World Malbec Day was April 17th. I missed it – so engrossed in the Boston bombings that I could hardly think about wine, and that’s a pity for someone who knows better. This is the third annual World Malbec Day, and wouldn’t it have been fun to be in Argentina for that celebration, the country that modernized it and made it proud. I had a Portillo Malbec 2011 from Bodega Salentein awaiting tasting, so that’s what I’m doing, and I’ll tell you about two others I’ve tasted recently.
Salentein Portillo Malbec 2011: 100% Malbec, robust yet lovely and lush, and extremely attractive at a price of about $12 in my area. It coats the tongue and I’m wishing I had some sliced, cold rare beef this minute. The nose is blackberries and plums and has the essence of “stems” in both the nose and on the palate. I couldn’t get away from the word ‘stemmy’ and knew it might be taken as a negative connotation, while intending it to be a good thing, so I went searching for others who might agree with me and find that The Gray Report concludes “stemmy” can be positive and in the process of his conclusion resolved to refer to it as “pleasantly stemlike.” Read it here in a good discussion with a winemaker who “really likes stems. When wine tasting notes include the term “brambly” a “pleasant stemlike” quality might be an unrecognized part of that descriptor, and note that I’m not talking about an overwhelming or dominate “pleasant stemlike” taste – just subtle and nicely integrated into the whole. You’ll be surprised to learn that one of the most famous and expensive French wines, Domaine Romanee Conti, uses 60% whole cluster fermentation (which includes stems).
To add a touch of mystery, the grapes for Salentein are destemmed before fermentation. Nevertheless, a “pleasant stemlike” quality was the first thing I noticed in the nose. When good quality table grapes are brought home, destemmed and later served as a snack, I sometimes still taste the stems and like it, assuming it’s not a green taste.
The grapes for Portillo are grown in Mendoza, the most renowned of the country’s vineyard regions and the Bodega is the “single biggest cool climate estate in Mendoza.” Portillo’s fruit is grown in the Ande’s Uco Valley’s high-altitude vineyards – at elevations averaging 3,937 feet. According to the label, Portillo refers to a high mountain pass that serves as a “gateway” to the winery. 14% alcohol and imported by Palm Bay.
Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec 2008: In New York recently I had Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec 2008 on my second visit to Del Frisco’s in the Rockefeller Center Plaza. We loved the Prime Sliced New York Strip with tomato-basil relish so much that we went back for more, but had a different wine each time.
The Cantena Zapata is 100% Malbec, dark purple in the glass, dense and again tongue-coating with a beautiful nose of black fruit, cloves and smoke. Elegant and refined on the palate, everything in balance with black currant, fig and herbal notes of thyme with the essence of dark chocolate. The grapes are destemmed before fermentation and I detected no “pleasant stemlike” presence in this wine, but loved the smokey finish.
The grapes are grown in the Adrianna and Nicasia vineyards also in the Uco Valley at elevations of 3,593 – 4,747 feet. 14% alcohol and imported by my beloved Winebow, which introduced me to Dr. Cosimo Taurino’s Salice Salentino years ago – and which I mourn today as I can’t find it anywhere.
La Posta Angel Paulucci Vineyard Malbec 2009: See my original notes on this beauty here.
The Malbec grape is native to France where it is known as Côt in Burgundy where it is believed to have originated, or known as Auxerrois in Cahors where the grape is primarily grown in France today, along with Bordeaux where it is one of the approved grapes for blending and is known as Malbec there.
The grape has a long history being purged by disease, with vineyards dying a brutal death and taking hundreds of years to re-establish. The Malbec grape is a big grape, not in size but in character and depth. It needs sunshine and lots of it, so Agentina is a natural spot for dedicating thousands of acres of vineyard lands to Malbec, which is grown throughout the world, so here’s to World Malbec Day. We can celebrate any day we choose with any Malbec we choose. Gosh, life is fine!
Pronunciation Tips (No accent marks – say it as you see it may not be perfect but close enough not to be embarassing):
● Angel: an-hill (the ‘g’ has the sound of ‘h’)
● Auxerrois: Oaks seh wawh (Oaks as in the Oak tree) (wawh rhymes with saw)
● Bodega: Bow-day-gah (Bow rhymes with tow) (day rhymes with may)
● Catena: Can-tina (Can rhymes with ban) (tina as in the woman’s name) (as in the English word Cantina – a bar or tavern)
● Cohors: Coe-orse (Coe rhymes with toe) (orse sounds like horse without the h)
● Côt: Coo (Coo rhymes with moo)
● Malbec mal-beck (mal rhymes with gal) (beck rhymes with heck)
● Paulucci (paul loo-chee) (paul rhymes with saul) (loo rhymes with moo) (chee has the sound of first four letters in cheese)
● Portillo: Por-teel-yo (Por rhymes with for) (teel rhymes with feel)
● Salentein: Sah-len-teen (Sah has the sound of the ‘sa’ in sash) (teen rhymes with keen) (tine rhymes with fine)
● Zapata: Zah-pot-ah (pot rhymes with hot)
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