Malbec


For this edition of Weekend Wine Notes, I offer a miscellaneous group of red wines from California, dominated by cabernet sauvignon, but with entries from the merlot and pinot noir camps. Truth is, I probably receive more samples of California cabernets to review than from any other region and any other grape variety. State-wide, today, we range from Russian River Valley in the north to Paso Robles in the south. As is usual in this series of Weekend Wine Notes, I dispense with the technical, historical, geographical and personal data that I dote on for the sake of incisive and, I hope, vivid reviews ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy, and always consume in moderation.
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2011_Aleksander
Aleksander 2011, Paso Robles. 13.3% alc. 80% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon. 840 cases. Glowing medium ruby color with a transparent magenta rim; a very impressive merlot exhibiting structural qualities of generous, supple tannins, clean acidity and ebon-like minerality; mint and thyme, lavender and violets, iron and iodine, black currants and raspberries with a trace of dark plum, smoky and dusty; a little resiny with notes of rosemary and cedar; lovely shape, tone and presence. Now through 2020 to 2023. Excellent. About $75.
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cage pinot
J. Cage Cellars Nunes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. 119 cases. Deep, vibrant ruby shading to lighter magenta; warm and spicy yet with a dark meditative aura; macerated red currants, cherries and plums, with a touch of cherry skin and pit; loam, briers and brambles; opens to notes of tar, violets and rose petals, pomegranate and sandalwood; a dense and sinewy pinot noir, enlivened by the influence of brisk acidity; elements of lithic dust, some root-like tea and a bare hint of orange rind. I’ll say, “Wow,” and “Please, bring on the seared duck breast.” Excellent. About $40.
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2013 Merlot-small
Ehlers Estate Merlot 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. With 8% cabernet franc. Opaque black-ruby shading to a vivid purple rim; very intense and concentrated, coiled power; black currants and plums infused with lavender, licorice and graphite; a scintillating core of granitic minerality that almost glitters, magnified by the wine’s bright acidity; lots of vibrancy and resonance, marred, unfortunately, by the taint of toasty oak that dominates from mid-palate back through the finish. You know what I always say, friends: If a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, there’s too much damn oak. Now through 2020 to ’24. Very Good+. About $55.
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Tresor-2012_304x773
Ferrari-Carano Tresor 2012, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 71% cabernet sauvignon, 9% petit verdot, 7% each merlot and malbec, 6% cabernet franc. Dark ruby color with a tinge of magenta at the rim; warm and spicy but with a cool mineral core of graphite and iron; cassis, black raspberry and plum, with notes of cedar, lavender, violets, leather and loam; dusty, velvety tannins coat the palate midst intense and concentrated black fruit flavors and bastions of wheatmeal, walnut shell and burnished oak; how the finish manages not to be austere is a wonder. Try 2017 or ’18 through 2024 to ’28. Excellent. About $60.
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Geyser Peak Pluto’s Fury Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. 1,379 cases. Medium transparent ruby color; first come spice and herbs: cloves, sandalwood, sage; slightly macerated black cherries and red currants, touch of pomegranate and rhubarb; sleek, supple, lithe and satiny; generous with burgeoning elements of violets and rose petals; a well-made pinot noir that lavishes fruit and bright acidity on the palate. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $36.
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grgich merlot
Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. With 5% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby hue from stem to stern; rooty and loamy, with finely sifted elements of forest floor, dried porcini and graphite; ripe raspberry and black currant aromas inflected by seductive notes of mocha, black licorice, allspice and sandalwood; very intense and concentrated on the palate, framed by sturdy tannins that feel slightly sanded and roughened; after an hour or so, the tannins and oak flesh out and take over, giving the wine a formidable, monumental quality. No punk-ass little merlot here; this one is for the ages, or through 2024 to ’28. Excellent. About $43.
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KRUG_FR_HM_11 5006
Charles Krug Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 15.2% alc. (!) 80% cabernet, 18% petit verdot, 2% merlot. Very dark ruby-purple with a bright violet rim; despite the soaring alcohol content, this is a beautifully balanced and harmonious wine, with perfect weight and presentation, yet plenty of structure for support and the long-haul; a full complement of dusty, graphite-laden tannins bolsters black currant, cherry and blueberry flavors inflected by notes of lavender, licorice, black tea and black olive; a few moments in the glass bring up hints of cedar, rosemary and tobacco; girt by a framework of granitic, mountain-side minerality, this classic cabernet is still a lovely drink, though built for aging through 2022 through 2028. Excellent. About $75.
