Wine Talk

Snooth User: Craig Donofrio

Rising Prices For Argentine Malbec

Posted by Craig Donofrio, Dec 17, 2012.

I came across an interesting article this morning at The Wine Searcher about some protectionist trade regulations that may cause Argentine wine prices to rise.

In the article by W. Blake Gray, Paul Hobbs predicts that the regulations will signal the end of an era for high quality malbec that costs less than $12. 

Although I've never really been attracted to malbec (especially the inky-black teeth-staining type), it does have a lot of fans. I often recommend it to people looking for value-priced wines with a lot of flavor. From my experience, there was a great deal of consistency (although perhaps somewhat boring) in the $10-$14 price range, no matter the producer. 

So...the question is:

Are there any wines or regions left that you think have a good price to quality relationship (around $15 or less) without having to identify vintage and/or producer every time?

I realize that we all pride ourselves on suggesting very specific wines from favorite producers in only the best years, but sometimes it's nice to be able to offer general buying hints to less-sophisticated wine drinkers...






Reply by GregT, Dec 18, 2012.

Cotes du Rhone. Usually even better if you avoid the "stellar" vintages.

Loire Valley.

Rioja. Go get CVNE Crianza and it's going to set you back all of $15 or less, and many other wines as well.

Southwest Spain - Alicante, Valencia, Murcia

Washington State - various regions.

Santa Barbara


Tuscany - just avoid Brunello and instead shop for the rossos from Montalcino or go with Chianti or Montepuciano.

Germany - Pfalz, Rheinhessen, Mosel

Piedmont - Barberas and Dolcettos are still found for $15

That's to start.

In all cases, vintage will still matter, but you'd be surprised at how often a good wine comes from a "bad" vintage.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 18, 2012.

So I am not that into Malbec and didn't look at this right away, but was intrigued by the fact that GregT responded.  I gotta start following Craig, too!  Should have called this, "what's a good alternative to Malbec," because I would have looked at that sooner and I agree with what Craig says:  I'm not attracted to Malbec, find it consistent but kind of boring, and think it's a pretty good way to get someone to try something new if they like less challenging, fruit forward wines. 

And then GregT pretty much steals my answer. 

I'd start someone who liked those wines or Cali Cabs and warmer weather Syrahs with Rioja, where you can get terrific Crianzas for $12-14.  The marriage of oak (or not--good without, too) is going to make it familiar.

I'd point them to the Loire, where really good Cab Franc from Bourgeuil--a top appellation for the grape--goes for $14 and isn't hard to find in big cities.  I'm not even really picky about the labels,  many are good. 

I'd put Navarra in there for the newbie drinker, based on some of the garnachas I am seeing from there.  Same softness, but more excitement, more acidity than Malbec. 

I just finished raving to JonDerry about dolcetto--if you can find Abbona or Chionetti, you don't just get the workmanlike stuff (like those Malbecs), you get a Mercedes Benz of wine for $16.  There's also lots of barbera, and it's a lot more interesting than Malbec, maybe not a cocktail wine, but terrific with a variety of food. 

I would consider Montepulciano d'Abbruzzo, too--that Zaccagnini runs about $14 and it's really good everytime I have it. 

CdR is always in the mix at that price, too.  But there's so much of it and of such variability that I think as a brand name, that's become more problematic for me.  I think that has been malbec's strength--the grape became a brand almost like cab and chardonnay.  You didn't need to know who made it to have a good idea of how it would taste.  It became "less expensive cab," in that it showed true to type at all prices. 

So, if that's the case, then why not carmenere?  You can get many good carmeneres now for prices in the $10-15 range.  Heck, Trader Joe's has Casillero del Diablo for about $9 and it's reliably tasty.  Which is what a Malbec replacement would need to be.

Reply by GregT, Dec 18, 2012.

Except that much Carmenere has a green note that Malbec doesn't. It's like the CF from the Loire - I don't know that it's going to appeal to everyone, but for those to whom it appeals, it's nice stuff.

And I didn't mean to leave Australia off the list. They're great producers of wines in the requested price range.

Funny point about CdR - you're right of course. And sometimes vintage.

Last night I had a 2003 CdR from Charvin. Seemed like it was 25 years old and stewed. I hated it. Then had a 2004 from another producer and that one is just perfect. The 2002 and 2003 were extreme examples of vintage really mattering in the area.

Reply by JonDerry, Dec 19, 2012.

Italy and Spain have a knack for producing value wines in that price range. It might be pushing $20 to get solid Chianti Classico, but the Barbera and Dolcetto are good options from Piedmont too, and then there's Nero d'Avola from Sicily that will often qualify. What they said about Spain.

France chimes in with the Loire, Cahors for Malbec ironically, and then of course the Languedoc-Roussillon. I can't blindly recommend Cotes du Rhone, not even in good vintages.

You really have to pick your spots in the US, but Chateau Ste Michelle is probably the best $15 and under producer here as Greg has stated in the past.

Other regions I'd look at on this hard of a budget would be certain areas in Portugal and Hungary, along with some Australian Shiraz and then maybe some South African whites. On the off chance D reappears out of nowhere, I won't mention NZSB.

Interesting Re: the Charvin CdR, I've heard some glowing reviews about their 03' CdP that I've been thinking about trying.


Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 19, 2012.

I agree that CF especially isn't everyone's cup of tea, with the green notes in all years except the hottest--and then it's just not as good, IMO.  But if someone is willing to branch out from Malbec but wants to stay in that price range, there's so many Loire Reds at that price that just sing. 

I know that carmenere can have that green note, too, but so does Cab when it's not insanely jammy.  What both of them have that CF lacks is that chocolaty thing that turns the green into tobacco leaf for me.  Other than California merlot, few wines have the friction-free entry level appeal of ripe Cab Sauv and Merlot, so you make some adjustments.  If I was a carmenere bottler, I would definitely be going after some of that malbec market, although as a consumer, I hope they don't eliminate the green note completely.  Funny thing is, Chile thought a lot of the carmenere was merlot, so they had some field blends without knowing it.  And I bet some of those field blends, or blends of better-planted merlot and carmenere, would just about satisfy the malbec drinkers.

JD, I thought about Nero d'Avola, which can be had for absurdly little money, but I think it's a little rustic for the average malbec drinker.  But if they wanted to get into that market, many Nero bottlers would need to raise their prices!

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