This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Jun. 4, 2007 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20070604.php.
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.
In her Oxford Wine Companion, Jancis Robinson reports that the French ampelographer (wine-grape expert) Pierre Galet lists "several thousand" synonyms, including Côt and Auxerrois. She attributes this hard-to-believe statistic to the grape's once widespread planting in more than 30 of France's départements, in many of which it apparently was called by a local name.
We've often discussed Malbec from Argentina, where it has become the South American nation's trademark grape, widely exported to the U.S. and around the world.
Curiously, Malbec's popularity, and plantings, have plummeted in France over the same time span as it has boomed in South America. At least in the climate of Western Europe, it's hard to grow economically, subject to frost and mildew and a vine disease called coulure.
Once an important if minor player in the Bordeaux blend, it has now almost disappeared from the Médoc, where I've had producers look at me as if I had committed a social faux pas when I thoughtlessly asked if they still grew any of the stuff. In Argentina's high, dry Mendoza region, however, these problems are offset by its relatively heavy production.
Argentina invariably calls the grape Malbec, as did modern Bordeaux, when it still grew enough to mention. It's Auxerrois in Cahors in Southwestern France, and Côt in the Loire Valley, where it's often blended with Cabernet Franc and Gamay.
East or West, by whatever name you call it, Malbec makes an enjoyable if not necessarily "noble" 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.
Today's featured wines (tasted at different times) offer the opportunity to compare and contrast a mid-range Côt from Clos Roche Blanche, an artisanal, organic producer in the Loire's Touraine region; and a budget-price Argentine Malbec under the new Terra Buena label from California's Laurel Glen, which - as with its Terra Rosa - grows the grapes in Mendoza but finishes the wine in Sonoma County.
The wines show the expected regional differences, the Loire red being lean, tart and minerally, the Argentine wine more fruit-forward and powerful. Still, the Malbec character comes through sufficiently to hint that the wines are distant cousins if not siblings. I like them both.
Clos Roche Blanche 2005 Touraine "Cuvée Côt" ($18.99)
Very dark blackish-purple color, almost opaque. Deep, plummy black fruit adds subtle notes of leather and a fragrant whiff of pepper. Flavors are similar, intense black plums, freshly ground pepper and a touch of Loire "rainwater over rocks" minerality. Crisp acidity and soft tannins come together to wrap up a well-balanced package. U.S. importer: LDM Wines Inc., NYC; Louis/Dressner Selections. (March 18, 2007)
FOOD MATCH: Thanks to their lean and minerally character, I like Loire reds with grilled poultry and pork, lighter far than the usual beef-and-red-wine match. I got experimental with a spicy Ma Po Tofu, which worked but really was not an inspired match ... but I had to try.
VALUE: In today's market it's hard to find quality Loire reds for less than the upper teens. Fair value against the competition.
WHEN TO DRINK: Drink now, or enjoy - assuming decent cellar conditions - over the next four or five years.
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Father's Day Gift Set with The California Wine Club!
Father's Day is June 17, and The California Wine Club has something special just for Dad. Save $80 on gifts of four months or more, and Dad's first shipment will include two bottles of hand-selected wine from Mount Palomar Winery, a copy of Uncorked, one bottle of the highly-rated Ilsley 2002 Stags Leap District, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, plus a credit-card size Wine Companion Gourmet Survival Tool.
This four-month gift set normally retails for $254, but is on sale for just $174.
Visit www.cawineclub.com for more details and to order, or call 1-800-777-4443.
Give a gift that's as unique as the person receiving it, give The California Wine Club!
This Father's Day gift is one gift Dad won't wait to open! The Ilsley Cabernet boasts two 90+ point ratings. The entry is smooth, lush and layered with black fruit and dark chocolate, while the finish is long and powerful. Order this special Father's Day gift set now while they are still available! www.cawineclub.com or 1-800-777-4443.
Terra Buena 2003 Mendoza Malbec ($9)
Very dark reddish-purple in color, almost black. Plums and a more stewed note of prunes, warm black fruit on the nose and palate. Warm and ripe, juicy black fruit is nicely balanced by fresh acidity, with an earthy touch of tannins showing up in the finish. Rather high 14.5% alcohol manifests itself as body and an acceptable touch of heat. Definitely a carnivore's wine. (June 2, 2007)
FOOD MATCH: Rare grilled beef is the perfect partner for Mendoza Malbec, and we couldn't have asked for a better match than a locally produced, grass-fed T-bone.
VALUE: Excellent wine for a single-digit price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Made for current enjoyment, but with its good balance and fruit and sturdy screwcap, it should keep for several years.
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