The Wine Curmudgeon can think of no higher praise for the Argento Malbec: I don’t like malbec, and I would not only buy it, but serve it to my friends.
That’s because the Argento Malbec ($8, sample, 13.5%), an Argentine red, is everything most grocery store wine isn’t: It’s not cloying, it’s not too soft, and it’s not smooth in that mindless way that so much wine in supermarkets is. In fact, grocery store wine has no right to be this well made, based on how much junk I taste every year, and part of me still doesn’t believe it was this good. But sometimes, Big Wine (Argento may be near 1 million cases a year) gets it right.
Look for fresh black fruit, a little spice, and the soft tannins that separate malbec from merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Plus, the almost cherry aroma wasn’t like the Jolly Rancher cherry smell that makes me want to dump other wines down the drain. Pair the Argento malbec with any red meat, and especially a hearty winter stew, as well as sausages with red sauce. Highly recommended, and the perfect wine of the week for the introduction of the 2016 $10 Hall of Fame on Friday.
Chilean malbec is a wine oxymoron. The Argentines make malbec, not the Chileans, so what’s the point of something like the Casillero del Diablo malbec? In addition, the Casillero del Diablo brand, made by Concha y Toro, is often undistinguished grocery store stuff, another reason to wonder about the quality of the malbec.
Which is why the first rule of wine writing is to taste the wine before you judge it. The Casillero del Diablo malbec ($9, sample, 13.5%) is much more than it should be, a value quality red that can often be found for a couple of bucks less than the suggested price. Look for some grip, where the wine has staying power in your mouth and not just gobs of fruit. In fact, there isn’t too much black fruit (plums? black cherries?), making this more like an older style of French malbec than a 21st century Argentine one. The oak is muted, and if the middle isn’t very full, it’s not short and offensive, either. The finish has what wine geeks like to call chewy tannins — not overdone, but almost meaty.
Pair this with any red meat, be it hamburgers or something a little more sophisticated, and it would go well with sausages, too. And remember, as you drink it, that tasting wine is the most important — and only — way to assess quality.
The Wine Curmudgeon got a bunch of emails over the past couple of weeks extolling various studies about what dads want for Father’s Day, who buys dad his Father’s Day present, and the most common Google searches for Father’s Day gifts. Most of which was a lot of effort for nothing, because everyone here knows that Father’s Day wine 2015 is the ultimate gift.
Keep the blog ?s wine gift-giving guidelines in mind throughout the process: ?Don ?t buy someone wine that you think they should like; buy them what they will like. ?
Suggestions for Father ?s Day wine 2015:
? Tintonegro Malbec Uco Valley 2012 ($14, sample, 14%): Know how too much Argentine malbec tastes like dark-flavored grape juice? Not this one, which was among the highlights of my El Centro wine class tastings. Look for dark fruit and more freshness than I thought possible in a malbec. Highly recommended (steaks on the grill), and a steal at this price.
? Jolie Folle Rose 2014 ($10/1-liter bottle, purchased, 12.5%): The ultimate porch rose, in that this French pink wine is simple enough (sort of lemony-cranberry fruit) to be enjoyable and offers a couple of extra glasses because of the bigger bottle at the smaller bottle price.
? Cruz de Piedra Blanco 2014 ($9, purchased, 13%): I suppose there are some crappy cheap Spanish wines to be found, but I’ve yet to find one yet. This white, made with macabeo, usually useed for cava, offers some of the Spanish bubbly’s fruit flavor (lemony-apple?) and a wonderful freshness — and somehow, once, got 86 points from the Wine Spectator. Serve chilled on its own or with any grilled seafood or even brats.
? Los Dos 2013 ($8, purchased, 14%): This Spanish red blend, with garnacha and syrah, never fails to amaze me, and this vintage is even better than the 2012 (which was terrific). Lots of red fruit from the garnacha, and the syrah adds some heft and balance.
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.
? Vin Vault Pinot Noir 2013 ($20 for 3-liter box, sample, 13%): This California red, part of E&J Gallo’s assault on the booming box wine business, offers much more than $5 a bottle worth of value (since a 3-liter box equals four bottles). Look for red fruit and soft tannins, though it tastes more like a red blend than pinot noir (and my guess is that it has been blended with lots of grenache or syrah). Still, it’s pleasant drinking and a huge step up from most $5 pinot noir.
? Marqu s de C ceres Rueda 2013 ($8, purchased, 12.5%): This version of the Spanish white from one of Spain’s biggest producers is made with the verdejo grape. It’s much more balanced than previous vintages — the lemon fruit is more rounded and it’s less harsh. A steal at this price, though it’s still a simple wine, and its tartness may put some people off.
? rido Malbec 2013 ($10, sample, 13.7%): Just another Argentine grocery store malbec with lots and lots of sweet red fruit, some tannins that don’t really fit with the sweet fruit, and not much else. It’s an example of why I liked this malbec so much.
? Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($10, sample, 13.9%): This California red is not the old $10 Napa Avalon cabernet, one of the great cheap wines of all time and which now costs as much as $18. But it’s professionally made, if hardly complex, and mostly a value with soft tannins, black fruit, a little mouth feel, and some acid to round it out. If you’re in a grocery store and need a red wine for dinner, this will be fine.
