Malbec - an odd name for a great wine

Malbec. No, it's not a character from a Star Trek movie, but rather, a terrific varietal from Argentina , the fastest growing wine region in South America .

Americans have been enjoying popular wines from exotic countries such as Spain , Chile and Australia , and this South American beauty is well worth adding to your repertoire. Wines from Argentina can offer good value and a change of pace from the usual red-headed suspects. Besides, Malbec is a red hot right now, and you're likely to see it on a lot of restaurant menus around town.

Malbec used to be one of the six varietals approved to produce the famous French Bordeaux blend. However, the grapes' sensitivity to frost and disease caused it to largely defect from France to settle in Argentina 's dry, sunny climate. It is the most planted red varietal in Argentina , where the backbone of the Andes provides an excellent haven for the French expat.

I've learned that the best Malbecs come from the Mendoza province, where over 80 percent of the country's wines are produced. Argentina is one of the world's top five largest wine producing nations, and vintners have been studiously working - via investment and expert advice - to capitalize on the world wine market. And, they are doing a bang up job. I bet Evita herself would be crying for Argentina at this point-tears of joy, that is.

Black fruit, soft tannins and deep color characterize Malbec, and it may be a good starter wine for those who shy from big, honking reds.

Price usually does, but doesn't always, dictate quality. You can get some satisfying Merlots, Chards and Cabs for around $10, but I'm not so sure with Malbec. Nevertheless, here's a few to think about:

Trapiche ($10) - A light youngin' this one is. Not overly distinctive, wet and smooth. Slight must and oak on the nose with zero finish. This wine comes from a large family owned and operated winery.

Broquel ($15) - You really start talking Malbec when you get in to this price range. Take a moment and enjoy Malbec's sensual deep garnet color. Lovely vanilla cherry nose with a satisfying afterglow. The black fruit is very well-structured, and I had some pleasant sensations on my tongue and in the back of my nose while sipping this excellent specimen.

Felipe Rutini ($18) - Juicy, supple, without memorable aroma. Quite drinkable, though I believe Broquel is the superior choice here.

Catena ($20) -The Catena family is from Italy , and they've been making wines in Argentina for over 100 years, even sending family members to study with the dudes in California . Ripe, lightly smoked berries with a hair of spice and chocolate. Let it roll over you like the first warm breezes of spring. If you try any Malbec, let it be this one.


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