Argentina's malbecs still stand out, in flight after flight.
Wine Adviser Paul Gregutt says these are wines for those who love pure, intense berry flavors.
Special to the Seattle Times
Pick of the week
Alberti 154 2010 Malbec; $13
ONCE AGAIN, Alberti 154 bested its competition at this moderate price. Pleasing, sweet berry flavors are complemented with light earth and juicy acidity. This and Alberti's tempranillo are both well made and drinking quite nicely already. (Distributed by Grape Expectations)
NEW AND emerging wine regions often get tagged as specialists in a particular type of wine. The advantage is that they have an instant calling card, a distinct identity among the endless shelves of vino begging for your attention. But breaking out of the grip of that one-trick-pony label can be most frustrating.
Argentina's malbecs have achieved global recognition, and deservedly so, for their purity of fruit, their mineral-driven acidity, and their overall value. Attempts to expand on that base have met with only limited success.
Torrontés is a delicious white wine, particular to Argentina, that tastes something like a cross between muscat and viognier, with a similar floral/citrus fragrance and flavor. But torrontés is a bit of a Lone Ranger in the world of whites, and no other Argentine white wines stand out from the crowd.
On the red side, bonarda is often cited as the country's original workhorse offering. It is unique in the way that lemberger once was here in Washington — a rustic, rather tannic pizza wine, without distinction.
Argentine blends that mix malbec with other Bordeaux grapes, especially cabernet sauvignon, can be very good. Occasionally there are other surprises. In a tasting of two dozen wines imported by the Southern Wine Group, I found an excellent Alberti 154 2010 Tempranillo ($15), for example. Another producer, working under the rather hip-sounding name Garage, showed an outstanding cabernet franc ($25) and cabernet sauvignon ($33), along with a carmenère ($33) that had more than a whiff of the chicken coop. All were sourced from older, high-altitude vines and made in a postmodern, noninterventionist (native yeast, no additions, basket press, low sulfites) style.
Yet the malbecs still stand out, in flight after flight. These are wines for those who love pure, intense berry flavors. The least expensive malbecs occasionally use some sort of oak treatment (chips or staves), but I rarely if ever encounter the over-the-top vanilla and tobacco flavors typical in so many cheap, corporate reds made here in the U.S.
If you can spend $12 to $15, you are more likely to score a bottle from an older vineyard, perhaps high-altitude vines (3,500 feet is not uncommon, and some are twice that high). These old vines can deliver wines with thrilling acidity and nerves of steel. From $15 to about $35 seems to be the real sweet spot for quality and value; spend more and you get more oak and alcohol, but most often lose typicity and detail.
If I have a quibble with the cheaper malbecs it usually concerns the packaging. Something in the Argentine soul seems to gravitate toward coal-black plastic corks. There is no uglier or less practical closure in the world, but they turn up again and again. Why not use screwcaps? Or composite corks? Plenty of comparably cheap solutions don't strain your wrist trying to open them.
The highlights of my recent tastings were all from a producer new to me, Fabre Montmayou. Distributed by Vehrs, these wines really did shine. Fabre Montmayou 2010 Reserva Malbec ($16) is a mouthful of crushed berries with a mineral underpinning and old vine (50-plus years) depth. Fabre Montmayou 2009 Gran Reserva Malbec ($20) is deeper still, sourced from a vineyard planted in 1908. Fabre Montmayou 2008 Grand Vin ($39), from the same ancient vineyard, uses new French oak, but in this wine it works. It's a glorious bottle.
About Wine Adviser
My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.