Archive for the ‘Review Malbec wine’ Category

Finca Los Maza Reserva Malbec

mazaI thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

When I saw the price on the wine I drank last night, I really thought someone had switched the price tag. “This wine cannot be this cheap.”

But it is. The wine I’m ranting about is Finca Los Maza Reserva Malbec 2008, and the quality/price ratio here is crazy.

First, Los Maza comes from Mendoza, Argentina, now the Motherland of Malbec. The grape is native to France, where it was one of the varietals blended to make red Bordeaux. Malbec was brought to Argentina by immigrants, and thrived in the warmer, dryer climate.

Mendoza is like heaven for wine grapes. The Uco Valley, where Finca Los Maza grows its fruit, has a desert-like climate and sits at somewhere around 3,600 feet elevation. This cools the temperatures and creates a dramatic difference between daytime and nighttime temps,  allowing the fruit to develop structure and complexity. The sunlight is also more direct, ensuring that grapes will fully ripen, and snow melt from the Andes mountains provides plenty of water to irrigate the vineyards. The result, according to Juan Tonconogy and Alex Campbell, is “intense wines with great personality and quality.”

Alex is the third generation of the family that planted vines here close to a century ago. Juan and Alex’s new company has acquired additional vineyard sites, and blends grapes from different lots to achieve the style they’re looking for.

For me, their style is all about power. But it’s power with depth and elegance to back it up. I saw the power as soon as I poured my glass. The color was purple/garnet and opaque, suggesting plenty of extraction. I cheated and looked at the technical notes, and sure enough, these grapes enjoyed 30 days of maceration. Trust me, that’s a lot!

The nose offered berries on steroids, with dark fruit, vanilla and maybe a shot of espresso.

But the palate blew me away. I tasted rich, powerful dark berry fruit with plenty of depth and concentration, followed by chocolate and vanilla that lingered on the finish. There was also a purity that I liked: the structure and acid kept it from sliding over into jammy or blocky. I guess that’s where the power and elegance meet and marry.

So my guests and I (they also enjoyed the wine plenty) were playing the, “How much do you think it costs?” game. I was hoping for $20, but realizing that it could run closer to $25.

Good thing I didn’t bet on that, because I would have lost big. Los Maza Reserva Malbec goes for $12. Yes, $12! This is insanely good wine for the money. And it’s a versatile wine. You could drink it with tangy cheese, grilled meats, red sauce, or beef, beef, beef the way the Argentines do.

However you plan to drink it, just grab a bottle. Or two. Or three. You won’t be disappointed. Cheers!



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Malbec from the Mountains: Bodegas Gouguenheim

mendozaI love finding a great wine at a great price, especially when it’s unknown, or a previously-undiscovered gem.

While I didn’t know this wine, I know the region it hails from. I’m not bashful about saying that Mendoza, Argentina is virtually heaven on earth for wine grapes. The vineyards lie within shouting distance of the towering Andes Mountains, which block the rain moving across the continent from the West, and create a desert climate on the leeward side. Mendoza is blessed with abundant sunshine — 320 days a year! — and can be irrigated with snow melt from the Andes.

As if that weren’t perfect enough, the high elevation of the vineyards creates a large Diurnal Temperature Shift, which is wine-geek talk for “a big difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures,” like 35 degrees F. This is a good thing for wine grapes, because while the heat of the day ripens the fruit, the cool-down at night allows tannin and acid to develop. And with Mendoza’s long growing season, grapes ripen fully and develop good complexity.

Now wouldn’t you think this was heaven if you were a wine grape?

So let’s get to the wine and winery. Bodegas Gouguenheim Malbec 2010 comes from the marvelous-sounding Valle Escondido — Hidden Valley. The vineyards sit at over 3000 feet, and I’m sure I can smell and taste it. The nose has plenty of ripe fruit, with plum and black currant mixing with some floral aromatics.

The palate was really a knock-out: I didn’t expect the intensity of the fruit, the rich mouthfeel, or the bright black raspberry flavor that transitioned to chocolate and vanilla. There was depth and structure, too, making this Malbec linger nicely .

Like I say, I thought it was a knock-out, especially for $10 a bottle. That’s really amazing value, and one of the reasons I do a lot of shopping in the “Argentina” section of my wine store. We’re seeing more and more Malbecs in this country, and some of the cheaper ones (i.e. under $10) can be harsh or thin. Gouguenheim represents truly great value. Cheers!


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B Crux 2007

fournierThis had to be a no-brainer.

When I saw O. Fournier B Crux 2007, and heard it was a red blend made in Argentina by a family from Spain,  I thought I might be in wine heaven. Spanish and Argentine reds top my wine hit parade, and here they were wrapped up in one package!

