Call it the malbec conundrum. Argentina's national grape produces one of the most popular wines in the world, but finding a $10 malbec that is worthwhile is not easy to do. There are plenty of cheap malbecs, but save for the Yellow & Blue, the Wine Curmudgeon hasn't had much success. Most of the $10 malbec that I taste is too fruity or too jammy or too much a combination of the two, as if winemakers are trying to make it taste like Australian shiraz.
Enter the Los Cardos (about $10, purchased), from the well-respected producer Dona Paula. It still has malbec's juicy, ripe fruit (mostly cherry), but it's not nearly as over the top as some are. There's also a bit of a finish, which you don't see in most inexpensive malbec -- they're mostly a big gob of fruit at the beginning, and hardly anything else. My pal John Bratcher, who is the Wine Curmudgeon's malbec expert, said that he has tasted more expensive malbecs that didn't offer this much value.
Finally, several things to keep in mind about this wine: First, it has a screwcap, which means that the wine changes significantly after you open it. It's going to take 15 or 20 minutes before it tastes the way it should. Second, don't be afraid to chill this -- 20 or 30 minutes in the refrigerator before you open it. It's a bit hot (which means the alcohol, at 14 percent, is more noticeable than it should be), and chilling it will keep the alcohol at bay. Third, it's a food wine, and will taste better if you drink it with something like roast chicken, hamburgers or pizza.