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This page last updated
Tue, Jun 8, 2004

FEATURED WINES
(with recommended music)

All the wines reviewed on these pages are recommended for being interesting, attractive, drinkable, and maybe even a little unusual. In almost all cases they are either readily affordable or easily available, hopefully both.

Much thought is given to each wine's recommended musical accompaniment... Then again, feel free to substitute your own alternative. It's a way to have fun while indulging our great taste(s).

For a full list of iJamming! wine reviews, please visit the Wine Home Page.

MALBEC,
MENDOZA
ARGENTINA,

Malbec is one of the red grapes allowed in Bordeaux wines, not that much of it is grown there these days. Malbec is found in the Loire, where it’s called Cot, though it's far from widely distributed. And Malbec is the primary grape in Cahors, a distinctive and inexpensive appellation in the far south-west of France, but that’s a posting for another day.

No, Malbec is most readily found in and most closely associated with Argentina, where it is the country's flagship red grape. It would be the country's most planted grape, too, if farmers hadn't ripped up half the vines in a misplaced rush to replace it with inexpensive Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for the international market. Thankfully, some of those same growers now understand how it's with the distinctive Malbec that Argentina can and will truly stake its international claim: the varietal is finally being treated with the respect it deserves, and in turn, it's receiving the international acclaim it warrants.

Depending where you shop and what you read, Malbec is either a tangy, juicy wine for immediate drinking, or a luscious, fat, deeply-flavored wine with ripe but smooth tannins intended for the long haul. Of course, there's no reason it can't be both – as was evidenced recently when we hosted Malbec fans for dinner. They brought two bottles, each hailing from the Mendoza region at the foot of the Andes (see right for a not untypical vineyardview) that exhibited the wine's contradictory but ultimately complementary tendencies.

The Felipe Rutini 2002 Malbec La Consulta was a dark inky blackish purple. Its nose exploded with mint, black berries, violets, and Malbec's omnipresent plum presence. With its gentle attack and velvety tannins, along with a pleasant, rich chocolate finish, it was a smooth, succulent and eminently enjoyable wine. Tasted blind, I might have supposed this Malbec for a high-end New World Merlot: it had that crowd-pleasing combination of sweet fruit, gentle smoky oak and lingering richness. $18 seemed a reasonable price for such an upscale wine, which would surely improve with some short-term cellaring.


The most famous name in Argentinean Malbec is Nicolas Catena. We followed the Rutini with Bodega Catena Zapata's everyday brand, an Alamos Mendoza Malbec 2002. It was simultaneously brighter and yet more reserved than the luxurious La Consulta, with a more pronounced 'middle-fruit' flavor profile of bitter cherries, raspberries, and plum, a hint of olives and chocolate, more attuned acidity and yet some Bordeaux-like tautness. Had I tasted this one blind, I might have called it for a solid Sangiovese. In that regard, it fulfilled Malbec's reputation for 'tangy,' food-friendly wines. At $12 it was just above the everyday price for a wine that was, appropriately, just above the everyday taste.

Two takes on malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. The Felipe Rutini is big and bold, the Alamos is an everyday drinker.


At the estate level, Catena offers a wide range of benchmark Malbecs. I was fortunate enough to taste a 1997 Catena Lumluta Vineyard Malbec recently which was just beginning to offer Bordeaux-like secondary flavors. I wish I could have savored it longer. At a recent trade tasting, I sampled a decanted Catena Malbec 2001, which had ripe plum and dried currant notes and retails for $25 or so, while a decanted 2001 Malbec Alta upped the coffee aromas and overall richness profile significantly. As regards cellaring potential, Catena's representatives told me that their best wines are drinking beautifully some 25 years after vintage, and that because the modern Argentinean wine industry is so young, they've still to learn at what age these wines will head downhill.

The Mayol Malbec 2002 is a steal - if you can find it.

Though the Catena Alta will set you back $50 or more, the smart shopper need only look around to find seriously high quality Malbec at a staggeringly low price. The grapes for the Bodega Mayol 2002 Malbec Montiuri Vineyard grow some 920 meters above sea level in the Lujan de Coyo district of Mendoza. (The high-altitude Lujan de Coyo is Argentina's oldest controlled appellation, established all the way back in…1992.) Bottled unfined and unfiltered, the Mayol wine is extraordinarily plush, at almost 14% alcohol, with rich notes of plum and damson, warm tannins, and some chocolate and cedar on the finish, reflecting its gentle oak treatment. There's only 3,000 cases available, but they sell for a song: I picked this up in my Park Slope neighborhood for a mere $12.

And of course Malbec is an obvious blending partner. The aforementioned Felipe Rutini's everyday brand Trumpeter includes a Syrah-Malbec blend that's a fulfilling, spicy wine, not unlike an Argentinean Côtes du Rhône, appropriately priced at around $9. And at the "If you can't afford this, you shouldn't be drinking wine" end of the scale, the Falling Star Merlot-Malbec is a smooth, forward, fruity wine designed for everyday consumption at only $5 a bottle.

A final note about Malbec: it's extremely versatile. Forget the tourist-board image of Malbec alongside beef and the tango: this is as food-friendly a wine as you'll find. While the bigger, bolder examples will stand alongside the richest dishes you can muster, the lighter, less expensive wines are perfect partners for pizza. Please sir, can I have some more?

MUSIC? To repeat, Malbec is versatile. Drink this stuff with whatever takes your fancy.

SANTA JULIA
TORRONTES
MENDOZA, ARGENTINA 2002
$7

Santa Julia is the brand name given to the everyday, inexpensive wines produced by Argentinean giants Familia Zuccardi. Among the company's five whites is a Viognier, and it's not desperately good. Fortunately, Santa Julia excels at Argentina's own Rhône-like white grape, Torrontes. Of especially high acidity and notably pungent aromas, Torrontes flourishes in the arid climate of the country's northern areas where it is, in fact, the most commonly-planted of all grapes.

The Santa Julia Torrontes hails from the Maipu and Santa Rosa areas of Argentina's prime wine-growing region, Mendoza, where it is estate grown and bottled by Zuccardi. The 2002 Torrontes is an everyday light yellow-greenish color that opens up in the glass to offer the peaches and perfume aroma so reminiscent of Viognier, along with some of the tangerine and cake-like flavors of a sweet Muscat. In the glass it has a bright acidity that distinguishes itself from these two European standards, while offering up a spicy, full-bodied, dry white wine that makes for an ideal aperitif or food wine even if it lacks some intensity and complexity.

Torrontes may be little known, but it's widely available. I've found this wine on sale in a London pub, a Yorkshire wine store and back here in Brooklyn. Better yet, it's shamefully inexpensive: the Zuccardi bottling barely nudges $10. It's almost impossible to find Viognier that good for that price – and you most certainly won't find any hailing from Argentina. I'm not telling you anything you won't hear from the real experts. The 2001 Santa Julia Torrontes was rated 'Excellent Value' by the Wine Advocate, while the 2002 was awarded four stars by Britain's Decanter Magazine, which also hailed it as one of the World's 50 Best Value Buys. The 2003 vintage (remember, the southern hemisphere harvests during the northern hemisphere's spring) has just been released.

MUSIC: Torrontes is vibrant, aromatic, and indigenous to Argentina. So is Buenos Aires native Gaby Kerpel's Carnabailito.


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