By Celia Strong
For this month’s tastings, my friends on Hilton Head decided to sample Malbecs and, because it falls to me to pick the wines, we had quite a variety.
Most of us have come to know Malbecs as wines from Argentina. In fact, that’s where most of the Malbec wines we see are from, but not where the grape originated or where all its wines are made. Doing a tasting of just Argentine Malbecs is interesting, but not necessarily the only way to go. And tasting just Argentine Malbec wines can give you a really limited view of what this grape can taste like. You know, because you’ve heard me say it before, at tastings like this there has to be some common ground so that the wines show on a level field. The first field that needs to be leveled for a tasting, after you pick the wine/grape, is the price. It wouldn’t be fair to line up six Malbecs with retail prices from $6 to $106. We all know which one we’d like the best. So, today’s wines range in price from $10 to $15. Mostly from Argentina because there are more of those to choose, but a couple of others. The price range is more important, for this group at least, because that’s a big part of deciding if we’ll buy the wine.
The tasting starts with a little bit of “Malbec” information. This is a dark purple grape that gives its wines an inky color and robust tannins. Originally, it was one of the six varieties allowed in Bordeaux red wines. (It’s still one of the five now allowed.) This is a thin-skinned grape so it needs more sun and heat to ripen properly, more than either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. It ripens mid-season which makes it fit well in the harvest schedule. Its wine can be intense, dark ruby or purple colored, richly textured (some call the wines “juicy”) with ample tannins. (Remember Argentina is full of beef dinners!) Malbec is susceptible to several vine diseases but, when not effected by any of these, it is a high yielding vine. For a while in Argentina, this high yield made for lighter, less distinct wines, but they have learned that pruning is a good thing.
And, on to the wines we go. I’ll give them to you in the order we tasted them, with our comments, and, hopefully, you’ll feel like you’re with us.
Crios Rose is, yes, a pink Malbec. There are a couple of these that we can get. I chose this one because it is so distinctive. Really a deep purply pink color, this wine is a full-bodied rose. It was a surprise to most of our tasters today, but they dove right in. We all thought this is a great picnic wine, great for cold dinners on hot summer nights, and just plain fun. Really, it’s full enough to enjoy with grilled salmon too.
Marc Roman Malbec is from the Languedoc region of France. The price on this wine is a bit below our $10 to $15 field, but we do have a really good deal on it and, unfortunately, it’s the only French Malbec we had. This wine is a lighter style Malbec, but shows the smooth, juicy texture the grape is capable of and the rich, plummy flavors. We all agreed that for everyday drinking, this is one of the best wines we’ve ever had.
Mountain Door Malbec is next in line. One of the fun parts about these tastings is that no matter how many times you’ve had one of the wines, it will always taste a bit different in a line of competitors. And, again, a bit lower than our price field, but only because of our deal on it. This wine was a crowd pleaser. A bit fuller bodied than the Marc Roman, it is still juicy textured with a richness in your mouth. Yes, you get the plum flavor and other dark fruits as well (blueberry, black raspberry).
Peirano Malbec from California is next. Yikes, you should have seen the reaction to just the idea of a California Malbec. There are more and more of them showing up, and really, some wineries have made them for years. As a blending grape in many of the California “meritage” style wines, Malbec has been grown there for decades. As its wines became more popular, California growers knew they had to get into the game. Peirano Malbec is a bigger, fuller style wine, really rich with California sun ripening. Looking back, I maybe should have not told everyone where this wine was from. It was so close to Argentine style they may never have guessed. So think red meat with this one.
Catena Padrillos Malbec takes us back to Argentina. Personally, I love this wine. But, don’t go by what I like — I chose all these wines just so I could have some of each. (I only pretend to choose them to make a good tasting for everyone else.) This one is a bit more structured, meaning there’s a bit more tannin mixed in with the underlying juicy texture. Still similar flavors but a bit more tightly wrapped. (Makes the wines sound like they could be people, doesn’t it?)
Antigal Uno Malbec is a most recognizable bottle. For those of you who didn’t take even a week of Spanish 101 in school, “uno” is one and this wine has a big metal tag on the front of it that is a numeral one. When we see this kind of great merchandising, we have to wonder if the wine is any good. So often a great label is just hype. But not this time! This Malbec is really good. Of all of the wines we tasted, we all thought this one was the most spicy. But good smooth flavors, tannins for red meat — the whole package.
Reginato Sparkling Malbec was our last wine. Again rose in color, but the bubbles make a difference. The wine is clean and crisp with red fruit flavors. A great finish to our tasting, although we all thought it would have tasted just as good at the beginning. One couple is going to use this wine for all their dinner parties as a welcome to their guests at the door. Sure do hope I get invited!
So, there they are — our seven Malbecs — in their various shapes and sizes. We were truly impressed with all of them, each of us for our own reasons, and, of course, we each had our own favorite … or two or three. The best part was hearing what everyone else thought because then we had to re-taste to see if we agreed. Yay for wine tastings!
By Celia Strong