In yesterday’s Argentine Wine 101 article I gave a brief rundown as to the wheres, whys and whos of Argentine malbec, but offered only a little in the way of whats. Today I can fix that with a modest report on some Malbec that is in the marketplace today. In many ways this selection is the same sort of selection that has been available for several years now, though I do see some changes in the making.
The first and most obvious change is in the pricing of these wines. While the price increases have been relatively slow it seems as though several of these wines have jumped up about 30% or more at retail over the past five years or so. What was a $10 wine has become a $13 to $15 wine. Whether they still represent value or not depends on the preferences of the consumer and what other wines out there are offering at these price points, but it is safe to say that these wines are not exactly the values they once were.
The wines themselves have also changed a little, or should I say more correctly that the range of wines represented by Argentine Malbec has changed. It has broadened, which is a relief. For several years, particularly towards the end of the last decade, Argentine Malbec seemed to be following the trajectory of Australian Shiraz. the wines were getting bigger, and sweeter, and were garnering more critic’s points, but they weren’t really getting better or more interesting for that matter. In fact they were getting less interesting and less food friendly to boot. Chasing points is a recipe for disaster, especially chasing points at a modest price level.
It’s one thing if you don’t have a lot of wine to sell, and the wine that you do sell is too expensive to drink except by people who have to lord the unfathomable quality of their unobtainable wines over you; lest they look like dopes for ponying up the dough for them. With everyday wines that ordinary people drink you run the danger of losing what makes your wine distinctive if you simply follow the herd. What will be a success in the first years will quickly turn into the great equalizer and leave people searching for the least expensive 90pt Malbec after all the wines taste essentially the same.
It seems that this is no longer the case, with two distinct camps of Malbec emerging in the marketplace. One the one hand you have the powerful and plump Malbec, easy going, fruity and ripe, it finds many admirers. On the other hand there are wines like the Cuarto Dominio Chento, Las Moras Malbec Reserve, and the Graffigna Malbec Centenario Reserve all of which seem to trade in some of the power you can get with Malbec for more complexity and a little bit of stemmy herbaceousness which makes these wines superb partners for food.
The strategy, as far as there is one, of producing both styles of wines under the banner Argentine Malbec is of course a brilliant one. The masses are happy to have their wines, affordable and intense, while those looking for more complexity and less sheer mass can also turn to Argentina for an enjoyable Malbec. There is also the added bonus of keeping the critics at bay, because we do love to go around building regions up and then bashing them for delivering what their public wants and has grown accustomed to.
The bottom line here, beyond ascribing motive to where there is probably none, is that Argentina is a diverse country. Even with Malbec, and frankly with the monetary gain to be had with one particular model of Malbec, kudos to them for producing a range of style. We, the collective wine drinking community, are ready to move to the second phase of exploration with Malbec. Where we move beyond broad conceptions of style and typicity and begin to better understand the nuance and complexity that springs from the varied landscape that gives birth to Argentina’s undisputed flagship wine: Malbec.
This is quite attractive on the nose with a floral base note framing the cinnamon dusted plum and black cherry notes on the nose, and picking up a bit of dried herb with air. Round and plump up front, the rich plum and blackberrry fruit is nicely supported by integrated acids and rounded tannins. There’s some obvious wood on the mid-palate acting as a bit of a spice accent to the fruit, and the wood tannin shows through on the moderately long finish but the fruit here is quite bright, fresh and persistent showing off flashes of herbs and a licorice note. This has fine fruit and complexity and a lovely, inviting texture supple, smooth and yet innately firm. 92pts
Intensely aromatic on the nose with imposing aromas of dried herbs and dried blood orange peel along with inky notes and hints of diesel and stone all layered over a base of black currant and blackberry fruit with bitter chocolate shavings over them. Another wine that is so smooth, and polished in this case but not without life in the mouth. There’s a nice edge to the acidity and it helps to highlight the mineral streak that runs through this herb infused and slightly amaro tinged wine. The fruit is dark, mulberry and dates along with a rich, slightly chewy core of black currants all coming together with nuanced tobacco and oak notes on the backend and then turning chocolaty on the long and attractively wild raspberry tinged finish. A bit of a powerhouse but very well made. 91pts
Very aromatic with lots of sweet toasty oak and super-ripe fruit lending a really sweet impression to the nose here, filled as it is with candied blackberry, orange peel, and chocolate covered black cherry studded with clove, vanilla and allspice. Seamless in the mouth this is rich and powerful but not as large scaled as one might expect from the nose. It’s a little chewy and while it is frankly oaky the oaky is well done and balanced by the intense black cherry skin, mineral and mulberry flavors that gain a hint of green anise seed and herb on the backend. The acid and minerality op on the finish, which is cut short but it’s relatively heavy load of tannin. This is intense and a powerhouse that sacrifices nuance for intensity. 91pts
Dry, earthy and herbal on the nose which is quite pronounced and distinctive. There’s a lot of spice action emerging with air and a fine core of candied black fruits. Matte on entry, and low in the mouth, this shows a tight core of fresh black raspberry and blackcurrant fruit framed with nuanced green herbal tones and topped with well judged oak. The green herbal aspects add attractive freshness in the mouth and highlight the acids which add some lift to the backend before reintegrating with the tart berry fruit on the modest finish which ends with a bit of sweet oak spice. For a big wine this shows some restraint and has some old world character with a fine mineral note coming out with air. 91pts
70% Malbec, 30% Bonarda