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Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) brave logoOpaque black-ruby with a glowing purple rim; a focused line of graphite and granite defines the space for elements of spiced, macerated and roasted black currants, cherries and plums, permeated by iodine and iron, mint and lavender; a feral, ferrous and sanguinary cabernet, somehow both velvety and chiseled, seductive and lithic; it’s mouth-filling, dynamic, impetuous. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2027 to ’30. Excellent. About $75.
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signorello
Signorello Estate Padrone 2012, Napa Valley. With 9% cabernet franc. Whoa, what is up with this 15.8 percent alcohol? That factor dominates this wine and throws it off balance, though initially it reveals deep, brooding qualities of cassis, bitter chocolate, briers and brambles, leather and loam that might blossom into harmony; sadly, the austere tannins, the astringent oak and, above all, the sweet, hot alcohol demolish that hope. Not recommended. About $150.
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tongue dancer
Tongue Dancer Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. Production was 125 cases. Transparent medium ruby shading to an invisible rim; indelible and beguiling aromas of pomegranate and cranberry, red and black cherries and currants, anise and lavender, with bare hints of rhubarb, thyme and celery seed; a thread of loam and graphite runs through this wine’s supple satiny texture, creating a sense of superb weight and heft on the palate, yet expressing eloquent elegance and delicacy of effect. Now through 2018 to 2020. I could drink this pinot noir every day. Exceptional. About $45.
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Trione Vineyards and Winery River Road Ranch Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Trione-2012-Pinot-NoirCounty. 14.5% alc. 1,408 cases. Medium transparent ruby hue; dark and spicy with cloves and allspice (and a hint of the latter’s slightly astringent nature); black and red cherries and currants, notes of cranberries and pomegranate; turns exotic with violets, lavender, mint and sandalwood; a lively and engaging pinot noir, incredibly floral; a lithe texture, moderate oak with lightly sanded edges. Now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $39.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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YI_2012_estate_cab_B.72
Young Inglewood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 612 cases. With some percentage of merlot and cabernet franc. Dark ruby color; redolent of graphite, iodine and mint, cassis and blueberry, cloves and sage and ancho chile; acidity that runs silent and deep through canyons of dusty, granitic tannins; plenty of spice and scintillating energy, gradually opens reservoirs of lavender, licorice and violets and stylish, polished oak that carries through the brooding but not austere finish. Touches all the moves in the Napa cabernet playbook — meaning that it’s an exemple rather than an individual — but still very impressive. Now through 2024 through ’28. Excellent. About $90.
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Gary Andrus founded Pine Ridge Vineyards in 1978, acquiring 50 acres, planted mainly to chardonnay vines, on the Silverado Trail in Stags Leap District. After planting cabernet sauvignon vines and purchasing other vineyards, logo-Pine-Ridge-VineyardsPine Ridge earned a reputation for its full-bodied, multi-dimensional cabernet sauvignon wines, as well as chardonnay and, later, a popular and inexpensive chenin blanc-viognier blend that pays the rent. Anders put the winery on the market in 2000, and it was purchased by The Crimson Wine Group, which also owns Archery Summit, in Oregon, and Seghesio, in Sonoma County. Pine Ridge owns vineyard acreage in many parts of Napa Valley, and produces limited bottlings of wines from these classic AVAs. Under review today are the examples from Rutherford, Oakville District and Stags Leap District. Rutherford and Oakville stretch across the central Valley floor, while Stags Leap, backing up to the Vaca Range, is hillier, even fairly steep in places.

These three wines receive the same oak regimen, 18 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels, but it’s interesting that the blend on each is different, making accommodations to the vineyards and the landscape and micro-climates involved. Wimemaker and general manager is Michael Beaulac. These are stalwart — and expensive — cabernets, that seem to me to epitomize what makes Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon so well-known in the world of both casual drinkers and astute wine collectors: the sense of acute minerality; the poised and rugged tannins; the deep black fruit permeated by the unique combination of tea, dried herbs, loam and dust; the ultimate balance and integration, in the best years. The vintage in question here, 2012, though a warm year, is undeniably one of the best.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Pine Ridge Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, is a blend of 76 percent cabernet sauvignon and 24 percent petit verdot. With its intensity and concentration, its huge, dynamic lithic structure and its exquisite balance that paradoxically verges on elegance, this wine conforms to my ideal of an Oakville cabernet. The color is very dark ruby with a tinge of purple at the rim; taking some time to swirl the wine and sniff allows whiffs of black fruit shading to blue and dried meadow flowers to emerge, almost reluctantly it seems, while the big build-up is in the precincts of dust and graphite, iodine and iron. Still, tannins are plush on the palate, and the wine, despite its depth and dimension and the tautness of its acidity, flows through the mouth with lively aplomb. A wine that needs some time to open, though it would be tempting with a medium-rare strip steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Try from 2018 or ’20 through 2030 to ’34. Excellent. About $85.