It’s not so much that the Wine Curmudgeon doesn’t like malbec; rather, it’s that most malbec tastes like it’s made from the same recipe, regardless of who makes it or where it’s from — too much sweet red fruit and without any tannins or crispness, as boring as it can be. So when I tasted the Trivento malbec, I didn’t expect much.
Silly me. What’s the first rule of wine writing? Taste the wine before you judge it, and the Trivento ($9, sample, 14%) was a revelation, everything that most malbec isn’t — surprising depth and structure, and especially for an Argentine malbec at this price. I guess I forgot how much I liked it last time.
The red fruit (cherry?) was more juicy than soft, and the wine wasn’t flabby at all. I can’t remember the last time I wrote that about this kind of wine. In addition, there was varietal character, with sweet tannins and some heft at the back. Tasting this, it’s easy to see why malbec is supposed to be a beef wine, which isn’t true of most of that I taste, which is more suited to ice cubes.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2016 Hall of Fame. The Trivento malbec was so much more interesting than most of the malbec on grocery store shelves that it makes me wonder why more producers don’t try this approach.
The Wine Curmudgeon has long been in a quandary about Argentine wine. The best tend to be expensive, and there are other wines I’d rather spend the money on than its malbecs and red blends. The least expensive wines are too often corporately dull, and overpriced at that.
Which is why it was such a pleasure to taste the wines from Nieto Senetiner, a 126-year-old Argentine producer whose wines were none of those things. Santiago Mayorga, one of the company’s winemakers, knew exactly what I was talking about when I explained my dilemma to him; the company’s approach, he said, was to offer better quality than grocery store malbecs, but at a better price than the country’s high-end wines.
Much better prices, actually. These four wines are each worth buying, and the first two are exceptional values and highly recommended:
? Torrontes 2013 ($12, sample, 13.5%): A bone dry torrontes, which is as welcome as it is rare. Most versions of this white wine, the most popular in Argentina, are sweet to off dry, and too many are sickly sweet. There are delicious off-dry torrontes, but this one has even those beat. Look for an almost lemon tonic flavor with a hint of orange peel, and much more subtle than a sauvignon blanc. Pair this with grilled vegetables, Thanksgiving, even fried fish.
?Bonardo 2012 ($13, sample, 14%): Malbec gets most of the attention, but bonardo has long been an important red grape in Argentina. This wine shows why — juicy strawberry, but also spicy and almost minty. Spaghetti wine in the finest sense of the word, as well as anything with red meat and roast chicken.
? Malbec 2012 ($13, sample, 14%): I drink very little malbec; even well-made versions are usually too soft and fruity for me. This wine, somehow, is varietally correct, but plummier, darker, and deeper, and the well-constructed tannins add interest. There is more to this than just cola and blueberry aromas.
? Don Nicanor Estate Malbec 2011 ($20, sample, 14.5%): This red takes the previous malbec to the next level, with more berry flavor and some black pepper without the alcohol getting in the way. Much more complex than I thought a malbec at this price could be.
A tip o’ the WC fedora to Eli Cohn at Veritas in Dallas, who helped out with the tasting and told me how good the bonardo would be.
This year, the Wine Curmudgeon has been overwhelmed with some of the most bizarre wine press releases ever. That I have not written the greatest rant in the blog’s history is because cooler heads prevailed. As several people said, “Jeff, no one cares about this but you.”
Perhaps. But several recent releases are worth noting regardless:
? State stores forever! New Hampshire is one of 17 control states, where the government sells beer, wine, and spirits or some combination thereof, and there aren’t privately-owned retailers. This has always seemed odd given the state’s almost libertarian politics — “Live Free or Die,” after all — and that contradiction does not bother the state’s liquor board. It dispatched a release touting the Washington Post’s endorsement of New Hampshire as “the best state in the country for wine drinkers.” That it was one man’s opinion, and not the newspaper’s, and that the piece had several errors (wine prices are not skyrocketing) didn’t seem to bother the board either. Or that you can buy wine in a grocery store from 6 a.m.-2 a.m. seven days a week in California. Or that Segura Viudas cava costs one-third less in Texas than it does in New Hampshire. My question: How much money did the board spend on the release, when it could have spent the money on cutting wine prices? (Hat tip to Tim McNally for sending this my way, who lives in New Orleans and knows a few things about the best states to drink in.)
? Roll out the barrels: The battle over oakiness in wine seems over, and those of us who prefer restraint seem to have won. Nevertheless, multi-national Diageo sees a market for very oaky wines, and has launched a brand called Woodwork — “delivering prominent oak influence.” Overlook the writing (the wine “celebrate[s] those who work hard to endlessly pursue their passions”) and this release is a revelation. Diageo admits the wine is made with wooden staves instead of an oak barrel, a common practice in cheap wine but rarely acknowledged. In this, the point of the wine is not winemaking, but adding wood flavor. That honesty is as refreshing as it is unbelievable. (Hat tip to W. Blake Gray for sending this my way; he expects the wine to be a big seller.)
? It’s EPICA! Does someone really get paid for writing this stuff? “EPICA Wines, the adventurous brand that inspires epic lifestyles, has announced the launch of the 2013 Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. Aimed at millennials, EPICA Malbec was created to capitalize on the growing interest for the Argentinian grape.” Who knew malbec was an adventurous grape? Or that there was growing interest in it? I always thought it was one of the most popular grapes in the world, the fifth biggest import to the U.S. and one that has been around for decades. But then, my lifestyle is hardly epic.