Friday, March 13, 2009

Argentina - Part Eight - Malbec, The Next Price Point

We found some good deals in the lower price scale, can we find increased quality to justify an increase in price? Chile has finally managed to justify spending luxury dollars on wine after only offering low end bargains in the past. However, they do not offer much in the mid-range in my opinion. Argentina, so far, has offered that middle step since early on but does not have the heavy bottles and wild ratings of cult wines on the very upper end of the pricing scale. How will these wines fare?

Ricardo Santos Malbec 2006 - From a single vineyard at 2,800 feet in Mendoza, the wine is aged in French and American oak for six months. Ricardo Santos is a pioneer in Argentina, exporting the first Malbec to the U.S. when he owned Norton. This wine recently got a glowing review, and after learning about Mr. Santos, I had to include this. However, my notes for the first day, 'raw oak and more raw oak.' It was dark and deep as well, but if you don't like new oak, don't buy this wine. 2nd day - Not as much oak, still lacking, but better fruit shows today. Red and bright, but still too tannic for the fruit and it seems like wood tannin to me, which is rougher and chewier than fruit tannin. 3rd day - Deep, sweet fruit and oak on the nose, odd almost pickly, but more smoky note throughout. Gritty tannin on the back. Importer - Global Vineyard Wine Imports. $15-$17, although I saw it as high as $20

Tamari Reserva Malbec 2006 - The facts here reference the 2007 vintage, 2006 information is no longer posted. Some Cabernet Sauvignon and Bonarda are blended with the Malbec and most of the wine spends nine months in French and American first and third use barrels. Some is left unoaked to preserve the fruit. Oak, but sweet fruit too, the wine is okay, but slightly tannic and not showing much. 2nd day - Better nose, but that's about it; the wine is disjointed with some dirty tannin and bits of juicy cherry fruit with some earth. Overall, fair, a decent bottle, let it breathe. Importer - Terlato Wines. $12-$14

El Tordo Malbec 2004 - The owner of the importer made the blend with fruit from El Cipres, and it is aimed at the American palate. For the record, blends aimed specifically at American consumers rarely excite me personally. 15% Syrah is added to the Malbec. Sweet cherry notes, almost Luden's style, lead to a very drinkable wine. It's juicy, it's easy and it's fine. Exactly right for the American palate, but with more character than I expected. 2nd day - Syrah shows more today, with the cherry moving a bit more to the background and some nougat note emerging. A bit tannic for the weight of the fruit today. 3rd day - tired and not showing much. A solid wine, I would look forward to a more recent example perhaps. Importer - Pinnacle International. $15-$18

Trapiche Broquel Malbec 2006 - 100% Malbec and all estate fruit from vineyards scattered around Mendoza. Nice fruit and oak balance here, sweet cherry on the palate but very dry acid on the finish. Is the actual wine a bit out of balance? 2nd day - Darkest of the batch today, lush, some dark fruit but mostly red shows. I think there's still too much acid, and gritty acid, not lively, snappy acid, for the fruit. Importer - Frederick Wildman. $12-$14, although I saw one as high as $18.

Norton Reserva Malbec 2005 - 100% Malbec from Lujan de Cuyo in Mendoza. A bit stewy on the nose, with plenty of round oak. Not bad, just some much better. If nothing else around, okay, but so many other wines have more character for the price. 2nd day - Some nice high-toned fruit, a bit simple, the wine is good, there's just no depth. FYI - the 2006 has just received some rave reviews, perhaps I should revisit. Importer - TGIC Importers. $12-$15

Gascon Malbec 2007 - 100% Malbec from Lujan de Cuyo and Valle de Uco with seven months in American and French oak. Gallo recently took over importing for this winery and I surmise that means a ramp up in production, as it has for other international wineries they work with. Good weight and balance on the nose, with some oak and some dark fruit. The palate is juicy and straightforward with just a touch of slightly stewy fruit on the end. Another taster, "Nooooooo." 2nd day - Red and black fruit with with some oak again, decent entry, but fades quickly, with a weak finish. This wine sells like crazy in Portland and will make most people content, but there is no reason to seek it. Importer - Gallo Imports. $11-$13

Carinae Reserva Malbec 2004 - 55% comes from Lujan de Cuyo and 45% from Maipu in Mendoza from 80 year old vines. The wine is aged for 12 months in French oak. Red, forward fruit, with a hint of sweetness, a tad too light perhaps for the texture and oak treatment. 2nd day - More of that red forward fruit, with some dark undertones, the wine has fleshed out today but there is still a grittiness on the finish. A solid wine, not for sipping, but would be great with food. There is actual evidence of terroir here. Importer - Pinnacle International. $13-$16

Malma Malbec 2006 - From NQN winery in Nequen, Patagonia. I found little nougat and rubber on the nose. There were some plum notes. but it is clearly not for me. Another taster, "a nose like dirt stew with skunk and raspberry." 2nd day - Nose even more pronounced today, with some soft wood on the back, better fruit than the day before but still burnt rubber notes. Blah! Importer - Pinnacle International. $12-$15

Luigi Bosca Malbec 2005 - 100% Malbec, farmed at 3,200 feet in a single vineyard in Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza. The wine spends 12 months in French oak and undergoes a light filtration. More raw oak on the nose. There is some red fruit there somewhere, but mostly it is just oak today. 2nd day - Pure oak today, not the raw, aggressive style of the day before. The wine is better integrated, with solid fruit and decent brightness. I like this more today, but it's still not great by any means. Importer - Gaucho Imports. $16-$20

Overall these wines underwhelmed, especially for the price. I think the issue may be that the producers believe that an increase in price means an increase in oak, especially new wood. It seems the fruit associated with the moderate increases seen here could not keep up with the more significant use of oak. There is only one wine I would buy and drink, Carinae. Perhaps we'll have better luck at the next price point...last post for Argentina for a while coming next.

I have been very taken aback by the amount of red fruit notes found in the entire tasting. We all think of Malbec as deep and dark with black cherry, currant, and generally dark fruit. However, we have found much more red fruits, even raspberry and cherry notes, than expected. Perhaps we need to adjust our expectations a bit for Argentine Malbec.

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