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The Pine Ridge Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, offers a dark ruby hue with a glowing magenta rim; the nose is distinguished by incisive graphite minerality that bears hints of iodine and iron, ancho chili and bitter chocolate, opening gradually to deeply spiced and macerated red and black currants and raspberries; these aromas take on an incredibly floral aspect, blending lavender, violets and lilacs with a twist of black licorice. Though rigorous in structure, supported by bastions of dry, dusty tannins, this Pine Ridge Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is lively, vital and vigorous, almost engaging, though a few minutes in the glass give it burgeoning depth and dimension; oak stays firmly on the periphery, yet the influence is undeniably there. The finish is long, dense and freighted with a kind of powdery granitic quality. The blend is 82 percent cabernet sauvignon, 15 percent malbec, 3 percent petit verdot. 14.8 percent alcohol. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent. About $85.
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Stylistically, the Pine Ridge Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, bears resemblance to its cousins also mentioned in this post but feels even denser, more stringent, bottomless, as if it siphoned up all the bedrock of the steep hillside vineyards where it was born. It’s a blend of 77 percent cabernet sauvignon, 20 percent cabernet franc and 3 percent malbec. The color, of course, is dark, almost opaque ruby that shades to a lighter mulberry rim; the bouquet is a stirring melange of graphite, tar, ancho chili and bitter chocolate, roasted fennel and ripe, macerated red and black currants and cherries; a bit of time brings in notes of cloves, sage and rosemary. Yes, it’s massive on the palate, deeply tannic, yet fleet of foot too, aided by plangent acidity and a deft touch with oak, which feels polished and lightly sanded. It will need a few years aging to bring out more of the black fruit flavors, so try from 2017 to ’19 through 2030 to ’35. 14.7 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $125.
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Here’s a red wine blend that will warm your hearts during these chilly January days and nights and serve as gratifying accompaniment to hearty winter-time fare. You might think that the Head High Red Wine 2013, North Red-595x960Coast, made a stab at an interesting Bordeaux-style blend, with unusual emphasis on malbec, what with its 36 percent malbec, 20 percent merlot and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, but the addition of 13 percent zinfandel and 11 percent grenache ensures that we’re in classic, eclectic California blend territory. The wine qualifies for a North Coast designation by way of 74 percent Sonoma County, 14 percent Lake County and 12 percent Napa County. It aged 15 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Samuel Spencer. The color is dark ruby with a glowing magenta rim; aromas of red and black currants and plums are bolstered by notes of blueberries, cloves and sandalwood, while a few minutes in the glass bring in tones of iodine and mint, briers and brambles. These multi-layered qualities segue naturally to the palate, where the wine builds a dusty, graphite-laden tannic presence that leads to a dry, lithic finish, neither factor diminishing spicy and tasty black and red berry flavors. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. For every two bottles of Head High wines sold, $1 goes to the charities, Sustainable Surf and Sonoma Valley Education Foundation. Excellent. About $30.

A sample for review.

Here’s a robust Argentine red wine that will shiver the timbers of just about any big, rich, meaty braised dish you set before it, Vistalba_CorteC_NV_Label1particularly, I think, short ribs. Beef stew would be a good match too. The Vistalba Corte C Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Mendoza, contains 61 percent of the first named grape and 39 percent of the latter. It aged 12 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Alejandro Canovas. The color is deep, unfathomable ruby-purple; exuberant whiffs of black currants, blueberries and black plums offer notes of sage, cedar, black olive, black pepper and bell pepper, all encompassed by elements of graphite and loam. Pretty damned heady stuff, n’est-ce pas? It’s a warm, spicy and savory wine, with just a hint of mint, cloves and bitter chocolate about its black and blue fruit flavors and a bit of black raspberry tart; dense and chewy, the tannins are fairly dusty and rustic, leading to a spice and mineral-packed finish. 14.6% percent alcohol. Drink through 2017. Very Good+. About $18.

Imported by Blends, Plymouth, Calif. A sample for review.

