Monday, June 28, 2010

Malbec Monopoly

 My last two posts were about some very affordable reds. Today I’d like to post about a couple wines a bit higher up in price. Good wine, after all, is all about balance … so too should a good wine blog be, don’t you think?

A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of tasting the Durigutti Malbec. My friends have been raving about this one for quite some time, so I was excited to finally have a chance at it. I also had a chance to try another Malbec I’ve been curious about recently, the Catena Malbec by Bodega Catena Zapata. They’re both over $12, and they’re both Argintenean Malbecs. And that isn’t all they have in common.

But first, a brief history of the Malbec grape for those of you that don’t know. And many of you might not, because it’s a grape that’s only recently started to gain popularity and become more readily available. Like so many of our staple varietals, Malbec was historically grown in France, particularly in Bordeaux and the surrounding regions. It was one of the six varietals allowed to be in red blends labelled “Bordeaux” (the other five being Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Carmenere – this last now being extinct in France yet thriving in Chile). But despite being often included in Bordeaux wines, Malbec seldom contributed to more than 5% of a final blend, often less. It was a supporting grape, but never a star.

Fast forward to the mid-1800s, when Malbec was first planted in Argentina. Fast way forward to the late 1900s when Argentine winemakers finally realized “Holy Moly, we can make some really fantastic wines with this stuff!” Fast way WAY forward to now, when Malbec is the most widely planted red grape in Argentina, and Argentinean Malbec is one of the fastest growing catagories in the wine industry.

I admit, I’m a fan. If you haven’t tried it yet, go out and get some Malbec! It comes big and structured, soft and plush, or anywhere in the middle. Talk to your wineseller to find one that suits your palate (and budget).

My first bottle was the Durigutti Malbec.  At $14.99 this is a mid-range Malbec, and I was kind of expecting a fruit bomb. When I smelled it, and perceived strong aromas of blackcurrant, plum, and strawberry on the nose, I was expecting that even more. I took a sip and got a lot more of that nice black currant on the front. Just as I was preparing myself to be swept by the velvety tannins down a cuddly river of blackberry jam – BAM! Something completely different happened. My tastebuds put a screeching halt to the fruit train and pulled a 180, switching gears over to a dark and winding road of strong espresso, deeply roasted cacao, and bracingly acidic kalamata olives. The tannins were no pushovers either, staunchly standing their ground in a finish that seemed to go on and on and on. Me likey.

Date: 6/19/2010
Wine: Durigutti Malbec
Grapes: Malbec
Vintage: 2008
ABV: 14%
Origin: Mendoza, Argentina
Color: ruby with violet highlights
Nose: black currant, plum, strawberry
Palate: blackcurrant, brambly blackberry, espresso, cacao, heavy olive on finish. Big tannins.
Price: $15

The next bottle I tried was the Catena Malbec by Bodega Catena Zapata. For $19.99, I was expecting rather a lot from this bad boy, especially since the price tag also advertised a 91-point rating from the illustrious Robert Parker. In the glass it was a very dark purple – a good sign. The nose was rather simple of black currant, and tart cherry. But I’ve smelled some deceptively simple noses from some big, earthy, Italian wines before – specifically Montepulcianos and Nero d’Avolas – so my high expectations remained undeterred. This was the right call, because the palate DELIVERED. This wine had very sleek, light tannins, spiralling down the mouth in a tight core of charcoal, tar, and olive, over a bed of red fruit. Honest to goodness TAR! That’s a quality I’m not sure I’ve ever perceived in anything except expensive Australian Shiraz, so way to go Bodega Catena Zapata. If you are a lover of Malbec, a lover of Shiraz, or even just a lover of good, earthy, red wine – you have positively GOT to put this in your face.

Date: 6/25/2010
Wine: Bodega Catena Zapata Catena Malbec
Grapes: Malbec
Vintage: 2007
ABV: 13.5%
Origin: Mendoza, Argentina
Color: deep purple
Nose: black currant, tart cherry
Palate: tar and olive, charcoal, red fruit in background
Price: $20

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cheap reds for summer grillin'!

Let’s talk imports. I love domestic wines as much as the next gal, especially the killer stuff coming out of Washington State. But sometimes the best values come from imports. Both the wines in this entry are great values at $8 per bottle, though they each appeal to a different palate.

