Tasting Malbec

2005.Jul.17 Sunday · 5 comments

in Drink

BelgranoBuenos Aires – Had an invitation from a local wine pro, Victor Honoré, for lunch and a wine tasting at his place in Belgrano. My first visit to the Belgrano neighborhood. Que lindo! as they say here (how cute!). It’s sort of a suburb with beautiful townhouses, rowhouses, and relatively modern apartment buildings. It’s also the first neighborhood I’ve been in here that has completely tree-lined streets.

BelgranoVictor and his wife Susanne just moved into a charming three-bedroom apartment on a quiet corner. It’s got a great view and an incredible kitchen. They put together a wonderful spread of cheeses, sliced meats and sausages, and salads. We sampled through some random wines as we nibbled, and then settled down to a blind tasting (cata a ciegas) of eight wines (which, it was intimated, were among the best of Argentinian Malbecs). There was definitely no agreement among the seven of us present, though enough of us favored the “first-place” wine as to give it a blatant lead over the others. My thoughts (and in the order that I preferred them) and approximate prices in the U.S.:

  1. Yacochuya Tinto 2000, Cafayate, Salta, Argentina – roasted coffee, spice, red fruits, and one of the few wines in the tasting that showed any real tannins. By the way, this, and my second favorite, turn out to be made under the consultation of famed winemaker Michel Rolland. $50. Highly recommended.
  2. Bodega Monteviejo “Val de Flores” 2002, Mendoza, Argentina – dark chocolate, black cherries, a bit of oak, and well balanced. $45 Highly recommended.
  3. Kalleske Shiraz Greenock 2003, Barossa Valley, Australia – I started to taste this and immediately said to myself, this is a very weird Malbec, it smells more like Shiraz. Sure enough, when revealed, it was (some grapes are just really distinctive). Blackberry, pepper, and eucalyptus, with just a touch of cocoa. $70. Highly recommended.
  4. Achaval Ferrer Malbec-Merlot 1999, Mendoza, Argentina – light earthiness, an interesting touch of graham cracker, red fruits, very explosive upfront though a slightly short finish. $40. Recommended.
  5. Dolium Gran Reserva Malbec, 1999, Mendoza, Argentina – blackberry, cocoa, and vibrant acidity, a touch alcoholic on the finish. $70. Recommended.
  6. Doña Paula Malbec Seleccion de Bodega 1999, Mendoza, Argentina – this is the higher end label of the Los Cardos Winery, the Argentine subsidiary of Chile’s Santa Rita Winery. Red fruits, a fair amount of oak and vanilla, and somewhat high acidity. $40. Okay, but nothing special.
  7. Penny’s Hill Footprint Shiraz 2001, McLaren Vale, Australia – Another clear non-Malbec, and once again a Shiraz. Juicy raspberry fruit, black pepper, and a bit too much oak. $40. Okay, but nothing special.
  8. Cinco Tierras Premium Reserve Familia 2003, Mendoza, Argentina – You may remember Cinco Tierras from a couple of days ago, I strongly recommended their classic Chardonnay and Malbec wines. This 50:50 blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon comes across like raspberry jam with a lot of acidity. $40. Okay, but nothing special.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Deepwood July 18, 2005 at 12:54

Yikes! Are those prices in US dollars????

This is one major contention I have with modern wine pricing. People seem to treat it like the latest designer fad and slap outrageous prices on a 75cl bottle of liquid that as an extremely finite life (especially in MY house!)

Now take European wines. Been around for centuries. Decent prices both locally and when imported/exported. A whole range of grape varieties making a whole range of flavours depending on the wide array of climates available.

Australian and South American wines started out cheap (and admittedly cheerful), but quality grew through the 80’s and up until the late 90’s you could still get a good bottle from Chile, Argentina etc. at a decent price. Even now there are many nice SE Australian wines to be had at sensible prices.

When wines started taking off in the US, growers/producers started trying to make it chic and increase their sales. Over the past 8 years I have been horrified to see how steeply the prices have risen for some Californian wines – in the hundreds for a single bottle. That kind of pricing, in my opinion, is far in excess of presumption, and borders on the arrogant.

I just cannot justify paying $40-$50 a bottle for anything less than a very special occasion. True, I have paid that kind of price in a restaurant before now, with their outrageous 300% markup, but that was a special occasion. Don’t even get me started on the absolute scandal of restaurant markups either! ; )

When relaxing at home of an evening, I do like a glass or two of wine to accompany whatever I tend to be doing (no prizes for guessing what that usually entails), but I just cannot justify paying such prices for a brief moment of enjoyment. Instead I buy what I term Quaffing Wines. Cheap and palatable, usually of the French vin du table level of quality. That is the vin du table that the French keep for themselves, not export to other countries. Still enjoyable, and it does not give my bank balance a hangover.