It’s not too early to think about wines for Thanksgiving dinner, so let’s get to it. Today I’m recommending a red wine that may be off touraine-tradition-rouge-caves-monmousseauthe maps for most American consumers but really deserves their attention. The Justin Monmousseau Touraine Tradition 2012 hails from the region of Touraine in France’s central Loire Valley. The house of Monmouuseau, founded in 1886 by Alcide Monmousseau, devotes 70 percent of its production to sparkling wines from a range of Loire Valley AOCs, all made in the méthode traditionnelle, but fortunately the estate also produces still red and white wines. The Monmousseau Touraine Tradition 2012 is a blend of 69 percent côt grapes (malbec); 30 percent cabernet franc; and a bare 1 percent gamay, fermented and aged only in stainless steel vats. The result is a wine with tremendous liveliness and elevation that offers a medium ruby color shading to a violet hue and penetrating aromas of ripe, fleshy blackberries, black cherries and plums, permeated by black pepper and allspice, underbrush and loam. The wine displays a lovely, bright structure on the palate, with fruit that leans toward well-spiced blackberry and blueberry flavors and — the effect of that mere dollop of gamay — an irresistible vivacious note of wild red raspberries, with that characteristic brambly, leafy element, this generous panoply upheld by an influx of dusty tannins. NA% alcohol, but not high. Serve slightly chilled and drink up with pleasure. Very Good+. About $16.

Tasted at a private wine event.

The Dorgogne region is one of the oldest inhabited areas of France, as testified by numerous caves filled with wall paintings and etchings that date back 30,000 and 40,000 years. It’s also one of the country’s wildest and most beautiful areas, marked by rugged and towering cliffs, many topped by ancient castles; deep river valleys; rolling hills and forests; and a network of villages and towns that retain much of their medieval appearance. Recently, we spent a week in France’s Dordogne region, with LL’s son and his children, Julien, 14, and Lucia, 10, eating local food — dominated by foie gras, magret and confit of duck — and drinking local wines. We rented a centuries-old stone cottage outside the village of Beynac et Cazenac — pop. 560 — an almost mythically quaint hamlet perched right on a bank of the Dordogne River and winding up the cliff dominated by an immense castle, Chateau de Beynac, seen in this image from sourcedordogne.free.fr.

Our locale was at the southeastern corner of the Dordogne department, not wine-country itself but not too far from the appellations of Bergerac, Côtes de Bergerac, Montravel and Pécharmant, all cultivating the Bordeaux grape varieties and producing country cousin versions of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot for red, sauvignon blanc and semillon for white. About a two-hour drive to the east in the Lot department is Cahors, a traditional region for hearty wines made from the malbec grape, known as cot in that area. Though I had been offered visits to chateaus and wineries by some of my contacts in importing and marketing in the US, my determination was that this sojourn would be strictly vacation and that any wine we drank would come either from grocery stores, open-air markets or restaurant wine lists.

Our first dinner, at a hotel restaurant in Beynac, was mediocre, but we enjoyed the wines. These were a 2011 rouge, in a 500-milliliter bottle, and a 2013 blanc, in a 375 ml bottle, from Chateau Court-Les-Mûts, Côtes de Bergerac. The rouge offered a bright, seductive floral and spicy bouquet but was fairly rude and rustic on the palate; the more palatable blanc was fresh, young and zesty, with yellow fruit and dried herbs. Each cost 14 euros, about $15.66 at today’s rate. Far more successful, in both food and wine, was our dinner the following night, a Sunday, at La Petite Tonnelle, just a few yards up the street from the restaurant of the previous night. Built right into the cliff that dominates this strategic site overlooking the Dordogne river, the restaurant was pleasing in every aspect. Our waiter, a young woman, was friendly and accommodating; the restaurant served the silkiest foie gras, smoked magret and confit of duck I have ever tasted; and the wine list emphasized regional products highlighting sustainable, organic and biodynamic methods. With the hearty fare, we drank a bottle of the Chateau Masburel 2010, Montravel, a predominantly merlot wine with dollops of cabernet sauvignon. The restaurant owner came over and nodded his approval, telling us that it was a powerful wine. Powerful indeed and robust, but sleek too, packed with dusty tannins, graphite-tinged minerality, black fruit flavors and vibrant acidity. It cost 42 euros, about $46 at today’s rate.