Here’s why I love Argentine wines. The Mendoza region of Argentina, which hugs the lower slopes of the towering Andes mountains, has possibly the world’s best micro-climate for big, red wines. The folks at O. Fournuer explain it this way:

The La Consulta region (where the winery is located) is located in the well-known Uco Valley, approximately 1,200 metres (3,950 ft.) above sea level. At this altitude, there is a significant fluctuation between daytime and night-time temperatures of up to 20º-25ºC. This variance particularly favours the production of wines with an excellent colour and suitable for long ageing in oak barrels.

The region´s stony and sandy soils offer excellent drainage during the summer season. The lack of organic material, limited rainfall and prevailing winds are also conductive to high quality, healthy grapes. Furthermore, the water that irrigates the estates comes pure and clean from the snow thawing on the Andes.

Intense sunlight, cold nights, long hang-time, crummy soil, limited rainfall. All these things combine to produce intensely flavored but  well-balanced grapes.

And what about the Spanish part of the wine equation? I love their reds too, both the traditional Tempranillos from Rioja or Ribera del Duero and the more New World style Garnacha and Monastrell from regions such as Jumilla, Priorat or Campo de Borja. If a Spanish winemaker were given the opportunity to work with Argentina’s natural resources — watch out… Read the rest of this entry »

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Malbec Fit For a Steak — or an Asado

tangoIt’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Argentine wine (you can read my posts on Finca Decero or Crios Malbec). Their quality-to-value ratio is certainly impressive, but that’s not the reason I love it.

To me, Argentine wine conjures up all the passion and mystery of this incredibly rich Latin country. Like Tango, Gauchos, seductive dark-haired women and dangerously handsome men, Argentina’s rich, bold, sexy wines express the passion of their people.

So imagine my surprise when I went ape-shit over my latest Malbec discovery and then realized that:

The winery isn’t owned by Argentines!

Is it possible that a guy from Las Vegas can make passionate Argentine wine?anoro

Here’s the story of Anoro Wine. Kenneth Fredrickson is a Master Sommelier and wine industry professional. He and his wife, Licelys Ramirez Fredrickson, visited Argentina in 2004 and not only fell in love with the wines and the people, but saw the incredible potential of this relatively new region (at least on the world wine stage). They teamed up with importer Vine Connections, and created a winery that sources fruit from some of the best high-altitude vineyards in Mendoza.

Their winemaking methods favor minimal intervention and gentle handling, letting the essence of the fruit reveal itself.

The wine I tasted is Anoro Malbec 2008, and the minute it filled my glass I saw the essence of the winery’s style. The color was opaque and deep purple/garnet, and it was obviously unfined and unfiltered (you could have eaten this thing with a spoon). Read the rest of this entry »

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A Vanishing Breed: Guy Allion Malbec Le Poira 2009

Raise your hand if you’ve heard of  Malbec.

Now raise the other hand if you think it’s a wine from Argentina.

If you’ve got both hands in the air, you look like a lunatic and you’re only half right.

While Argentine Malbec is taking up more and more space on wine store shelves, the grape actually originated in France, where it was one of the six blending grapes used to create Bordeaux. In 1956 a killer frost took 75% of the Malbec crop in France, and while a small region called Cahors replanted, Bordeaux did not. Nowadays, you’ll find a little Malbec in Cahors, and even less in Touraine, a district in the Loire in northern France.

I found a bottle called Guy Allion Touraine Malbec Le Poira 2009, and I was too intrigued to ignore it. French Malbec is, after all, a vanishing breed, and the researcher in me was keen to see how the flavor profile of this Old World wine would compare to Mendoza’s New World Malbec.

My research showed me, first of all, that Malbec is a thin-skinned grape that ripens even more slowly than Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Holy Cow! How could it thrive in the cool climate of northern France? Just imagine how happy the grape could be in the foothills of the Andes mountains, where higher elevations produce tons of radiant heat, warm sunny days and cool nights to develop structure.. Read the rest of this entry »

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Look Abroad for CHEAP but GOOD Wine

globeI just read a post by Tim Fish, a contributor to He talked about the effect our expectations have on our experiences. He tells a really cute story about childhood memories that’ll make many of us think back to the wood-paneled station wagon and 8mm movie camera’s of our youth.

In wine terms, he said we expect much more from an expensive bottle than an inexpensive one, and are much more disappointed when “name” bottles and legendary vintages don’t live up to their press.

I couldn’t agree more. We live in a culture where the price tag is equated with the value, and a big-ticket car or watch or wine bestows tremendous cachet on its owner — sometimes more cachet than they deserve.

