This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Feb. 4, 2008 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20080204.php.
Wine Focus - Malbec around the world
When most of us hear the grape name "Malbec" nowadays, we likely think of Argentina. The South American country has surely awarded Argentinian citizenship to this red variety that was once a key supporting player in Bordeaux and a few other French wine regions.
For this month's Wine Focus in our online forum, the WineLovers Discussion Group, we're taking another look at Malbec as a worldwide grape. As availability permits, we'll taste and compare Malbecs from Argentina, from Bordeaux, Cahors and the Loire Valley in France, and from New Zealand, Australia, California and anywhere else in the world that's giving Malbec a try.
You're invited to join the fun by visiting the Wine Focus forum section,
For quick background, allow me to summarize some points I made about Malbec as an international grape in an article last year, Malbec by any other name.
I say "Malbec," you say "Auxerrois," and someone else says "Côt." Curiously, we're all talking about the same red wine grape ... and just to make matters even more confusing, it's also known, mostly in less prominent French wine regions, as Pressac, Pied Rouge, Jacobain and Grifforin.
The British wine writer Jancis Robinson says authorities list "several thousand" synonyms for Malbec, a remarkable statistic explained by the grape's once widespread planting in more than 30 of France's départements; every region seemed to come up with a distinct local name.
In Argentina, Malbec has become the signature grape, widely exported to the U.S. and around the world. However, its popularity has plummeted in France over the same time span as it has boomed in South America.
The problem is largely agricultural: In the climate of Western Europe, Malbec is hard to grow economically, subject to frost and mildew and a vine disease called coulure. In Argentina's high, dry Mendoza region, however, these problems are offset by its relatively heavy production.
Argentina calls the grape Malbec, as did modern Bordeaux. It's Auxerrois in Cahors in Southwestern France, and Côt in the Loire Valley. Other New World countries observing Argentina's success, are starting to try it, although not yet in large quantity.
East or West, by whatever name you call it, Malbec makes an enjoyable wine, generally distinguished by plummy dark-fruit flavors, subtle tastes of the earth and good acidity, all of which makes it a worthy food wine. Price it right, as the Argentines generally do, and you've got a recipe for success.
Featured in that column was a delicious Loire Valley Malbec, er, Côt, Clos Roche Blanche 2005 Touraine "Cuvée Côt". Today's tasting takes us back to Argentina for a value favorite, the 2006 vintage of Altos Las Hormigas. The winery is owned by an Italian-Argentine group that includes the well-known Italian wine importer Marco de Grazia, and as you might expect from a figure well-known for "modern," "international" wines, it's fruit-forward, oaky and high in alcohol. It's also quite good, and a very fine value.
I hope you'll drop in on Wine Focus this month and tell us about your Malbec, Côt and Auxerrois. Again, you'll find the discussions at
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Altos Las Hormigas 2006 Mendoza Malbec ($11)
Inky blackish-purple with reddish-violet glints. Black and red plum aromas add hints of red clay and smoke. Full-bodied and fruit-forward, substantial structure built on tart acidity and a hefty 14.6 percent alcohol content. On the one hand, it's a distinctly "modern" wine that would likely earn high points from the critics for its fruit-forward, blockbuster-alcohol style. On the other hand, it's full and ripe, put together well and works with food, a marked advantage over the competition especially when price is taken into account. U.S. importer: Vintner Select, Mason, Ohio. (Feb. 2, 2008)
FOOD MATCH: Chicken thighs steamed with porcini mushrooms and Asian aromatics, then cloaked in a Mornay-style Pecorino Romano and porcini sauce.
VALUE: Good value at this price, assuming you're in the market for a high-octane, "modern-style" Malbec. Bargain hunters should shop around, as this wine can be found widely in the $7 to $9 range.
WHEN TO DRINK: Malbec in France's Cahors will cellar and improve for a decade or longer. Mendoza's shorter track record makes it difficult to call, but this structured, powerful example might be worth the modest investment involved in cellaring a few to find out.
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