Both in cafes and at our rented house, we consumed a great deal of rosé wine, not just because we love rosé but because the weather was unseasonably hot, with temperatures going to 100 and higher every afternoon. Rosés in the Dordogne are made from cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec and typically are more robust than their cousins in Provence. For example, in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, generally just called Tayac, home to the National Museum of Prehistory and the center of a cluster of caves with prehistoric art, we ate lunch at Cafe de Mairie and downed a 500 cl bottle of the delightful Clos des Verdots 2014, Bergerac Rosé, at 14 euros. Other rosés we tried during our sojourn included La Fleur de Mondesir 2014, Domaine de Mayat 2014 and Domaine de Montlong 2013, all Bergerac, and the simple but tasty Mayaret 2014, Vin du Pays Perigord. Tayac is absolutely worth a visit. We were too late to get admittance to the cave called Font de Gaume, which features wall paintings, so we drove to the cave of Les Combarelles, a few minutes away, and saw the exquisite series of rock engravings executed 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. The town itself, with many of its houses and buildings carved directly into the cliffs, is a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Other red wines we tried, back at the house with various dinners, included Chateau des Hautes Fargues 2010 and Domaine La Closerie 2011, both from Pécharmant, and, from Bergerac, the excellent Domaine Maye de Bouye 2010, and the best red wine of our time in the Dordogne, Clos de Gamot 2008, a superb, deeply characterful Cahors that cost all of 12.5 euros, about $13.70. Clos de Gamot is owned by the Jouffreau family and has been in operation since 1610. The grapes derive from two vineyards, one over 120 years old and the other with vines 40 to 70 years old. The wines age 18 months to two years in large old oak casts.

The way to explore this ancient region is to drive to as many of the towns and villages as possible, preferably one each day, park the car (hopefully in the shade) and then wander through the plazas and narrow streets, stopping to walk through churches, alleys and courtyards. If there’s a chance, for a few euros, to tour a castle or old mansion, do that; the rewards in history, esthetics and emotional satisfaction are immense. We particularly enjoyed Sarlot, Domme and the medieval section of Soulliac, and we visited two castles that were traditional enemies during the Hundred Years’ War, Chateau Beynac, “our” castle, and just up-river, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle.

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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It’s shaking out like this way South of the Border: Malbec and cabernet sauvignon in Argentina; cabernet sauvignon in Chile, where carmenere, once touted as the coming thing, makes a nice wine but nothing approaching greatness. The red wines from these countries, with a few exceptions, tend toward fullness and power rather than elegance and finesse, but we can accept those qualities, especially when the wines are paired with hearty fare such as animals roasted over open fires or, distilled to our own kitchens, braised and grilled red meat. I offer today 16 examples of cabernet- and malbec-based wines, among them some excellent values, also among them a couple of misfires, but those are the breaks. Nothing much in the way of technical, historical or geographical info here, because these Weekend Wine Notes are intended to be quick, incisive reviews designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy! (In moderation and always using common sense.) These wines were samples for review.
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Alamos Red Blend 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. Primarily malbec, with dollops of bonarda and tempranillo. Dark to medium ruby color; spicy, briery and brambly black and red currants and cherries with a note of blueberry; pleasant and drinkable, enough tannin and acid for support and vibrancy; quite dry with a touch of dusty, mineral-like austerity on the finish. Drink up, with burgers and pizza. Very Good. About $13.
Imported by Alamos USA, Hayward, Calif.
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Alamos “Seleccion” Malbec 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. Dark ruby hue with a tinge of magenta; slightly woody spices and herbs; ripe and macerated black currants and plums with a hint of blueberry, fleshy and meaty; velvety texture set in sleek, dusty tannins and graphite minerality; fairly dense and chewy, touches of walnut shell and dried porcini; really demands a steak or braised veal shanks. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $20.
Imported by Alamos USA, Hayward, Calif.
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Apaltagua Reserva Malbec 2013, Maule Valley, Chile. 14% alc. Dark ruby with a magenta rim; clean, fresh and ripe, with notes of cedar, tobacco and thyme highlighting brambly and fairly intense black currant and plum scents and flavors; sleek and velvety, bolstered by dusty tannins, deep elements of spice and dried flowers, all leading to a slightly austere mineral-packed finish. Now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $13, a Terrific Bargain.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.
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Chakras Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. Dark ruby with a garnet rim; black currants and raspberries permeated by notes of cloves, briers and brambles, black pepper, cedar and tobacco; with hints of thyme and black olive; lithe and supple, dense and chewy with leathery tannins and dusty graphite minerality but buoyed by vibrant acidity and tasty black fruit flavors. This could go through 2016 or ’17. Great personality for the price. very Good+. About $13, making a Terrific Value.
Imported by Winesource International, Hilton Head island, S.C.
