Mmm Mmm Malbec
I love malbec. The best are sensual, sexy, medium- to full-bodied red wines that, at a price range between $7.99 - $11.99, are a great bargain. They are great with food or drunk alone-so terribly, terribly alone.
Malbec is sort of an immigrant grape. One of the up to six grapes used in Bordeaux wines, it rarely took center stage except in other more "rustic" regions like Cahors. It took the importation of this grape to the New World in the mid-1800s to give malbec the home it deserved.
The growing conditions in South America-especially Argentina-were ideal for malbec, which requires more sun and heat than cabernet sauvignon and merlot (its more famous compatriots). This allows for New World wines that are 100% malbec and 110% delicious.
One of the great things about malbec is that it's like pizza or... certain other things: even bad malbec is decent. As far as bang for the buck, you can't go wrong with malbec. However, as long as you're spending money you might as well be buying a great bottle rather than a "bleh" bottle
My favorite malbec is from Maipe, a producer from Mendoza, Argentina. Theirs is an intense, staining shade of deep purple. It pulses with an animal, sensual energy. There are dusty fruit aromas that, upon drinking, fill your mouth with an utterly satisfying, powerful explosion of plum, chocolate, earth. It's a bronze fist covered with a silk glove. It is delicious by itself, with chocolate, with anything you can throw at it-I wouldn't, however, pair it with fish or anything too delicate. The Maipe would destroy any gentle partner.
The best thing about the Maipe malbec is that it's $9.99. You can find it at Cairo Wine & Liquor in Dupont Circle or Calvert-Woodley Wines off the Van Ness Metro station. You can also find other fine wines from Maipe, including their terrific malbec rosé and their bonarda.
Another good example is the Tierra Prometida malbec ($12.99) from Bodegas Enosur of Mendoza, Argentina. This wine is a solid malbec, dense but silky, tasting of plum and chocolate and a whiff of tobacco. I once had a bottle with a beef tenderloin roast. Eaten with the roast the wine revealed notes of herb and pepper-a very good match with the thyme and rosemary on the tenderloin. A similar wine is the Domiciano de Barrancas "Cosecha Nocturna," which is $10.99 at The Wine Specialist.
You might also come across the malbec from Bodega Norton ($12.00-$14.00). Bodega Norton is frequently mentioned in magazines and online reviews. This estate was established in 1895 by an English engineer, making it the first winery in the now-famous Mendoza region of Argentina. While Bodega Norton makes a relatively decent malbec, it's not the best example out there. It has a rather limpid body-it lacks "oomph." Compared to the Maipe, this wine is uninspired and uninspiring.
An actually disappointing malbec is from Budini ($9.99): weak, but unlike the Norton not even quaffable. It's rare for me not to finish a bottle once it's opened. I threw the Budini away.
You will also find many malbec blends, very commonly with cabernet and/or merlot. These blends are often described as "Bordeaux style" and can be refined and graceful wines. One of these is the Amancaya Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Mendoza, Argentina, which at around $19.99 is more expensive than any other malbec I've ever had in my life. Then again, it does have unparalleled lineage, representing a joint venture between Nicolás Catena and the famous Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) of Bordeaux. This wine combined the power of Argentine malbec and the finesse of Bordeaux. It was purple-but bright and not brooding. Black cherry, plum, licorice. Good tannin. A wonderful, very pleasing wine which you will be able to find at The Wine Specialist on M Street.
All of the wines I wrote about in this column are from Argentina, and specifically from Mendoza. One could characterize Mendoza as the pre-eminent wine-growing region in Argentina; that being said, it's amazing that its wines are still available for very reasonable prices. You can also find malbec from Australia, South Africa, Chile, and the United States, but you will rarely go wrong with a bottle from Mendoza. Next time you're out at a steak restaurant or just browsing through a wine store, take a chance on malbec. You won't be disappointed.