Fairly vanilla oaky on the nose but also nicely rosemary stemmy with intriguing herb notes helping to add complexity to the plummy and candied black cherry fruits of the nose. This is very broad on entry, and shows attractive transparency on the palate with modest tannins and well integrated acidity supporting fresh plummy fruit. There’s a nuance of chocolaty oak here but it’s really very well integrated, and while the tannins build on the palate they remain within the rich if simple fruit. The finish is a bit subtle and shows good persistence to the dried herb, mineral and older wood flavors that help to carry a kernel of red cherry fruit right through to the finale. Rather juicy and perhaps a touch simple but also quite satisfying on a hedonistic level without crossing the fruit bomb line. 90pts
Dark and rich with nutty oak on the nose along with aromas of caramel, melted licorice, dried thyme, vanilla, and asphalt framing a core of dark fruit. Smooth and plush on entry, this has nice acidity adding some liveliness on the palate and plenty of soft tannins helping to support the black cherry, mulberry and vanilla flavors that lead to a nice, bright, and fairly fruity finish which shows some toasty wood spice along with a nice herbal streak, hint of minerality and tart red fruit character. This is a little raw today, not quite rustic but lacks the integration of the best wines, though it delivers a lot. 89pts
Candied raspberry, tobacco, and dried herbs greet the nose nicely accented with floral, fennel, and gently meaty aromas. Nice and bright on entry and texturally a great success with it’s fresh integrated acids supporting red cherry and raspberry fruit and fine, ripe tannins forming a real foundation but this does lack some oomph in the mouth. the flavors are there, and attractive at that. The red and black fruits, spice and herb notes and lovely savory complexity that yields to a touch of minerality on the rather long finish but this will prove underwhelming to many. I find this to be delicious and eminently drinkable with a freshness and complexity that is rare at this price point. 88pts
Stemmy , smoky and filled with underbrush nuances on the nose, there’s also plenty of dark berry fruit here along with a hint of mushroom. Smooth, focused and rather restrained in the mouth, this has a fine tight core of polished tannins and integrated acidity supporting tobacco and tar framed flavors of dark plum and cherry fruit. Some wood spice shows up on the backend, though in a supporting role with the fruit remaining vivid and fresh through the moderately long finish. Showing a bit more elegance than you average malbec. 88pts
Tight on the nose, a little smoky and herbal with and smelling subtly of dried grasses over the base of sour plum and vanilla. Rich and yet restrained in the mouth with good acids and fine grained but present tannins supporting a nice blend of earthy red fruit and fresh plums. There’s a touch of autumnal rusticity here adding nice nuance on the palate, though the backend is more oak and fresh fruit driven with hints of caramel emerging on the backend but yielding to earthy, dry flavors on the moderately long and austere finish with it’s streaks of sour cherry and tart plum flavors. This is quite attractive, a value malbec for grown ups. 87pts
Smoy and lightly caramelly on the nose with lots of darkly jammy blackberry fruit and hints of both dates and pomegranate with a dusting of white pepper as a top note. Smooth as wool on entry, a little fuzzy but ultimately plush and friendly with a big core of dark, almost coffee accented blackberry fruit which shows hints of fresh bay leaf and a little citrus peel nuance. S little chewy in the mouth, and a little sticky on the finish, this highlights the bold fruit that made malbec such a household name, layers of blackberry, black currant, and black cherry fruit all gently spiced with oak and supported by enough acid to become obvious on the finish and help keep everything fresh. This is a bit of a big, chunky wine and while it may be inelegant it will be very popular. 87pts
Cocoa, spice and leather greet the nose along with rather intense wild berry and chocolate covered pomegranate seed notes. This shows a hint of sweetness on entry and delivers a nice blend of vivid plum and sweet raspberry flavors wrapped in well judged milk chocolaty oak. Very easy drinking with well balanced structural elements, this is round and friendly with nice nuanced blackberry and herb notes adding a touch of detail on the backend and through the modest, fruity, and slightly tacky finish which reveals some tart apple flavors. 86pts
Fresh, smoky and somewhat soil driven on the nose with aromas of rocky earthy layered under the core of tart red and herbal fruit with hints of thyme, sage, and bay leaf. Smooth and very easy drinking in style, this enters the mouth with nice wild raspberry fruit and shows a hint of wood spice adding some depth on the palate and a bit of a tannin base, though this is a bit more driven by acid in the mouth. The fruit remains very red currant, tart and fresh with a hint of vanilla and those lovely spice notes driving the modest finish. Fresh and very approachable with some carob and cherry flavors emerging on the finish. 86pts
Rather fruity on the nose with a tarry top note to the candied aromas of dates and prunes that are wrapped up in vanilla and bay leaves. Round, plum and fruity in the mouth this has very soft tannins and integrated acidity helping to support a mouth filling exuberance of fruit. The initial attack drops off on the backend which remains very fruity but turns a bit more perfumed with jammy blackberry and mulberry aromas and a bit of black cherry pie. The wine drops off quickly on the finish leaving one with some soft wood tannins and lingering wood spice. Very popularly styled. 84pts
Fresh and jammy at the same time with lots of bright wild cherry fruit tones, some intermediate green anise seed notes, and finally plenty of creamy vanilla oak aromas in the glass. In the mouth this is a simple ball of relatively fresh red fruit. the tannins are almost nonexistent, and the acidity enough to keep this feeling fresh in the mouth. There’s some nice nuance in the mouth with hints of fresh and dried herbs and some woody top notes, but this is basically just a bowl of fresh red fruits with little finish save a bit of woody astringency. 83pts
Sweet and smoky on the nose with a gentle green herbal base note under attractive black currant and red cherry fruit all topped with rather spicy oak. Light and fresh, if relatively heavily laden with oak on entry. This is a bit rough around the edges with plenty of wood tannin throwing the wine a bit out of balance. the fruit is fresh with hints of licorice and and spice, but the berry tones are layered under the wood. The finish is short and a bit dry with wood tannin. Smells better than it tastes with tart red fruit appearing on the raw finish. 80pts