The Santa Julia Malbec Organica is Argentine malbec that delivers much more than expected
What does one do when government feuding makes French and Spanish wine, normally the best values in the world, too expensive for the blog? Look toward Argentina and the Santa Julia Malbec Organica.
The Santa Julia Malbec Organica ($10, sample, 13.5%) is almost everything most Argenine malbecs are not. That means it isn’t cloying, devoid of character, and amped up on sweet fruit at the expense of everything else. Which means a well-made, fruity (zippy berries?) wine, where the tannins are soft but serviceable. In all, a balanced, pleasant, and professional effort, and the kind we sorely need in these trying days.
But why not? Santa Julia is the organic label from Familia Zuccardi, a top Argentine producer that has appeared on the blog many times over the years. Its wines are almost always a solid choice when one is in a supermarket and confused about what to buy.
Serve this on its own if you want a glass of wine after work, or with everything from spaghetti and meatballs to takeout burgers.
It’s two red wines for the 2019 version of Dallas’ almost annual major power failure
I lost power for five hours on Tuesday, which was two days after the storm that came through Dallas on Sunday. That’s the storm that caused almost 300,000 outages, damaged thousands of homes, and led to one person’s death. I was lucky, even with the two-day thing; many in my neighborhood and the nearby Lake Highlands area were still without electricity almost a week later.
As such, this post started as a screed aimed at the Texas Legislature and the state’s utility regulators, whose boobery and incompetence have made our almost annual major electricity failures possible. But I threw that one away. You don’t need to read that, and especially on a wine blog.
So know that I drank a couple of bottles of red wine on Tuesday night, and I recommend them if your power goes out and there isn’t any ice to chill the whites. In addition, you can check out the other wine and power failure post — Wine to drink when the power goes out, 2014 edition — if you need more suggestions. Which, hopefully, you won’t.
And, if nothing else, all the power outages have helped me figure out a way to bake bread on top of the stove. I had a loaf rising when we lost power. Rather than dump the dough, I rigged a contraption using a cast iron skillet, a baking rack, and wok. It mostly worked, too.
The Tuesday night reds:
• Renzo Masi Erta e China 2017 ($15, sample, 13.5%): This Italian red blend (half sangiovese and half cabernet sauvingon) was surprisingly balanced and Italian-like. Maybe it was my mood sitting in the dark, but I expected something soft and annoying. It had that wonderful tart cherry Italian fruit, a touch of minearalty, and some backbone from the cabernet. It needs food, but is well worth drinking even when the lights are on. Imported by HB Wine Merchants
• Angulo Innocenti Malbec Nonni 2016 ($8, purchased, 13.3%): This Argentine red is “thumb and forefingers touched together” close from being a $10 Hall of Fame wine. It’s a significant step up from the usual $10 malbec, which means it tastes like wine and not vodka mixed with grape juice. The black fruit is more balanced, some tannins and acidity peek out, and the wine is enjoyable in a way most of the others aren’t. And this comes from someone who doesn’t much care for New World malbec. Imported by Vineyard Brands
Aldi’s Evanta malbec is what supermarket private label should be — $10 or $12 worth of wine for $4 of $5
May 22 update: The 2018 version of this is now in more stores, and it was disappointing. It’s much more commercial than the 2017 — soft, very ripe fruit, and missing the acidity of the 2017. It’s still worth $4, but it’s nowhere near as interesting as the 2017.
Is is possible? Has Aldi finally hit the private label jackpot with the $4 Evanta malbec? I think so.
The Evanta malbec ($4, purchased, 12.9%) comes as close to Aldi’s European wines for quality and value as any wine I’ve tasted that the chain sells in the U.S. It’s even on a par with the long gone and much lamented Vina Decana, which is probably the best value/quality wine the discount grocer has offered in this country.
The Evanta malbec is what supermarket private label should be — $10 or $12 worth of wine for $4 of $5. It offers better quality and more varietal character than many Argentine malbecs that cost $15 or $18, and there’s no chocolate cherry fake oak or too ripe fruit in an attempt to appeal to the so-called American palate. Instead, the Evanta has blueberry fruit, almost nuanced oak, and enough acidity so that you can tell it’s malbec and not fruit juice and vodka. Plus, it’s somehow fresh and not cloying, almost impossible to do with a wine at this price.
Highly recommended. This is the kind of wine to buy a case of and keep around the house. I’m going to do that, and I don’t much care for New World malbec. It’s that well made and that much of a value.
The Vigouroux Pigmentum malbec is $10 red wine that offers weeknight quality and value
There’s a style of French wine that has survived Robert Parker and premiumization and the decline of wine drinking in France. It’s a simple style, used for the every day kind of wines that still dominate European wine drinking. The Vigouroux Pigmentum malbec is exactly that kind of wine.
