Portfolio Tastings: Malbec Malbec Everywhere

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by josh perilo

bordeaux grape is carving out own niche in marketplace

continuing the theme from my last column, i will feature a "category" of wine this week that i thought shone brightly during this year's massive portfolio tastings. for those who may not have read the previous column, the portfolio tastings are annual (or, in some cases, biannual) events where the wine distributors of new york city rent a space, open a couple bottles of every product they sell, and invite retailers and sommeliers to taste their new stuff. it is as overwhelming as it sounds, and my idea this year was to focus on just a couple categories (be they grape varietals, areas or even styles) that i thought showed well overall.

last week i focused on merlot. this week, i will focus on another grape that also originated in the bordeaux area, but has since carved out its own distinctive niche in the wine marketplace: malbec.

i've written before about malbec, but i think the grape deserves more ink now because of the immense amount of fantastic and inexpensive wines out there that are available. it seems like every year i see twice as many malbecs at tastings as the year before, and this go 'round was no exception. the quality, overall, is also on the rise. i attribute that to smart producers realizing that the name "malbec" is starting to stick in the minds of the mass-american wine buyer. and rightfully so!

still predominantly from the mendoza area of argentina, this grape is slowly becoming the next big thing. don't be surprised if, in the next five years, you see it being grown elsewhere and marketed the same way that yellowtail shiraz has been. until then, however, i can offer these stellar recommendations from this year's releases:

most likely to be confused with a bordeaux: malbec is frequently made into a spicy, yet very fruit-forward wine that can often be easily classified as "new world." that's why when a malbec pays tribute to its roots and successfully presents a much more complex and earthy flavor profile, it's reason to celebrate. such is the case with trapiche broquel malbec 2008 ($10.99 at 111 lex liquors, 111 lexington ave. betwn. 27th and 28th streets, 212-213-2288). this is a bordelaise-style red, through and through. macerated black cherry, cedar, rose and a hint of vanilla hit you as soon as you stick your nose in the glass. on the palate, this wine has fantastic structure. not without fruit, it gives up a nice amount of dusty blackberry, but the solid tannins carry through the middle and it finishes with more cedar and black pepper. fire up the grill for this one!

easiest to get along with: on the opposite end of the spectrum, there are a heaping pile of malbecs that are fruit, fruit and more fruit. this can be a bit unbalanced if done poorly, but a great reason to open a bottle without a meal if done well. the huarpe "taymente" malbec 2009 ($8.99 at 67 wine and spirits, 179 columbus ave. at 68th st., 212-724-6767) is a perfect example of this. the scent of baked plums and wafts of cinnamon set up a fruit-forward palate that doesn't disappoint. round, dark berry fruit and baking spice with softer tannin through the middle make this one go down smooth.

outstanding achievement in compromise: if you're like me, you love aspects of the old and new world. the best example i found of that great compromise, in bottle form, was the chalten malbec reserve 2008 ($14.95 at sherry-lehman wine and spirits, 505 park ave. at 59th st., 212-838-7500). immediately, the scent was intriguing. vanilla and orange-rind mingled together, creating a sort of "orange cream" note on the nose. the flavors of sweet raspberry and strawberry jam met head on with pepper and pipe smoke, all held up by a sturdy tannic structure that left a long, satisfying finish.

don't wait for the huge, mega-producers to catch up with your taste buds. go out and find a malbec yourself. you'll be glad you did!


josh@pennilessepicure.com"> josh@pennilessepicure.com

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