By Chuck Hill
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Wines of the Week Archive
Each year there are a number of red wine varieties that don’t fit conveniently into my tasting schedule of mainstream reds. Some of these varieties - and blends of these varieties - are gaining popularity and deserve recognition. This week we address Malbec, which has become a go-to red wine for celebrations of hearty meats and richly sauced side dishes. Two styles are available: intense and complex versions long-aged in new oak; and simpler, less expensive bottlings that see less new oak but offer juicy goodness for informal meals.
Malbec is one of the five main varieties that make up many Bordeaux blends in France. (The other four: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.) Malbec requires ample sun and heat to ripen and has thus been a successful transplant to warm areas of the United States, Argentina and Chile. Descriptors of Malbec wines include aromas and flavors of red fruits, violets and lilac, herbs, earth and citrus. Oak aging is very popular with Malbec, adding distinct notes of vanilla, smoky spice and baking spices.
To accompany these wines, Chef Ted prepared Churrasco beef and garlicky Chimichurri sauce, reminiscent of a dish prepared in Argentina, the adopted home of many fine Malbec wines.
Winemaker Holly Turner crafted this top-scoring Washington Malbec primarily from grapes grown at Milbrandt’s Northridge Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope (one of Washington State's warmest growing regions). The varietal seems to like the climate and sandy soils of the Wahluke, producing concentrated fruit and complex flavors. Aromas and flavors of blueberry, blackberry and mineral are complemented by notes of barrel spice, vanilla and dark chocolate – great with Churrasco.
Chuck Reininger’s powerful Malbec was aged in 100% new French oak, creating a rich and toasty cocoon which envelopes the wine immediately upon opening. As the wine breathes, aromas of leather, earth and vanilla begin a transformation to reveal cocoa and caramel with black currant and pomegranate. Spicy notes and field herbs mingle on the finish and provide an anchor to pair the wine with meats from the grill.
Abacela’s Malbec is more continental in style than examples from Washington wineries, using less new oak and crafting a less extracted wine. That said, there is plenty of ripe Malbec character showing aromas and flavors of blackberry, black currant, lavender and field herbs. The palate is lean but well balanced with a distinctive finish. The winery suggests smoked wild boar with a verjus and cherry reduction sauce, but it also paired well with Churrasco beef.
There is no more beautiful place to visit during the late summer than Maryhill Winery in the Columbia Gorge. Stunning views, perfect weather and winery amenities like the bocce court, expansive tasting room and arbor-shaded deck make this a number one stop. Maryhill Reserve Malbec offers layers of ripe berry, currant and plum with notes of coffee, cocoa and tobacco and a finish of lavender and toasty cedar. This is a recommended choice for steak from the grill.
Zerba Cellars is a family-owned winery in the Walla Walla Valley, founded in 2001 by Cecil and Marilyn Zerba after 20 years in the nursery business. Three estate vineyards supply the winery with a wide variety of grapes, and winemaker Doug Nierman crafts those grapes each vintage with a combination of art and science. The 2009 Malbec is a rich and concentrated wine showing aromas and flavors of spicy cassis, plum, toasty oak and earthy cedar along with vanilla on the finish.
Winemaker/owner Sara Gagnon found fruit for her Malbec in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA in the center of the Yakima Valley. The blended character of ripe berry fruit with nuances of barrel aging creates a wine that pairs well with a wide variety of foods from the grill to rich pastas. Look for aromas and flavors of tangy blackberry, citrus, vanilla, coconut and barrel spice.
Owners Myles Anderson and Gordy Venneri work closely with their production winemaker Bill von Metzger to craft each vintage at Walla Walla Vintners. Recent vintages have included two Malbecs from each year. This wine from Pepper Bridge Vineyard offers the ripe Walla Walla style showing concentrated plum and cherry with toasty oak and hints of citrus and caramel. The owners suggest pairing this Malbec with dessert: butter cookies with loganberry spread, yummy!
The venerable Sagemoor Vineyard was first planted in 1972 and the vineyard group now encompasses 900+ acres under common management. This Sagemoor Malbec shows a different side of the grape than the Pepper Bridge bottling, offering ripe red fruits, licorice, lavender and spice. Myles and Gordy suggest marinating your favorite cut of beef with a garlic rub and a cup of Malbec before heading to the grill.
Agate Ridge Vineyard is one of the Rogue Valley’s most exciting properties, crafting a dozen different wines – some from fruit grown on their estate vineyard planted in 2002. The 2009 Malbec offers aromas and flavors of dark cherry, cassis and spicy anise with notes of smoky cedar and field herbs. It is a rich and hearty red that accompanies meats from the grill and richly sauced pastas.
Ash Hollow Winery is located at the old Walla Walla Airport, an area where almost two dozen wineries have facilities. They have one vineyard at the western edge of the Walla Walla AVA and another on the east end of town – Malbec is planted at both locations. The 2009 Malbec is rich with toasty dark fruits and hints of lavender and mineral. Rich cherry and spicy berry flavors mingle with smoky earth and vanilla.
Wines from other areas:
Clayhouse’ Red Cedar Estate Vineyard produces the grapes for this bold-styled Malbec which is vinted more in the style of a Cabernet Sauvignon. Tasting notes of “plummy, toasty, and smoky” contrast with later remarks that laud the wine for bright red fruits and lingering complexity on the palate. The wine benefits greatly from breathing, so allow time to decant for aeration and an hour to expand.
When you have a bunch of hungry Gauchos coming in from the roundup for Churrasco and vino tinto, you couldn’t do better than to crack a box of this Mendoza Malbec bursting with blueberry, violets, earthy herbs and hints of cocoa and tobacco – another great value for summer sipping.
First off, let’s be clear that the vineyards in the Calchaqui Valley are at 5,250+ feet of elevation (you didn’t know that you could join the Mile High Club just by pulling a cork, did you?). The wine is a complex blend of Malbec (75%), Cabernet Sauvignon (10%), Syrah (10%) and Tannat (5%) bringing aromas of cherry, raspberry and black fruits to your nose with notes of chocolate and toasty oak. The palate is distinctive with cassis and cherry with spicy accents and a soft finish of round tannins. Did I mention this wine scored number one with my Malbec tasting panel?
One taster remarked that this wine is like the Chateau Margaux of Mendoza, complimenting its feminine notes of violets and lavender mingling with plum, cherry and chocolate. Notes of hazelnuts and baking spice come from oak aging, and the palate adds toffee flavors over those of rich cherry and plum. This is a very pleasing wine at a very appealing price – definitely worth a try.
This value-priced Malbec is sourced from two of Mendoza’s premier growing regions – the Uco Valley and Lujan de Cuyo. It offers bright aromas of floral perfume, cherry and plum with notes of coffee and tobacco. The palate shows Malbec’s signature blueberry flavors with notes of cocoa, vanilla and cedar.
This wine from Bodega Cuarto Domino is also sourced from the Uco Valley in Mendoza. Jorge and Javier Catena chose to name the wine after a dedicated vineyard worker and guardian of the family vineyard. More concentrated and intense in both aroma and flavor, Chento Malbec is a level higher than most Mendoza Malbecs, though it shows the same varietal profile of black fruits, violets, plum and earthy mineral.
© 2012 Chuck Hill
© 2012 Chuck Hill