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Cousino-Macul Antiquas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Maipo Valley, Chile. 14.5 alc. Dark ruby with a garnet tinge at the rim; ripe and fleshy red and black currants and cherries, hints of iodine and iron, lots of high notes balanced by loamy earth tones and grainy tannins that coat the mouth; a piercing line of graphite minerality. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $18.
Imported by Winebow Inc., New York.
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Domus Aurea Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Upper Maipo Valley, Chile. 14% alc. With 9% cabernet franc, 4% petit verdot, 2% merlot. Dark ruby hue with a slightly lighter rim; beautifully complicated and integrated bouquet, with ripe, fleshy and macerated black and red currants and cherries, permeated by notes of cloves, cedar and menthol, some wheatmeal, walnut shell and graphite, hints of lavender and violets; dense and stalwart tannins, but supple and finely-sifted, sleek and burnished oak influence; resonant acidity keeps it lively, while the whole package is supremely balance, a true marriage of power and elegance. Consistently one of the best cabernet sauvignon wines made in South America. Now through 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.
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Maquis Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. Dark ruby-purple hue; clean and fresh but quite intense and concentrated, with riveting notes of iodine and iron, black truffles, leather and loam; bright and spicy black currants and cherries infused with very intense elements of potpourri and bitter chocolate; lip-smacking density and acidity; dry, dusty tannins, walnut shell, wheatmeal; austerity takes over from mid-palate through the finish. A bit inchoate now, try from 2016 through 2020 to ’25. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $20.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.
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Maquis Lien Red Wine 2010, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 13.4% alc. Cabernet franc 42%, syrah 32%, carmenere 23%, petit verdot 3%. Intense ruby-purple color; an unusual and felicitous blend; briers and brambles, wheatmeal, wood smoke, walnut shell; intense and concentrated scents and flavors of black currants, cherries and plums; cedar, rosemary, black olive; robust and a little wild; dusty graphite, dense, intense tannins, rip-roaring acidity and granitic minerality; quite dry leaning toward austerity. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $30.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.
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Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Puente Alto, Chile. 14% alc. Intense dark ruby with a magenta rim; black fruit with a trace of blue; fig and fruitcake, caramelized fennel, black olive, oolong tea; ripe wild berry; well-balanced structure of dense tannins and bright acidity, but the tannins grow in power, coating the palate with a dry, dusty, well-honed effect; you feel the spicy, burnished oak on the finish. Give this from 2016 or ’17 through 2022 to ’26. Excellent. About $20, another Fine Value.
Excelsior Wine & Spirits, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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Nieto Senetier Don Nicanor Blend 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.5% alc. 34% cabernet sauvignon, 33% malbec, 33% merlot. Opaque ruby, almost black, with a violet rim; iodine and iron, ripe and fleshy black currants, cherries and plums; very intense amalgam of graphite, lavender, licorice, potpourri and bitter chocolate, with notes of truffles and loam, all quite heady and seductive; fills the mouth with soft supple tannins and graphite minerality; tasty and deeply spicy black and blue fruit flavors riven by keen acidity; long mineral-and-spice-packed finish. Loads of personality. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $19, marking Great Value.
Imported by Foley Family Wines, Sonoma, Calif.
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Nieto Senetier Terroir Blend Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.5% alc. Elevation is the important point to this wine, so here are the details: 34% comes from a vineyard at 3,120-foot elevation; 33% from 3,450 feet; 33% from 3,780 feet. Very dark ruby-purple; mint, iodine, lavender and violets, ripe, spicy and slightly fleshy black and blue fruit scents and flavors, a little sanguinary; beautifully balanced and super attractive but with plenty of dusty tannic structure; sleek, lithe and lithic, dense all the way through, energized by coiled acidity; long powerful finish. Real personality and character. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $30.
Foley Family Wines, Sonoma, Calif.
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Peñalolen Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Maipo Valley, Chile. 14% alc. Dark ruby with a tinge of garnet; sleek and suave cabernet; mint, cedar and tobacco; black currants, blackberry and hints of blueberry and wild cherry; deeply savory, with notes of tapenade and fruitcake — spice, candied peel, nuts — ; dense, intense, almost chewy; very dry and formidable slightly austere tannins require some time to relax; try from 2016 or ’17 through 2022 through ’26. Or have it with a steak tonight. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.
