30 Second Wine Advisor: Is it French, or is it Argentine?

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 Is it French, or is it Argentine?
Here's an unusual marketing move: A French wine's label provides no clue of its national origin.
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 Zette 2003 Cahors Malbec ($12.99)
Forward, plummy fruit and a whack of spicy oak make up a very international style of Malbec.
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Is it French, or is it Argentine?

Here's an unusual marketing move: I picked up a wine the other day with a front label so basic that it provides no clue of its national origin.

"Zette 2003 Malbec" it reads, with the U.S. importer's logo stamped off center at the lower right.

Malbec? It must be Argentine, right? As we've often discussed, the Argentines have taken this ancient French grape and made it their own. But not so fast, bucko: this is a French wine from Cahors (where Malbec has long been the dominant grape), but you have to turn the bottle around to find that out: "Appellation Cahors Controllée" in very small print on the back is the only geographical giveaway.

The label goes on: "Terroir, meticulous care in the vineyard and cellar, plus 12 months aged in small oak casks combine to give you Zette - a modern Malbec with lush fruit flavors, medium body and notes of spice."

This makes me wary, very wary. A French firm that consciously omits its origin from the main label in the apparent hope of making you think the wine is Argentine does not inspire confidence. Nor does the back label, where "modern" and the references to oak and lush fruit are almost a sure sign of an international-style wine that despite the use of the trendy term "terroir" strikes me as unlikely to pay much homage to the Cahors region's centuries-old tradition.

Still, I'll approach it with an open mind. What did I find? Pretty much as I expected. This is one of those wines that divides wine lovers into competing camps. Some will like its fruit-forward, oaky style, but I'd prefer something that speaks a little more of the earth as well as the fruit. See my tasting report below.

Zette 2003 Cahors Malbec ($12.99)


Inky dark reddish-violet with a clear garnet edge. Forward, plummy fruit and a significant whack of spicy oak on the nose. Oak actually dominates simple black fruit on the palate, with good acidity, warm 14% alcohol and astringent tannins joining the chorus. Made by Chateau Lagrazette, a producer known for more traditional Cahors in its higher-priced wines, it's international in style all right ... but not the style of Malbec that I enjoy. U.S. importer: Frederick Wildman & Sons Ltd., NYC. (Nov. 11, 2008)

FOOD MATCH: I chose a simplified variation on Seekh Kebab, curried lamb meatballs. It was a surprisingly fetching match between strong flavors on the plate and a bold wine.

VALUE: If you like the fruit-forward style, you'll have no complaints about this low-teens price.

WHEN TO DRINK: It won't fade in the near future, but I don't see it improving with further age.

The winery Website is published in French and English. Celebrating "500 years of Malbec tradition," it does not, as far as I can tell, mention the "Zette."

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