This past weekend I inaugurated Snooth's Panel Tasting Program with a line-up of value driven Argentine Malbec. For this first test drive we proceeded in a very casual manner as we all got to know one and other and each person's tasting style and speed.
I chose the theme and wanted to focus on Argentine Malbec for several reasons. Primary among them is the fact that times are getting tough and people want to know where to turn for value. It is undeniable that there are some compelling values among the wines sampled. The second point of the tasting was to take the pulse of Argentine Malbec.
There has been a virtual explosion in producer available here in the US market. The quality of these wines has never been higher and they are poised to break through in a significant way. Malbec is or will be the “hot” grape of 2008-2010. It was time to take a look at both the state of the grape in Argentina as well as the state of winemaking.
Malbec has a long and storied history in Argentina where it has produced some exceptional wines. Many of the producers now appearing on the US market are relative new comers to the game though they are blessed with many old-vine vineyards to source their fruit from. I was curious to see which path these newer winemakers are following to success, the full throttle, full extraction paradigm popular with jaded critics or something less in your face and more suitable for the dining table. Perhaps something more representative of the grape, region and history of Argentine viticulture. The results speak for themselves!
Participants in today's tasting
Stephanie Moreno – Sales Manager Astor Wines & Spirits
Beth Cotenoff – Vice President Cornerstone Communications
Renee Mack – Healthcare Professional
Leonardo Commercio – Manager Vintage Grape NYC
Ryan Hodges – Manager Park East Wines & Spirits.
Gregory Dal Piaz – Community Manager Snooth
2006 San Polo Auka 14.1% Mendoza - $13.00
It was tough for anyone to find anything nice to say about this wine. Stephanie found “calamine lotion” on the nose. Beth felt it was “burnt and rubbery” while Leo was feeling charitable with “Chartreuse” . The group's overall assessment was captured by Renee who summed the wine up as “burnt rubber, horrible”. I was alone in liking this wine, thinking it very much in line with what people want and expect from malbec. Modern, flashy and obviously oaky, it's not something I'd buy for myself but I know many people who would enjoy this.
2007 Finca Flichman 13.5% Mendoza $9.00
This bottling proudly proclaimed it's 3 months of barrel ageing on the labels but, unfortunately, that overt and clumsy woodiness turned off both Beth who “hated it” and Leo who found both the nose and palate dominated by
“charcoal and rocks”. Stephanie found the nose an improvement with “more intense floral and spice notes”. I also found the nose to be intensely floral and the best feature of the wine.
2006 Luigi Bosca Finca La Linda 14% Mendoza $10.00
This sort of slid under the radar with nothing good said about but nothing bad either. It was “fine but boring” according to Beth though Ryan felt it was a “disappointing example” of malbec. I'd have to concur there, decent and acceptable but nothing more.
2006 Budini Malbec 13.5% Mendoza $9.00
This was the wine that saw the most divergent opinions among the group. It was the only screw-top finished bottle as well. Coincidence? Leo Loved the “great nose, with fruit, spice, and tar”. That sentiment was not shared by Stephanie who felt the wine was “lean and green” or Renee who characterized the wines texture and flavor as “Watered down”. Again I was in the minority with this wine which I felt was light and fresh, a distinct departure from what Malbec usually is but a fine, simple table wine.
2006 Navarro Correas Coleccion Privada 14% Mendoza $10.00
With this wine we step across an imaginary line into “big” wines. This certainly packed a big punch with “lots of blueberry” as Beth put it. “We getting big, jammy and hot, but I like it!” was Leo's take on it and while Ryan felt that the “nose is much better than the palate, a little more rustic on the nose” my opinion mirrored that of the groups. that this was a big wine with lots of fruit but lacking a bit of liveliness and freshness.
