Coke Roth

Indulging in Malbec research

Once again you have chosen to subject yourself to 900 words of rhetorical flourish that, were it not for a strictly enforceable contract, you would be reading the words of another that may actually be useful and informative. It’s the last page of this wonderfully entertaining magazine where I, with full intention, make the simple hideously complicated; where fact and opinion are woven into a complex tapestry harder to untangle than the kid’s fishing reel.

In an attempt to break my long-standing trend of confounding, I have personally researched and tasted, all for you, my fan(s), a terrific wine that would have become an obscure footnote in the world of wine were it not for the South American country of Argentina and a little-known commune in the south of France, Cahors.

If you don’t know already, starting in the mid-19th century (that’s the 1800s), the world was exposed to this nasty little North American root and leaf louse colloquially known as phylloxera. This pesky little aphid devastated Bordeaux vineyards where the delicious variety of Malbec was primarily grown. When replanting occurred in Bordeaux on phylloxera-resistant rootstock, Malbec got dropped like a hot rock and replaced, for the most part, by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. But why would this tasty fruit-bomb get kicked to the curb?

Economics, baby … they got tired of losing their crop. Malbec is not the easiest variety to grow. Malbec comes out swinging early so it susceptible to frost, any significant rain during bloom will result in grape clusters that look like a hungry eight-year-old got to them, and they are unfortunately a magnet for fungal infections. But notwithstanding its problems in Bordeaux, and its diminished presence to less than 1% of the action, in Argentina and Cahors, Malbec flourishes and is regarded with something close to reverence.

I first thought that may be the reason why there are sparse plantings of Malbec outside of Argentina and Cahors is because it’s just so doggone hard to make this wine as good as they make it. Not so. Pick up a bottle of Malbec from this quadrant of the States and you’ll see that we are in the international hunt. Our winemakers at this way are creating delicious, affordable wares second to none.

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While soils, heat, cultural practices and winemaking dictate whether the wine tastes old-world French or new-world Argentinian, however, like any other variety, regional clonal differences very much control what you perceive.

I chronicled about a dozen Malbec wines from France, Argentina, Chile and the Northwest, to see if there were identifiable common threads. Found ‘em!. First of all, like no other wine, Malbec, even with a half-dozen years in the bottle, is deep blue-black in color graced by a trademark hot pink — tinged rim. If you eat with your eyes like I do, the color of Malbec will get your tummy growling.

If you’re looking for a wine with massive black fruit flavors, Malbec is your date. Even though clonal and stylistic differences are afoot, nothing can stop the penetrating and mouth filling fruit of Malbec. Those made in the French style may morph the fruit into black current and Bing cherry with characteristic earthy/leathery character. Those made in the New World style will be filled with blackberry and blueberry. Even with heavy-handed oak in either style, you can’t stop that fruit train.

Here’s another one; delicious, salivating acid is another common component you’ll find in Malbec almost regardless of where and how it is grown. The tartness of Malbec makes it broadly applicable for almost any occasion; before, after and at the dinner table.

What you rarely find in well-made Malbec is an overabundance of phenolic bitterness … Tannins, baby. Malbec is typically smoother than a baby’s cheek, so it goes down easy. This isn’t to say that Malbec is a sissy; it is rich and bold.

On occasion you’ll find a Malbec Rosé. Gordon Estate makes a glorious example of how you turn black into pink and how to enjoy a warm day.

I cannot think of another variety of wine that is more pleasing to a broad variety of people and occasions than Malbec. The pleasing fruit and acid balance of Malbec will take your cocktail hour to a new level. In my opinion, and, in my opinion, my opinion is the only opinion that is of any real value, you can do no finer than pairing Malbec with wild-flavored meats at the dinner table .… Lamb, venison and duck, and I found Osso Buco to be a romantic contender.

It’s a smooth transition from dinner to after dinner with pleasing Malbec. My latest comparison was actually a smack-down between the Mendoza Vineyards Gran Reserva from Argentina and the ever so popular Clos La Coutale from Cahors, France. Believe me I was standing in high cotton when I sliced off some jalapeno and cheese elk sausage and some gruyere that I muled back from Switzerland. If it was an illegal import, the evidence has been destroyed. Man that was good!

Finally, once again, in an attempt to comprehensively and exhaustively test Malbec at the most extreme level, I pulled out a Dominican EMS Lonsdale cigar and found it a delightful way to conclude my research.

Tempus is fugiting, I have 900 words of ink and the editor’s hook is coming out. I commend hoisting a glass of Malbec, with friends, in moderation, frequently.

This story was originally published September 1, 2016 12:00 AM.

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