Affordable Malbec for the Holidays

14 selections between $10-$15


One of my first tasting reports for Snooth was Argentine Malbec. It wasn't a big surprise actually, since Malbec in October 2008 was on a roll of rising quality and value. That tasting focused on wines in the $12 to $18 range, a step up from today's offerings, though there were a few lower priced selections that would have been right at home here.

I'll be tasting Malbec wines in the $15 to $25 range next week, and that's where most of the wines tasted in 2008 would likely fall today. This brings me to some observations about these wines. While that 2008 tasting focused on Argentine Malbec exclusively, there were few other options to include had I wanted to, with the exception of Cahors. Today, that is not true, as the wines from the U.S. attest to with this tasting. Further examples from France, Australia, South Africa and the U.S. will reinforce this in round two.

Photo courtesy Josh Kenzer via Flickr/CC

Developments in Argentine Malbec

Focusing for the moment on Argentine Malbec, there seem to be two developments that are a bit troubling to me. First and foremost is the price, which continues to creep up. These prices rely on the popular appreciation of these wines, but perhaps are getting close to their limits. And the second idea directly affects the first, these affordable Malbec wines seem to be for the most part, turning jammier, fruitier and sweeter with the passage of time. I think I have seen this before, in Australia, and the results are well known. It's neither difficult nor expensive to make a fruit bomb of a wine. Maintaining market price and share, on the other hand, can be an insurmountable problem.

Having said that, I will say that these wines continue to offer good value, and even the fruitier versions remain relatively well balanced. 

Photo courtesy FangFangMM via Flickr/CC

2010 Diseno Old Vine Malbec Mendoza, Argentina 13.5% $10

Tight on the nose with some cedar cigar box notes early on,  joined by notes of juniper, licorice and cocoa powder. This is rather seamless in the mouth, with fine balance between the tender tannins, juicy acids, and ripe black fruits that remain restrained and a bit closed. There's sweetness here from ripeness, not sugar, and really nice tension as the palate transitions to the dry, taut, blackberry toned finish. This is rather elegant and sophisticated, with a core of bright fruit that's really wrapped up on itself at the moment. I can see this improving. This will disappoint many Malbec drinkers looking for power and sweet fruit. 88pts

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2010 Trapiche Zaphy Malbec Cuyo Argentina 13.5% $12


Light, dusty and low on the nose with a bit of gummy bear grape and black cherry type fruit on the nose and some candied black licorice adding complexity. This is a bit soft on entry, but there's plenty of acid to help perk up the mid-palate. Rather red fruited and both restrained and medium bodied, with a soft core of fruit gently accented by some toasty oak notes and hints of astringent soil elements. This is austere, surprisingly so for Malbec, and offering a nice combination of jammy fruit flavors and soil notes on that lean frame. Eminently drinkable and engaging. 88pts

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2010 Bodini Malbec Mendoza Argentina 13.5% $12

This is quite fragrant with wild raspberry and vaguely grapey fruit on the nose, which is showing very youthfully. Very fruit-driven but nice and fresh.  A touch sweet on entry, this quickly finds it balance and offers a rather focused, pure, fruit-driven palate impression. Some fuzzy tannins add breadth and good supporting acidity that really helps the fruit pop on the palate. This is very drinkable and, while a touch simple, is really all about the fruit in a rather fresh way. Some late arriving oak nuances offer non-distracting complexity. Good blackberry seed finish too, though it could be a little longer. Fun 87pts

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2009 Tercos Malbec Mendoza Argentina 13.5% $13

This is rather perfumed with notes of vanilla, mocha, rosemary and brown sugar topping the black cherry coulis at its core. A hint of sweetness up front is quickly covered by ripe fruit, firm tannins and good supporting acids that bring out the wild cherry and sour plum fruit to the mid-palate. This is a big wine with intense flavors but not much complexity. Mouthfilling and fresh, this really gains some nice red fruit tones with air. A bit slutty but sure to be appreciated. 87pts

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2010 Crios Malbec Mendoza Argentina 13.8% $12

A little screw-cap reduction here. Nicely balanced nose with an earthy cast to the licorice and tar scented black currant fruit. This is smooth, moderately rich and very well behaved on the palate, with a nice set of accents. Mineral, herbal and wood spice help to frame the slightly small if very well proportioned core of liquory, brambly black currant and black berry fruit. The wood spice is a touch assertive today, helping to drive the moderately long finish, though the mineral touched fruit hangs in there for the ride. A grown-up Malbec. 87pts

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2010 Ruta 22 Malbec Patagonia Argentina 14.5% $12

Black looking wine. A bit inky and tarry on the nose, but this has some nice wild berry spice as well as fine rosemary herbal tones accenting the fruit and lightly oak underlay. Rather thick with an entry of sweet, lightly spiced black fruit, followed by some nice herbal top notes and good oak framing elements. The tannins here are a little dusty but pretty well absorbed by the fruit, which has just enough acid to stay fresh. The flavors are very true to Malbec. This explodes on the finish with cocoa dusted black cherry fruit that leads to a modest, slightly oaky finish. People are going to love this.  87pts

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2010 Santa Julia Malbec Mendoza Argentina 12.5% $10


This smells earthy and a bit funky, with dried herb and dried leaf edges to the core of dusty dried leather and faintly black fruit, topped with a hint of vanilla. Very smooth in the mouth with ripe, soft tannins and nice bright acidity. The flavors here are decidedly less fruity than with most Malbec. This is a bit more savory, with floral notes and some blueberry tones helping to frame a core of vanilla tossed persimmon and raspberry fruit. The tannins are a bit drying on the back end, but there's something balanced and appealing about them. An unusual Malbec, but one that is fairly complex and interesting.  87pts

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  • Snooth User: bekka7227
    933159 1

    I was introduced to Malbec a year ago and have fallen in love with Kaiken, but it's hard to find so when I do find it you can bet I'm buying a bottle or 2!!
    Thanks for recognizing Argentine Malbec - I haven't tried many brands but what I have tried it awesome!

    Dec 01, 2011 at 5:52 PM

  • Snooth User: dbownds
    975066 0

    A friend brought a bottle of Malbec a couple of weeks ago - I'm hooked! I find it milder than Cabs or Pinots. It was Cupcake Vinyards, which I thought I was going to have a hard time finding, but found it in time for Thanksgiving. We played cards and drank Cupcake Malbec for 2 nights! One among us is a chef and he didn't complain, so I'm sticking with it!

    Dec 01, 2011 at 7:40 PM

  • "Malbec delivers a lot of drinking pleasure," says Paul Hobbs, who today is a partner in Viña Cobos in Mendoza and consults for another 14 wineries throughout Argentina. "It does well with food, but because it's full-bodied and generous in nature, it tends to drink well all by itself." Hobbs describes Malbec's typical character as having flavors of boysenberry and blueberry, with supple or satiny tannins.... Enjoy !!

    Dec 02, 2011 at 11:58 PM

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