Featured Wine: Doña Paula Malbec, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina, 2007, $10

Being on the subject of drinking wine in a recession, as we were last week and probably shall be for a while to come, it’s pleasing to report that there are still some thoroughly decent bottles of red wine to be found for under $10. It’s just that they tend not to come from California. In this case (and in this case you can afford to buy by the case) we’re better off with a wine from South America.

Not that you would immediately know as much from looking at the Doña Paula “Los Cardos” Malbec which comes in an undistinguished label, the kind that on first glance tells you nothing much at all. On second glance, however, reading the small print, it indicates that the wine hails from Luján de Coyo in Mendoza which, as I noted the first and last time I wrote about Malbec (albeit in some detail), is that nation’s finest region for what is widely hailed as its indigenous grape. (Malbec in fact originates from both Bordeaux, where it once served as a blending grape, and South-West France, where it forms the backbone of Cahors, but it appears to have settled extraordinarily well in the hills of Argentina.)

Its origins in the foot hills of the Andes suggest that, even at the budget price of $10, the Doña Paula Malbec, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina, 2007 should be well worth a swill, and it doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it excels. The wine itself is a saturated purple bordering on black, with massive amounts of plum, spice, blueberry and blackcurrant oozing out of the glass and into those olfactory sensory centers. That rich plummy, brambly, damsony nature then delivers a kick like a mule – albeit it a well-trained mule, the kind that nuzzles you fondly after it’s finished its hard day’s work – as it combines with some licorice, tar, coffee and mocha, saturating the palate with concentrated flavors, more than a firm touch of tannin, and no lack of a satisfying sweet finish. “Firm and juicy” I wrote in my notes, in my usual wink-wink nudge-nudge manner: I maintain that if wine is intended to be a sensual experience, it should absolutely allow itself to be defined in sexual terms too. This one is not only a cheap date; it puts out.

img_1012.jpgModest label, generous wine.

Having grown disappointed by the downgrade in Chilean/Argentinean wine quality in almost direct correlation to their increased availability, I was genuinely surprised by this wine. And I’m glad to see, doing some post-drinking web-searching, that I’m not alone. People whose opinions I respect have been similarly satisfied by Doña Paula Malbec’s value for money. The Rhône–loving Gang of Pour suggest that it’s “structured for at least a few years of development and maybe a few more to hold after that.” The Blue State Carpetbagger’s Red State Wine Blog (and how do you like that site for a mouthful?) says that it reminded “of a very ripe, old vine Zin from Contra Costa County like Rosenblum or Cline make.” As a major fan of both those winemakers, especially Cline, I’m inclined – ouch! – to agree. And at $10 – available at the Wine Steward in Shokan among other local Catskills retailers – it’s much cheaper than those Californian competitors.

But then bottling Malbec, especially from the geologically ideal terroir of Luján de Coyo, is not rocket science. Keep your old vines planted and well-tended, pick ‘em ripe, ferment in stainless steel, give ‘em some short sharp oak treatment, and sell to the public while the fruit is still fresh and the tannins rich and ripe. Like good Zinfandel and Syrah, Malbec serves double duty – it warms you up in colder weather, and it’s great with barbequed food in summer. As such, this wine won’t go out of style – and with its considerable backbone, nor will it quickly lose its flavor. Kudos to the business heads behind the Doña Paula brand name for making such fine wine at such a sensible price. Now, maybe they can invest the profits in a decent translation for their web site.

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4 Comment(s)

  1. Dee

    11 March, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    I can vouch for the delights of Malbec, and the huge range of rich & fruity reds throughout Argentina. Thoroughly recommend a trip to B.Aires to perch on the barstools of the many great bodegas. The only downer is that a long trip to Arg is tricky for non meat-eaters. Even though I’ve been home for 2 months, I can still barely look at a tomato salad. Uruguay was great for wine too — Tannat (like Malbec) is the national wine drop. The only Argentinian wine you can buy easily here in Sydney is Norton Malbec – sells for around US$10/AUD$15. We often buy it, as it’s competitively priced against the local Aussie wine (which is cheaper to buy in Sainsbury’s!)

  2. jeff

    12 March, 2009 at 10:01 am

    There’s great pasta and italian food in Argentina for non meat eaters. Dee, did you find that the wine tasted better in Argentina than when you buy it in your home country? A wine steward in BA, said the long journey through different temperatures(esp Southern to Northern Hemisphere) affects the wine. Maybe it’s psycho somatic, but they definitely taste better in Argentina.

  3. Dee

    12 March, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    Jeff, I must admit that my kitchen table does struggle to compete with the heady atmosphere of a bar in Buenos Aires! Doesn’t everything taste and feel better when you’re let loose in a new country? Malbec and Tannat are simply sexy quaffable reds (sorry to lower the tone of the iJamming wine commentary), as indeed are many Aus & NZ wines. It’s a combination of the allure of the new, plus some good marketing. I always chuckle when back in England, seeing people chugging down the Foster’s and thinking of how unpopular and reviled that brand is in Australia.

    I did eat some good pasta & pizza in Argentina was quite a revelation to me just how big the Italian influence is generally in that country. But on top of the mountains of bread (and the mashed potato that I nicked off my partner’s steak plate), I could hardly walk for all the carbs in me!

  4. 13 March, 2009 at 7:02 am


    Welcome… Not sure if I’ve seen you here before, always happy to greet new faces. I don’t buy your airline steward’s comment. CHeap wine may not travel very well, but wine is shipped in professional containers every day of the week all round the world and plenty of it sticks around for 50-100 years. What damage is caused to wines is largely in stores where temperatures zoom up and down daily for years – and the occasional pallet allowed to sit outside in 100degree temperatures for which the distributors should be shot (with cork, of course)!

    But yeah, wine tastes better in its homeland, especially cheap wine. Why?
    1) It’s but one part of the tourist’s experience, added to but not discounting the food, the company, the weather, the architecture, the feeling of freedom of being on holiday. (I always enjoy wine more on weekends when I don’t have to worry about getting up quite so early the next morning.)
    2) Wine has been a part of the indigenous culture in most western countries for hundreds of years and wine producers and farmers have learned, pretty much by osmosis, what food goes with what wine. The two have formed a symbiotic partnership that can’t be replicated in another country, even if you try and repeat a specific menu. This is why there’s such an art to matching wine and cheese but it’s true also of teh wine and food and it may be that Malbec and Tannat seem particularly well suited, in Argentina and Uruguay respectively, to local meats.

    That all said, I know well about the Italian influence in Argentina, and would have hoped I could be well served there by pastas. Denise, are you still vegetarian?


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