While I am not quite poor, I am far below the income level that can afford to pay such large amounts for a single bottle of wine, and shrug it off with no discernable financial impact. Hence my utter annoyance with the way the US market is glamourising wine and causing the prices to be artifically high, just like those tatty designer frocks which use 3 yards of cotton and cost thousands!


dan July 18, 2005 at 15:30

Yes, those were U.S. dollar prices – this was specifically a tasting of what were purported to be some of Argentina’s absolutely top-end Malbecs (two of which turned out to be imposters). You can see the results from my thoughts on them… out of 8 wines, I don’t even recommend two of them. I also didn’t take pricing into account in my recommendations – I figure there are people out there who will spend that amount on a bottle with no issue, and others who won’t. I used to have a customer at a restaurant I worked at a few years ago who came in two to three nights a week, sat at the bar, and spent a minimum of $5,000 on wine each time. Needless to say, we loved him. 🙂

I also don’t think it’s specifically the U.S. market or producers that have caused these price increases, certainly there’s an impact, but let’s face it, the denizens of your hometown, London, have been pouring money into driving up the prices of Bordeaux & Burgundy for eons. European wines at low prices??? Not many for decent quality anymore. The most expensive wines in the world, and not always justified, regardless of the longevity of production. Ten to fifteen years ago you could buy first-growth Bordeaux at under $100 a bottle – now they’re often released at three to five times that. And Italian? Barolos and Barbarescos, and Brunellos that you could have bought last decade for $40-60 that now command prices between $500 and $1,000? I know those aren’t the range of wines you usually buy, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a driving force in the high-end market.

Most price increases over the last couple of decades have really come from the greed of wine producers (also a certain amount of justified expense increases – land costs have gone up, labor costs have gone up, and modern technological equipment for wine production is far more expensive than past equipment) in major wine producing areas. The problem really occurs when folks who are producing everyday wine see the guys at the top end charging oodles of money for their bottles and start trying to charge more for theirs – even just over the last couple of years I’ve seen it become harder and harder to find wines of decent quality that I could retail price in the $5-10 range, which includes a lot of the wines from here in South America – many have nearly doubled in price in the last five years, without commensurate cost increases on the part of the wineries.

Deepwood July 18, 2005 at 16:43

Hmmm. I don’t know all about that, or life in the high, rarified echelons of top end wine – I’d prefer to buy a house or a car rather than take out a mortagage for a bottle of plonk! ; )

What I DO recall quite vivdly though is the incident in the mid-late 90’s regarding the sudden scarcity of South America wines, mainly Chilean I believe, due to a sudden upsurge in demand from the US. London prices started to skyrocket due to the scarcity. I mean look at the lengths I had to go to in order to get a steady supply – I had to move to the States! ; )

I do agree with you about everyone jumping on the premium pricing bandwagon. A LOT of California growers did that and continue to do so, all with rather mediocre fare. The sulphites that the US pump into wines as well is far in excess of what is necessary, and I don’t think I need to mention what effect that has on my digestive system! It just seems this country needs to sterilize everything from cheeses to wines just in case some poor sap gets a bout of tummy ache. Bah! I say, bah!


dan July 18, 2005 at 16:55

Well, I certainly won’t disagree with you there. We do over-react to any potential hazard in the U.S. On the other hand we aren’t alone… I refer you to my May 27th posting on my “Say What?” page….

BsAsWino April 4, 2006 at 19:07

When a product has developed a certain cachet, for whatever reason, it markets itself accordingly. Americans and Europeans are often guilty of creating this “feeding frenzy” of demand for anything that they feel accords them a higher level of social standing. It’s not that they are more shallow in character, they just have the financial means to do so.
California wines exploded on the international scene during the famous Paris Wine Tasting of 1976. Once American vintners proved they were able to hold their own, California wine prices began climbing in lock step with the wealth of all the baby boomers only too eager to jump on the band wagon.
I fear that Argentina is beginning to follow suit. It’s no mistake that some Mendoza producers are “dumping” their premium product in foreign markets at prices lower than they command domestically. J. & F. Lurton, Zuccardi, Flichman and Etchart, just to name a few, are using this tactic as a means to introduce their best wines to a market ignorant of Mendoza’s ability to compete with the better known wine regions around the world. They’re striving to be the California in that Paris competition. When they succeed, and I’ve no doubt they will, we’ll be looking to Mexico or China for our daily bottle.

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