By Celia Strong
There are good parts and not so good parts to finding a new wine. As much fun as you think it is to get to taste all the wines that come and go, it isn’t always. For every wine that makes it to the shelf, there are probably five to eight more that get tasted and not included in our drinking lives. Some of those we don’t put on the shelf are really not good and we’ve done you a great service by helping you miss them. Some wines don’t get onto the shelves because of that, some don’t because we don’t have a spot for them, some do and don’t sell well so they get gone, and some do make it onto the shelves because you want to buy them. (Some of the wines in this group we might not have selected, but you have. A perfect example of “money talks.”) And, now, we’ve had enough of retail philosophy!
So, let’s get back to the best thing about wine. There is always, always, always another great one out there. It’s just waiting to be found. And that is fun. And sharing the discovery is even more fun. If you haven’t guessed by now, we have a great new one for you this week! A Malbec from Argentina. As the process worked in this case, we are about to lose several of the wines we carry from Argentina. A big winery down there has just been bought out and no one is sure where the wines are going to come from now, if the same ones will be carried or even if the overall theory of how they want their wines to taste is going to stay the same. We have two ways to handle this situation — wait and see or start looking at new wines to replace some of the old ones now. For sure this seems to be the better way to go. So we have asked our distributors for some specific types of wines (grapes and prices). This week’s new wine is one of these candidates.
When the “candidates” come in, it can be sort of hard to get to them. There is always the fear that they won’t be any good at all. Granted, we only have to take a teaspoon to taste, but a bad taste in your mouth is exactly that: Bad. Sometimes, too, even though the wine tastes OK, it just isn’t priced right. When you’re used to tasting wines all the time, you get a sense of what a $10 bottle should taste like, a $20 bottle, etc. To be fair, it’s best to taste the wines without knowing their price, but why taste what you don’t need? (Of course, the other side of that coin is we might find the next “best wine we’ve had this year.”) That’s sort of what happened this week.
This Malbec came to us about ten days before we tasted it. Finally, when we popped the cork — or more precisely, unscrewed it — we took our sips and I saw all three of us tasters smile. Good news! Tasted some more, non-employees on it Tuesday. More smiles. And, finally, I tasted it again on Thursday night. Still wonderful.
Malbec wines over the last several years have become very popular. This has led to more and more styles, quality levels and prices on them. The majority of them come from Argentina, the fifth largest producer of wine in the world. Originally, Argentine wine makers were more interested in quantity than quality. (Now you know why all the tasting is not always fun!) That is changing, though, as more and more of their wines are sold around the world. Mendoza is the first well known wine region in Argentina that still produces about 60% of the country’s wine. The region’s high altitude and low humidity are well suited for grape growing. These conditions all but void the problems of mold, fungi, insects and grape diseases. Healthier grapes make better wines. Even though it is generally dry in Argentine vineyards, there is plenty of water running down from the mountains as the snow melts every year. Irrigation is therefore inexpensive. The Malbec grape came to Argentina from Bordeaux and found its perfect home to make great wines. When the country’s wine industry shifted its focus from lots of wines to good wines, Malbec became a star. Argentine wine laws say if the grape name appears on the label, the wine must be at least 80% that variety.
Malbec grapes are thin skinned and need more sun and heat that Cabernet or Merlot. It produces an inky red or violet colored wine that has a juicy texture. It has a particular plum-like flavor along with red fruits (cherries for sure) and moderate tannins. When you go looking for a new wine, you want it to have the flavors and textures of a good one for its variety. Knowing those basics helps.
Now, let’s open that door to this week’s wine — Mountain Door Malbec. It comes from a small family grower in Mendoza, some 200 acres of old vines. This vineyard is about 850 meters above sea level, close to a mile up. Technically, it is in the Barrancas region in the Maipu department of Mendoza. The stony alluvial soil helps intensify and concentrate the flavors in the grapes. Strong sunlight and scarce rainfall, warm days and cool nights — all of these conditions make juicy wines with good acidity, excellent color and intense fruit aromas and flavors. Mountain Door Malbec has a plush core of plum, blackberry, raspberry, cherries, violets and mocha, all wrapped up in a mouth-filling juicy body. Sounds to me like somebody found the perfect land to make a textbook version of Malbec. And you can have it for $8.99 a bottle. Makes that an easy door to open! Enjoy!