2005 Punto Final Reserva 14.7% Mendoza $16.00
If the last wine was hot this was on fire! Renee characterized it as “nondescript but I still liked this, it was almost my third best” and Leo felt it was “what people think of when they think of Malbec” but neither Beth nor Stephanie enjoyed the wine, both finding it hot and Stephanie would have expected” the added year in bottle to have mellowed out some of these harsh tannins, it's just not balanced. I concur, for me this was a disaster in a bottle overblown alcohol and bitter extracted tannins + vinous mess.
2006 Lamadrid Reserve 14.5% Mendoza $15.00
This was an interesting style of wine. It is a classic “fruit bomb” that Leo found to be “clean juicy and round” though Renee commented on the “quite a warm finish, actually pretty hot” which is what I found as well. It was both juicy and hot! As big a fruit bomb as we had in this line-up and if that's your style this might be a winner for you.
2006 Sur de los Andes Reserva 13.9% Mendoza $12.00
I think everyone was impressed with this bottling. Just as with the Navarro Correas there was a jump up in quality with this wine. Stephanie found it to be” very pretty and full of blueberries” while Leo thought it to be “A bit fleshy but also a bit ashy and glue-like, reminds me of pinotage”, which was a refreshing change from all the Malbec that had spoken so loudly of Malbec. Ryan felt this was a” sure crowd pleaser”, a sentiment shared by Renee who found the wine “Enjoyable and made in an easy drinking style”. I can't add much, to me this smelled expensive and was a well balanced richly fruited winner!
2006 Familia Schroeder Saurus 14% Patagonia $16.00
Here was the only outlier of the group, A Patagonian Malbec, was it much of a departure from the Mendozan examples? Yes and no, it was made an a more elegant style than the wines that had preceded it with great aromatics of “sweet cinnamon and a little bit of funk” according to Beth, though Leo found too much of a “rubber-band” note on the nose to truly enjoy it. Ryan was intrigued by the cool aromatics of “Tar quality and black fruit”. I enjoyed this wine and I found it interesting that most of the comments regarding it were both positive and about the wine's nose.
2005 Luigi Bosca Lujan de Cuyo 14.5% Mendoza $16.00
This was an almost exotic wine and was the wine that showed the most evolution over the course of the tasting. Initially the nose was rich in”soft cocoa powder and waxy fruit” according to Stephanie, there was array of notes “interesting aromas from violets to barnyard” as renee put it. Beth sussed out further nuances of RM “white pepper and chocolate” and then went on the capture the quality that really set this apart” it's rich but not jammy” as she said and I could not agree more. This is a wonderful wine that melds intensity of flavor and complexity with elegance and nuance. Really an “old world” example of Argentine Malbec and slightly reminiscent of the famous 1977 Weinert Estrella that remains the benchmark for the region.
2007 Achaval-Ferrer 13.5% Mendoza $20.00
This very nearly unanimously chosen as the first place wine. It is as pure a wine as one is likely to find from Malbec with “rich blueberries on the palate” as renee put it. Ryan felt this was “Just what you expect when you open Malbec” and Beth characterized the wine as “earthy and leathery with an animally edge and approachable sweet tannins” Both Renee and Stephanie enjoyed the wines bright, friendly character. For me the complexity of the Luigi Bosca just barely edged this out for first but the liveliness of this wine in the mouth and it's fine balance make it a winner for sure.
Well that was it. There certainly are many fine examples of Argentine Malbec under $20 and while there seems to be a bit of a price quality corollary here there are wines at $15 or under that can play with the big boys. These are fine, interesting wines and Malbec really has found the right place to express itself in Argentina. As Ryan put it these wines are successful since these are the perfect “New wine drinker wine,affordable,approachable with nothing to be intimidated by”. I was surprised by several of these wines, my notes can be found in the GDP on Wine Forum.
Next up on the agenda: Zinfandel. If you are interested in joining the Snooth Panel Tasting Program please shoot me an email. I am always looking for new members to join in these fun and informative events! Gregory@Snooth.com
Gregory Dal Piaz is the Community Manager at Snooth, an avid Wine Geek with a passion for things Italian, and a long suffering Mets fan.