Malbecs worth celebrating

Anyone can create a day marking something. Just this month, someone somewhere has been celebrating “Caramel Popcorn Day” and “Plan Your Epitaph Day.” So is it any surprise that people marketing various types of wines have declared their own quasi-holidays?

So it goes with Malbec World Day, April 17, which Wines of Argentina started promoting in 2011. April 17 marks the date when, in 1853, a bill was introduced that is now seen as paving the way for the development of the Argentine wine industry. The promotion seems to have been a success: Wines of Argentina reports that more than 70 events will be held in 70 cities across 54 countries to celebrate malbec.

But how many malbecs really are worth celebrating? Most of the Argentine versions are competently made, easy to drink and not very expensive, but the same could be said of a lot of inexpensive wines from California. In neither case are most of the wines all that distinctive. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they’re not the stuff of worldwide parties.

So let me offer a few examples of wines that have stood out in my tastings over the past few months.

First, if you’re looking for something inexpensive, the 2014 Gnarly Head Malbec ($12) from Mendoza, Argentina, is quite good for a wine made in an easy-to-drink, commercial style. I tasted it during the Critics Challenge wine and spirits competition. The wine offers lively berry, a roasted coffee note and fine tannins.

terrazas label

A pair of Mendoza malbecs that are a step up in price are the 2012 Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Malbec ($20), which is more structured, with spicy berry and a hint of white pepper, and the 2014 Riccitelli “Hey Malbec” Malbec ($20), which is dark and lively, with black fruit, hints of graphite and tar, and firm tannins.

For something a little more pricey – and complex – there’s the 2012 Vina Cobos “Bramare” Malbec ($45) from Mendoza, which is dark, dense and balanced, with black fruit, anise, baking spice and firm but approachable tannins. California winemaker Paul Hobbs is a partner in the project.

2012_Mt. Brave_FrontLabel

Most of the California malbecs I’ve tried are overpriced, especially if you compare the wines with bottles from Argentina. But I’ve recently encountered two that are worth their higher cost. The 2013 Midsummer Cellars Malbec ($35) from Knights Valley is another wine I tasted at the Critics Challenge. It’s big, rich and structured, with ample black fruit and some spicy notes. Finally, it’s not often that I would recommend a $75 malbec, but the 2012 Mt. Brave, made from Mt. Veeder grapes, is exceptional. It’s big but well-balanced, with bright blackberry, baking spice, a hint of tobacco, firm tannins and nice tension.


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