That’s because it exists for one purpose – to drink with dinner, because everyone drinks wine with dinner. In this, the Vigouroux Pigmentum malbec ($10, purchased, 13.5%) excels; I brought it to dinner with the Big Guy at our local BYOB, and he was surprised that the wine did as much as it did for the price.
That means a rustic sort of quality – tart but accessible, with dark fruit (blackberry, black cherry?), an almost herbal quality, and just enough tannins to show it’s a red wine. This wine is from Cahors in southwestern France, where malbec is still quite common. But it’s important to note that Cahors malbecs bear little resemblance to most $10 Argentine malbecs, which are soft and fruity and rounded. This wine is angular, and you can almost taste the corners.
Hence, it’s red meat wine – I drank it with a roasted lamb shank and white beans, and it was spot on. But it’s also meatloaf and takeout chicken, the sort of thing for a middle of the week dinner. Because where where would we be without wines like that?
Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This month, four red wines.
• Big Smooth Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($17, sample, 14.5%): Much winemaking and craftsmanship went into this California red to make it taste like a cherry Tootise Pop. If that’s what you want your wine to taste like, then it’s worth $17. Otherwise, taste and be amazed at the post-modern marketing cynicism that also went into it.
• Casillero del Diablo Malbec 2016 ($12, sample, 13.5%): This Chilean red speaks to terroir and varietal character, and is about more than the jammy black fruit of similarly-priced Argentine malbecs. Having said that, it’s not a value this price – a little thin and tart. But if you find it for $8 at the grocery store and you need a bottle of wine for dinner, you won’t be disappointed. Imported by Excelsior Wine
• Bagordi Rioja Navardia 2016 ($13, sample, 14%): Nothing special about this Spanish red – just a full-bodied (heavier, more red fruit) and not especially varietal tempranillo made with organic grapes. Imported by Winesellers Ltd.
• Cantina Cellaro Luma 2016 ($10, purchased, 13%): This Sicilian red, made with the nero d’avola grape, was either oxidized (doubtful, given the vintage) or so extracted and so overripe that it was about as Sicilian as my Honda. Imported by Gonzalez Bypass
The Vigouroux Pigmentum malbec from the Cahors region in France shows $10 wine can offer terroir and varietal character
Not every French producer wants to make soft and fruity wine that will get 94 points. Many, including the less known Georges Vigouroux, make wine that is varietally correct and tastes of where it’s from in France – its terroir. Such is the Vigouroux Pigmentum Malbec.
This red wine comes from Cahors, a lesser known appellation just east of Bordeaux. Traditionally, its wines have been less sophisticated than Bordeaux, the less established country cousin who could never quite come up to Bordeaux’s standards.
In this, its wines remain heavier and more rustic, without the polish that’s going to get most of them a high score. But that doesn’t mean they’re poorly made or aren’t worth drinking. The Vigouroux Pigmentum Malbec ($10, purchased, 13.5%) shows just that: Berry fruit, heavy but not ponderous, and full in the mouth without being too ripe. And there is even a hint of tannins.
This is a far cry from the sappy Argentine malbecs that fill grocery store shelves. In fact, malbec is a French grape, once even used in Bordeaux. Today, though, it’s mostly relegated to Cahors, where improvements in winemaking technology have improved wine quality from the country cousin days.
Highly recommended, and especially if you prefer – as I do – wine with character and grip. A candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame.
The 2015 Argento Malbec isn’t Hall of Fame quality, but remains quality cheap wine
The good news about this vintage of the Argento Malbec, a red wine from Argentina, is that it’s worth drinking. The bad news? That it’s not quite as tight and as fresh as the 2014, which made the $10 Hall of Fame in 2016.
In one respect, this vintage difference is a good thing, which shows that the producer lets the grapes determine the quality of the wine and doesn’t make every vintage taste the same using post-modern winemaking technology. Which, of course, is what happens to so much cheap wine these days, and not for the better.
This version of the Argento malbec ($10, sample, 13.5%) is still more than acceptable $10 malbec, especially since most grocery store malbecs taste like blueberry Kool-Aid spiked with poor quality grain alcohol. The wine has the requisite blueberry and sweet spice flavors, sort of tannins in the back, and some (chocolate flavored?) fake oak that surprisingly boosts the whole. It’s just softer and not as bright as the 2014 was, so it will likely be dropped from the Hall of Fame next January.
But if you’re stuck in the grocery store and need a red wine that won’t insult your intelligence, you can do a lot worse than this.