Malbec from Paul Hobbs
First, an administrative note: We're packing for a short family trip to Florida, a long weekend that will result in somewhat short-form Wine Advisors and possibly sporadic publication times for today's, Friday's and Monday's editions and tomorrow's FoodLetter. We'll return to "normal" scheduling, whatever that is, early next week.
That being said, let's move briskly along to a quick examination of an unusually interesting Argentine Malbec today. Dubbed "El Felino" ("The Feline"), it's produced, bottled and imported by Paul Hobbs, a California producer whose wines enjoy legitimate "cult" status.
After working at Simi Winery and the fabled Opus One, Hobbs built the Sonoma winery that bears his name in 1991 and quickly won critical raves for his limited-production bottlings. His portfolio, led by the sought-after Beckstoffer Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, routinely sells out on release to his mailing list and "flips" for three-figure prices in the auction market.
We'll have none of that with El Felino, happily. Big and bold if a bit on the "rustic" side, this entry in his growing line of South American imports is a quality Malbec that offers very good value in the lower teens. Extra credit for an eye-catching label that features a modern, stylized representation of a jungle cat, inspired - according to the label - by Andean folk art of a thousand years ago.
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El Felino 2003 Mendoza Malbec ($12.99)
This is a very dark reddish-purple wine, black at the center, unfiltered and unfined. Ripe and "rustic" aromas focus on black plums, with a distinct "rocky" minerality and slight, pleasant "barnyard" that becomes more evident as the wine airs in the glass. Bright and juicy black fruit flavors are nicely balanced by tart, almost tangy acidity, with plums and earth in a long finish. Big but balanced; extra credit for intriguing complexity, although much of it derives from brettanomyces, a wild yeast that some consider a contaminant. U.S. importer: Paul Hobbs Argentina, Sebastopol, Calif. (Dec. 6, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with a cross-cultural match, duck breast "red-cooked" Cantonese style with soy and star anise.
VALUE: Although it's a few dollars above the single-digit range typical of more modest Argentine Malbec, complexity and balance make it a value at this low-teens price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Not a candidate for long-term cellaring, but there's no need to rush to drink it up this year.
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Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2004