First, the MAN Vintners’ Shiraz from South Africa. Shiraz is a grape ordinarily associated with Australia these days, though it is native to France, where it is called Syrah. Australian Shiraz runs the gamut – from bold, structured, highly tannic wines to jammy, high-alcohol fruit-bombs. What makes the MAN Vintners’ 2008 Shiraz so unique is how it manages to be so fruit forward, with rich, berry flavors WITHOUT coming across as jammy or sweet. The acidity lifts the wine in the palate, giving it a light, pleasant texture. Soft hints of pipe tobacco and vanilla linger on the finish. The nose is delightful. This wine smells for all the world like blueberries and cream. It’s light, lovely flavors and easy-drinking texture makes MAN Vintners’ 2008 South African Shiraz a great choice for any occasion – to bring to a party or potluck, to serve with pasta, pizza, or barbecue. And if you’ve never tasted a shiraz before, this is a perfect place to start.

Date: 6/18/2010
Wine: MAN Vintners’ Shiraz
Grapes: Shiraz (final blend unknown)
Vintage: 2008
ABV: 14%
Origin: Coastal Region, South Africa
Color: ruby with faint violet highlights
Nose: soft vanilla-accented blueberries
Palate: smooth, rich, jammy forest berry with a touch of spice on finish

The next wine is as affordable as the MAN, but is at the opposite end of the wine spectrum. It’s the Tarima Monastrell. Where the MAN is light, Tarima is robust. Where MAN is vanilla-accented berry, Tarima is a pepper-punched plum. I don’t want to frighten you into thinking that Tarima Monastrell is inaccessible – far from it. But a bit of warning is necessary, because wines this big just aren’t for everyone.

Monastrell (called mourvedre everywhere but Spain) is not a grape known for pulling its punches. Varietal (100% pure) bottlings of this grape are uncommon outside of Spain, and even when you find ‘em … well, no one does it quite like the Spanish. Certainly not for $8.
Tarima’s 2009 Monastrell comes from Jumilla, a region of Spain where vineyards were destroyed by the phylloxera root louse as recently as 1989. However, the devastation ended up being a catalyst for the region to reinvent itself from one known for cheap, low-quality wine into one capable of producing artisan-quality bottles from native varietals – such as Monastrell. Ideally suited to the climate and terrain, many wine-makers replanted with this grape, and now, as the vines are becoming mature, the wines from Jumilla are getting better and better.
The Tarima is a fantastic example of what this grape is all about. The amount of flavor packed into this $8 bottle is almost criminal. Upon first sip, the palate is blanketed in mouth-coating tannins – the kind that are pleasantly rich and chewy, not bitter and overpowering. These strong tannins are simultaneously mellowed by two factors – the wine’s high acidty, giving it a clean finish, and its high alcohol content, giving it a silky smooth mouthfeel. In fact, for how big and bold this wine is, it’s amazing just HOW light it comes across on the palate. As for the flavor? Think of brandy-braised plums spiced liberally with rosemary and black pepper. A monstrous monastrell if ever there was one. With ribs, with steak, with bacon burgers … I am begging you to put this one in your face.

Date: 6/18/2010
Wine: Tarima Monastrell
Grapes: 100% Monastrell
Vintage: 2009
ABV: 15%
Origin: Jumilla, Spain
Color: bright ruby-violet
Nose: Spicy blackberry, clove, vanilla, tobacco. Heavy oak, hooray for Spain!
Palate: Fantastic mouth-coating tannins and great acid. Lots of red fruit. Bold, yet light. Pepper and brandy on the finish.

Tuttobene - it's all good!

With the current state of our economy, many wine lovers are seeking out bargain bottles – and I’m no exception. Recently I’ve stumbled on a couple little gems that are recession reds if ever I drank one.

The first one is Tuttobene. That’s Italian for “it’s all good,” and boy is it. It would be a decent pour at it’s regular price of $10. At the $6 I paid for it, it’s a screaming deal. Tuttobene is classified as a Toscana Rosso (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) .
IGT is the second twist in the labyrinth of Italian wine law. It has a few controls on it, which means it’s slightly better than the first classification (Vino de Tavula) which has practically none, other than it is required to be safe to drink. When you see IGT on an Italian wine label, you can be certain that the grapes came from the region named (in this case, Tuscany) and that the wine was made in something resembling the regional style. Some of the most common red grapes in Tuscany include sangiovese, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and canaiolo.

Tuttobene has a relatively simple, straightforward nose of plums and tart cherries. The palate is much the same, with medium weight, subtle acid and subtler tannins, and that lovely silky-soft mouthful that comes from the little unfiltered bits. Yes, this is an unfiltered wine, so don’t be alarmed if you see small deposits inside the bottle when it’s empty – which, with an easy-drinker like this will be all too soon. Pair it with light, homey fare like pizza, pastas, and grilled veggies. But most of all … put it in your face!