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El Gran Malbec de Ricardo Santos 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.5% alc. 500 cases. Deep ruby-purple color with a magenta rim; mint eucalyptus, brandied cherries and raspberries; feral and woodsy, briers and brambles, a hint of wheatmeal; a touch over-ripe and jammy, like port-infused blackberry and blueberry marmalade; grippy tannins and graphite minerality; very dry, austere on the finish. Generally I’m a fan of the Ricardo Santos label, but I find this example essentially unbalanced. Good only. About $35.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.
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Tomero Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 15% alc. Dark ruby-purple; spiced and mentholated black cherries and plums; cedar, black tea, tobacco, all quite ripe and intense, a little plummy-jammy; well-balanced as to tannin and acidity and a mineral tang on the finish, but you feel the sweetness and heat from the alcohol. Good+. About $13.
Imported by Blends Inc, Plymouth, Calif.
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Trapiche Broquel Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby with a slightly purplish rim; sleek, lithe, supple; intense and a little fleshy black currants and cherries, hint of blueberry; a note of toasty oak; finely-meshed and slightly dusty tannins and graphite minerality; a spice-and-mineral inflected finish. Well-made and enjoyable, through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $18.
Universal Wine Network, Livermore, Calif.
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Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2012, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby-purple color; ripe blackberry, currant and plum permeated by notes of wheatmeal, fennel, thyme and graphite; a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of cloves and sandalwood, lavender and licorice, all slightly toasty; finely sifted tannins and granitic minerals and tasty black and blue fruit flavors are supported by bright acidity, every element nicely balanced and integrated. Now through 2016 or ’18. Very Good+. About $21.
Excelsior Wine & Spirits, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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We can’t drink great wine all the time. Contrary to what My Readers may think, I certainly don’t. In fact, a diet of perfection would become cloying and wearisome, n’est-ce pas? Well, perhaps not, but let’s assume that most people really just want a decent bottle of wine to accompany a simple meal. Here, then, are two white wines and four reds designed to be to consumed with, say, a tuna sandwich or seafood risotto, on the one hand, or a burger or steak, on the other. Prices range from $12 to $17, with quality fairly evenly portioned along the Very Good to Very Good+ range. Will these wines — especially the reds — lodge in the memory as some of the best wine you’ve tasted? certainly not, but they get the job done, or better, at a reasonable price. If only everything in life turned out that way. Quick reviews here, intended to pique your interest and whet the palate. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.

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Stepping Stone Rocks! White Wine 2013, North Coast, California. 13.3% alc. (Stepping Stone is the second label of Cornerstone Cellars; Rocks! is, well, the second label of Stepping Stone.) “Mystery” blend of chardonnay, viognier and muscat canelli. Very pale gold color; lilac, lemon-lime and pear, slightly grassy and herbal, hint of lemongrass; quite clean, crisp, fresh and dry, with a kind of gin-like purity and snap; taut, vibrant, lean but a pleasing, cloud-like texture; crystalline acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; slightly earthy finish. Extremely attractive white blend for short-term drinking. Very Good+. About $15, representing Excellent Value.
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Tomero Torrontes 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; jasmine and gardenia, spiced pear and lemon balm, lime peel and a touch of grapefruit, a few minutes in the glass bring in whiffs of lavender and lilac, though this is not overwhelmingly floral, all is subtle and nuanced; pert citrus and stone fruit flavors; lovely body, crisp, lithe and lively yet imbued with an almost talc-like texture that slides across the palate like silk; hint of grapefruit bitterness on the finish. A superior torrontes for consuming over the next year. Very Good+. About $17.
Imported by Blends, Plymouth, Calif.
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Mandolin Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Central Coast. 13.8% alc. Brilliant dark ruby with a flush of mulberry at the rim; unfolds layers of cedar,
thyme and black olive, black currants and plums, hint of wild berry; notes of iodine and graphite; trace of wood in the slightly leathery tannins, quite dry but juicy with herb-inflected black fruit flavors; sleek and supple texture, lively acidity; spice-and-mineral-packed finish. Now through the end of 2015. Great personality for the price. Very Good+. About $12, an Amazing Bargain.
Image from brainwines.com.
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Esprit du Rhône 2013, Côtes du Rhône, France. 13.5% alc. 60% grenache, 30% syrah, 5% carignan, 5% cinsault. 1,000 cases imported. Medium-dark ruby color shading to a transparent rim; aromas of ripe blackberries, blueberries and plum with notes of cloves, briers and leather; fairly dense and robust tannins and bright acidity keep the texture forthright and lively for the sake of tasty, spicy black fruit flavors. Now through 2016. Very Good. About $12.
Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Calif. Image from vivino.com.
