The many splendid faces of Malbec
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If you go wine shopping and get anywhere near the South American section, you’ve likely seen Malbec on the shelves. This grape, with its roots in France as one of the five Bordeaux varietals, has really come into its own in Argentina. Many red varietals grow well and produce lovely wines in Argentina. Malbec, however, is the grape that shines brighter in Argentina than it does elsewhere. They not only bottle it as a stand-alone wine, they often generously blend it with other varietals too. What really gets me excited about Malbec is the versatility of styles it’s made into. The three Malbecs I’m looking at here are all well priced and pretty tasty in their own right. Depending on your tastes and desires, you might lean one way or another.
The first Malbec is from Trapiche, a producer with a long history in Argentina. If you drink Argentine wines, the name Trapiche is likely familiar; they make a wide range of offerings in several tiers. The Malbec I’m examining today is from their varietals tier. These wines are under $15 and aimed at everyday affordability and enjoyment. The 2008 Trapiche Malbec is produced from fruit sourced at their Mendoza vineyards. This offering is 100 percent Malbec. Aging was mostly accomplished in stainless steel with a small portion of oak influence. This wine is widely available and most often sells for around $8.
A bowl of fresh fruit fills the nose of this young, eager Malbec. Sweet, dark berry pie, plum and vanilla fill the lively palate. Hints of tart fruit, espresso and a touch of black pepper make up the finish. It has good acidity and will pair well with many full-flavored foods. Corned beef or pastrami on rye would be examples of an excellent match.
What I like about the Trapiche is its youthful charm. This wine is made to enjoy now when its flavors are fresh and inviting. The rich berry flavors reminded me of the Hostess Blueberry pies I used to eat in high school with my buddy Paul. This Malbec is friendly and pleasing, like your favorite uncle who regales everyone with stories at a barbeque. A really nice value too. And while Trapiche has been around forever, they’re embracing some current trends. If you dig this wine, check them out on Facebook.
The second Malbec is the 2008 Crios De Susana Balbo. Susana has been making wine for a couple of decades with several different labels, and the Crios offerings are her take on wines meant to be drunk young for a reasonable price. This selection is made from fruit sourced in the Uco valley of Argentina. This Malbec spent eight months in one-year-old French oak; 40,000 cases of this selection were produced and the suggested retail price is $15.
Eucalyptus, plum, tobacco and hints of smoke are all part of the nose. The palate is mouth-filling and loaded with cherry and spice notes that fill your senses with pleasure. These are followed by darker fruit notes such as plum and blackberry. Earth, licorice and continued spice emerge on the lingering finish. Good structure and tremendous acidity keep this wine in balance. While the fruit is still bold, it’s more restrained than the Trapiche, making this a match with a wider array of foods. It’s also delicious and easy to drink on its own.
My first contact with the Crios wines was at a large tasting in Manhattan a couple of years back. I was struck by the level of quality across the board in the five or six I tasted that night. I’ve revisited them several times now and continue to be impressed with the amount of complexity and pleasurable drinking they offer for the money. This wine is often available for around $12, making it a terrific value.
The third Malbec is also from the Uco Valley of Argentina. This area is less known than the Mendoza region in the U.S. right now, but it’s coming on strong with some excellent wines. Bodegas Salentein, the producer of this selection sits on 5,000 acres, of which 1,124 are under vine. They’re a relatively new producer having been established in the late 90s.
The 2008 Bodegas Salentein Reserve Malbec is sourced from estate vines located more than 3,900 feet above sea level. As with the other two selections, this wine is 100 percent Malbec. This vintage was aged for 13 months in barrel and 6 months in bottle prior to release. The suggested retail price is $22.
Plum pudding, leather, tobacco and a hint of vanilla are part of the intense nose of this wine. Sweet, dark berry fruit, wrapped in chocolate and cloves make up the powerful and full flavored palate. More and more spice notes emerge on the finish of this Malbec, and they just keep giving more and more flavor as they are joined by an excellent earthy component. Four words sum up this Malbec: dark, spicy, earthy and sexy. Herb-rubbed, slow roasted pork shoulder would be a tremendous match for this wine.
While it retails for $22, it’s often available for about $17. Considering how delicious and terrific this wine is, that’s a killer deal. Quality-wise you’re getting a $30 wine. Tasting this Malbec was my first experience with Bodegas Salentein; trust me, it won’t be my last.
What I like about this trio of Malbecs is that they are emblematic of the diverse styles of this great grape. If you shop around, you could pick up all three for less than $40, and create a mini Malbec tasting of your own, that would really display many of the attributes Argentina’s signature grape offers.