bunch. 14 percent alcohol. Good. About $14.
The previous wine’s stablemate, the Trapiche Broquel Malbec 2012, Mendoza, is another creature altogether. The color is inky purple with a magenta rim; quite ripe, almost jammy, with plenty of lavender, graphite and black pepper supporting brights scents and flavors of blueberries, black currants and plums; a lively and vivacious wine, it coats the palate with dusty, velvety tannins. Very Good+. About $18.
These wines are imported by Universal Wine Network, Livermore, Calif.
The Alamos brand is the inexpensive and broadly available label from the Catena Zapata family. The label is imported and marketed not by Winebow, which deals with the estate’s more expensive, rarer and more classy wines, but by an arm of E.&J. Gallo. Medium ruby-cherry color; spicy red and black fruit scents and flavors buoyed by pert acidity and a modicum of spice; drinkable and appealing but I wish it displayed more personality. 13.6 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $13.
Imported by Alamos USA, Hayward, Calif.
Gallo also imports the wines of Don Miguel Gascon. I’m happy to state that for 2013, the Gascon Malbec, from Mendoza, is clearly more varietal and authentic than in the past few vintages. The color is medium ruby-cherry; a seam of spice, smoke and graphite runs through ripe plum, cherry and black currant scents and flavors, highlighted by notes of mint and iodine; structure and acidity are firm and lively, tannins are moderately dense, all making for a pleasurable experience. 13.8 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Gascon USA, Hayward, Calif.
The Nieto Senetiner “Camila” Malbec 2013, Mendoza, offers a vibrant dark ruby hue and bright aromas of ripe plums and black and red cherries with undertones of cloves, black tea and leather. Though tannins are dusty, dense and chewy, the wine is nicely balanced, supple and lively and displays an attractive forthright personality. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $10, a Remarkable Bargain.
Imported by Foley Family Wines, Sonoma Calif.
OK, here’s the one to look for. El Malbec de Ricardo Santos 2012, La Madras Vineyard, Mendoza, exhibits an inky purple-magenta hue and feels pretty damned “inky” in every respect; the wine is rife with streams of graphite, cloves, black pepper and espresso that bear up ripe aromas and flavors of black currants and plums wrapped around an intense core of lavender, violets and bitter chocolate. This panoply of sensations unfolds to a lithic, tarry edge and clean acidity that cut through and enliven moderately velvet-like tannins. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $19.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.