Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Argentina - Part Six - Malbec Begins

There has been so much written about Malbec lately that I will keep this short. Suffice it to say, Malbec flourishes in Argentina like nowhere else on the planet. Its previous heyday was in pre-phylloxera (mid-1800's) France. Cahors was the best known expression before Argentina and Mendoza appeared on the world's radar.
Malbec from Argentina is usually big, dark, and sometimes a bit on the burly side. The wines are often much plusher and easier to drink than their French cousins, hence the excitement about them.
Juan Benegas Malbec 2006 - 100% Malbec from Mendoza, Michel Rolland consults. The wine is silky and supple with some spicy tannin. The fruit is bright and juicy and focused. There is more red than dark fruit but plenty of texture. 2nd day - A tad simple today, but the fruit is still good, hints of leather and earth are there now - but just hints. A bright finish with good acidity and very fine tannin, well done. 3rd day - The wine remains big, bright and intense with good spice. Moderate tannin appears on the finish, still solid. Importer - Pinnacle International. $12-$17 - although you should find it mostly on the lower end of that scale.
Gouguenheim Malbec 2006 - From Tupungato, Mendoza at 3,600 feet, the wine is aged with French oak inner staves for three months in, I assume, stainless steel. I found it a tad nougaty on the nose (for me that means a fair amount of oak, think breaking open a 3 Musketeers bar, a touch of spice and cocoa with an impression of sweetness). The wine is lovely, there is some spice on the back end, overall this is very drinkable and a ridiculous bargain. It is not the biggest Malbec around, but it may be one of the best deals. 2nd day - Lovely red fruit with hints of spice, this is juicy even with acid and structure on the finish. Brilliant, despite the nougat and oak returning strongly on the finish. 3rd day - Still bright and lovely, well balanced, more oak showing now, darker fruit. Incredible balance even today - great focus! This wine caused one taster to write, "Wheeee." Buy this wine. Importer - up for debate, go to their website - - Pinnacle is no longer their importer, other states should be correct. $9-$12
Altos Las Hormigas Malbec 2007 - This was one of my early benchmarks for Malbec. The wine traditionally had a great mix of red and black fruit, moderate oak and a lush mid-palate with good, but not rough, structure on the back end. I haven't tasted the wine in a year or two, so I was very interested to see how it stacked up with all the others. 100% Malbec from Mendoza with 60% from Valle de Uco and 40% Lujan de Cuyo. Free run juice only is used for this wine and they speak of a warmer vintage than usual which could account for the juicier style I found. French and American oak inner staves in stainless steel tanks for three months, oak is new and 1 year old. Soft and juicy with flashy fruit and more apparent oak than I remember (one taster mentioned oak chips). 2nd day - High toned and shy on the nose with some pepper. I stand by my assessment of this wine being lighter than I remember. Still good. Overall, solid just not as impressive as it has been in the past. Certainly still reliable though. (I checked som old notes and they have increased the portion of Valle de Uco fruit and the wine no longer spends time in actual oak - which could account for the more obvious, less integrated notes of wood I found). Importer - Vin Divino and Michael Skurnik. $9-$12
Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec 2006 - Mendoza fruit. I found this wine a bit green and slightly unripe, a rare occurrence in Argentina. Oak shows throughout, the fruit on the palate is soft and juicy, perhaps a bit simple, and the cedary oak really shows through on the finish. Missable. 2nd day - I can see people drinking this at parties and not complaining, but why would you knowingly do it? Perhaps a bit soapy today, i.e. lacking acidity and showing some winery manipulation perhaps. One taster wrote, "it's a shame about the oak." Importer - Frederick Wildman. $8-$10
Terra Rosa Malbec 2004 - Produced by the California winery Laurel Glen. They ship the juice from Mendoza in large containers to age in the United States. I had some concern about the vintage, but it appears to be, more or less, current. The wine is smoky and dark on the nose. It remains strong in the mouth, big and bold, yet with a touch of high toned fruit to balance. It seems, however, very manipulated and not very interesting. One taster wrote, "no, no, no." 2nd day - Fading fruit, still lots of oak though, some sweet leather on the finish. This wine did nothing for me, but fans of lush, plush wine with plenty of wood will find more pleasure. Importer - Laurel Glen. $11-$13
Punto Final Malbec 2007 - From Mendoza, specifically two mountain vineyards, the wine ages partly in French oak and partly in stainless steel. Lots of red fruit on the nose, although it seems a bit stewed - perhaps due to the warmer vintage? Sweet wood and tannin appear on the finish, overall I find this lacking. 2nd day - Same aromas and flavors as before, not bad, not good either. Higher acid and tannin more pronounced on the finish. Sweet cherry note on the nose now. I find this disappointing, especially when you realize the fruit comes from 50 plus year old vines. Importer - Winebow. $11-$14 A note here: Winebow began as an importer focusing exclusively on Italian wines. Starting about eight years ago they began branching out to other regions. It seems almost like they decided to expand and then sent people out looking for wines to satisfy that spot on the ledger. Wines sourced in this fashion are often correct and fit the bill, but rarely intrigue consumers or offer good value. Some importers stumble across wines from outside of their focus area and then decide to expand their portfolio; those wines can be impressive. Unfortunately, they do not label the wines accordingly. This wine is clearly the former.
Terrazas Malbec 2007 - This Mendoza wine, from vineyards at 3,500 feet in Lujan de Cuyo, is a project of the huge Moet Hennessey brand. They began exploring the region in the 1950's and have produced sparkling wine from the area for quite some time. The still wine project began in 1999. Approximately two thirds of the wine is aged for four to six months in oak. There is some oaky, sweet note, but the palate is solid with bright, focused, red fruit. Pretty well done. 2nd day - The wine has lost some focus, and the sweet oak is showing much more. Red fruit on the palate is still lively, but the wine seems to fray a bit on the finish. Overall, solid, red fruit style with perhaps a bit too much wood for me, but not for many others. Importer - Moet Hennesy Wine Estates. $10-$12
Another batch tomorrow!

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