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Nieto Senetiner Malbec 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby-purple; briery and brambly blackberry and plum fruit deeply imbued with cloves, mocha and licorice; moderate and slightly chewy tannins for structure, an uplift of acidity; tasty black fruit flavors in a rustic, graphite-laden package. Now into 2015. Very Good. About $13.
Imported by Foley Family Wines, Sonoma, Calif.
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Tercos Bonarda 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. (From the winery of Ricardo Santos). 13.8% alc. Dark ruby hue, almost opaque; spicy and feral, blackberries and plums with notes of wild cherry, tar, graphite and licorice; heaps of rough-hewn tannins make for a sturdy mouthful of wine, though nothing heavy or ponderous to detract from ripe, delicious blackberry and blueberry flavors; loads of personality. Now through the end of 2015. Very Good. About $14.
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No holds are barred in California, unlike in the Old World, where government agencies determine where grapes can be grown and what grapes go into certain wines. Many wines, of course, are famous for their combinations of grapes, like Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which may contain any ratio of up to 13 grapes, red and white, or Bordeaux, where winemakers fashion cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc (primarily) into some of the world’s most elegant, powerful and best-known red wines. No such customs or regulations abide in the Golden State, and today we look at five wines that offer some unusual blends of grapes, some more successfully than others. The trick is to create a blend that delivers distinctive, if not original, qualities rather than something than comes out smelling and tasting like a generic “red wine.” These wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Bonny Doon Vineyards A Proper Claret 2013, California. 13.5% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 46%, merlot 17%, tannat 15%, petit verdot 13%, syrah 8%, petite sirah 1%, the point being that this is a very improper claret — Bordeaux red wine — indeed. Dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; solid, tannic, fills the mouth with briers, brambles and underbrush but builds layers of cloves and allspice, cedar, ancho chili, then undertones of dusty black currants, raspberries and plums; no molly-coddle here, intense and concentrated, lip-smacking acidity; dense, chewy; needs a medium rare strip steak or a great joint of venison. Now through 2018 to 2020. Loads of personality. Very Good+. About $16, a Real Bargain.
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Casey Flat Ranch Estate Red Wine 2012, Capay Valley, Yolo County. 14.8% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 56%, syrah 30%, cabernet franc 13% viognier 1%. Dense ruby-purple; cassis, black cherries and raspberries; hints of menthol, violets, hedge and heather, then graphite and underbrush, leather and mocha; bushy and brushy but succulent, balanced, integrated; a touch of the iodine-and-iron complex (sounds like a vitamin) under delicious black fruit flavors with a note of blue; wild berry notes, licorice and lavender lend some elevation to a wine of true class, distinction and character. Now through 2020 to ’22 with steaks and braised meats. Excellent. About $45.
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Gnarly Head Limited Release Authentic Black 2012, Lodi. (Delicato Family Vineyards) 14.5% alc. Petite sirah-based blend. A limited edition wine for Fall. The problem with the Gnarly Head wines is that they’re not gnarly enough. One of the purplest and most opaque wines I have ever seen; very ripe, spicy, grapy, gamy; plummy and jammy with sweetish blackberry, blueberry and currant scents and flavors, plush and velvety, “soft in the middle,” as Paul Simon says; quite juicy, smoky, a little loamy; comes across as unfocused and inauthentic. Good+. About $12.
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Juxtapoz Red Wine Blend 2012, North Coast. (Delicato Family Vineyards) 15% alc. Syrah 55%, zinfandel 23%, petite sirah 9%, malbec 6%, cabernet sauvignon 4%, “other reds” 3%. Dark ruby with an opaque center; first impression is of woody spices and walnut shell, then ripe black currants, cherries and plums, hints of plum skin, cedar and black olive; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of slightly caramelized fennel; scrunchy tannins and bright acidity make a fairly robust wine; you feel the alcoholic heat a bit on the finish; takes an hour or so for this to come together, and it finally convinced me that it worked. Cheesy label, though. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $25.
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Renwood Clarion Red Wine 2012, Amador County. 15% alc. 25% each zinfandel, petite sirah, syrah and marsanne; that’s right, one-quarter of this wine is from white grapes. Dark ruby purple color; a deep spicy wine, bursting with notes of blackberries, black currants and blueberries permeated by violets, lavender, potpourri and graphite; sleek, supple and integrated and manages not to be overwhelmed by the alcohol content; picks up hints of cloves, walnut shell, briers and brambles through a wildly fruity but earthy, mineral-packed finish. Tasty and intriguing. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $20.
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