Fish says it’s a pleasure to find things that over-deliver: where the value far exceeds the price. Again, ditto. He mentions several California wines that are a great deal for the money.fuego

So here’s where I disagree: I’ve become more and more disappointed with the value of California wines. The cheap ones — i.e. under $10 — have flaws that put me right off. The whites usually have an edge of sweetness where there shouldn’t be one: I don’t want sugar in my Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay! (Watch this video to see me rant about this.) I assume they put sugar in wine to cover up the wine’s flaws, and to pander to Americans’ penchant for sweet foods (Sugar Frosted Flakes anyone?) Read the rest of this entry »

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Yes, You Can Pair Chicken and Wine


It’s the meat that gets no respect.

It’s considered the “cheap” choice on restaurant menus, and the boring, cook-it-when-you-can’t-think-of-anything-better dinner choice.

But add some sauce and spice, pair it with the right bottle of wine, and you’ve got a great meal.

So invariably people ask me, “Which wine should I serve with chicken?” And I have to say… “It depends.”

“Oh, right,” you say. “I knew it couldn’t be simple.”

But is. Because there’s really only one Tried and True Rule of Food and Wine Pairing.

Before I unveil this Guiding Principle, let me walk you through a little case study. Let’s say you’re cooking Chicken Parmesan, with a rich Marinara Sauce and some melted cheese. What’s the dominant flavor? What stands out in your mouth? Is it the taste of the chicken breast, or the taste of the tomato sauce?

And if you cook an elegant Chicken Piccata, drizzled with Lemon Butter Caper Sauce, what do you taste? You taste the lemons and capers, if you cook it the way I do.

So the dominant flavor of any dish is the sauce or the spicing, not the base meat or vegetable.

Aha! Now you see where I’m going. If someone asks, “Which wine should I pair with chicken,” I ask, “How are you preparing it?” If they say, “With Parmesan Sauce,” I go for a red: maybe a lighter Italian red such as Barbera or a Toscano blend; maybe a Spanish Tempranillo or Garnacha; maybe a Malbec from Argentina. The point is that I want to drink a red to complement the tomato sauce, and especially a red with some acid to match the acid in the tomatoes.

That’s not too complicated, right?

So let’s do the Picatta Chicken. I want a wine that can stand up to tart lemon and tangy capers, so I’ll go with a crisp, dry white. I don’t want an oak-aged wine like Chardonnay, because it won’t set off the lemon. I think I’d like a Sauvignon Blanc, or a European white. How about a Pinot Grigio? Or how about a dry Greek white? Greek cooking uses a lot of lemons, so we know it’ll work.

It’s that simple.


There are other considerations, and rules of thumb that folks have discovered by trial and error. But it’s not rocket science. Say, what wine do you think they should drink on rocket ships? We’ll talk about that next time. Cheers!

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How Mountains Make Wine: Finca Decero

deceroOnce upon a time there was a remote patch of soil in the shadow of some mighty snow-capped mountains. The soil grew only scrub and rocks, and was teased all day long by the “remolinos,” little whirlwinds that kicked up the dusty soil.

A young man with Switzerland and Napa in his ancestry came over the snow-capped mountains and found the patch of soil. He must have been visited by a strong vision, because he decided to dig down into the soil and plant vines that he hoped would someday grow wonderful, rich, ripe red grapes…

So that’s enough of the fable format. Rather than wearing it way too thin, I’ll just jump right to 2011 and the Finca Decero estates in the once-remote Agrelo region of Mendoza, Argentina. It really was created “from scratch” (the meaning of Decero) and includes the Remolinos Vineyard, which is planted to several red grape varieties. This being Mendoza, Malbec is king, but Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot also get some space.

We know the soil can produce some wonderful reds: Finca Decero’s wines have received huge ratings ever since their inaugural vintages (the Malbec earned 92 points from the Wine Advocate, the highest score ever given a Malbec). So what’s so special about this land? Read the rest of this entry »

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Welcome to the Other World of Wine: Ruta 22 Malbec

pataginiaIf you head south to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and then keep heading south through Pampas grasslands, alongside towering Andes mountains, through forests and beside remote lakes, you’ll finally get to Neuquen, Patagonia. This distant valley is so far away from all the civilized, corporate, congested wine places like Burgundy and Napa Valley that you would think you’re in another world. And you are: that’s what the owners of Ruta 22 call this place. It’s not part of the Old World of wine, although they have French winemakers. And it’s not part of the New World of wine, although they grow intense, fruity New World style wine. It’s truly the Other World of wine.

Patagonia and the Neuquen Valley are a study in extremes. The topography is difficult, and the climate more so. There’s a huge “diurnal temperature shift,” or difference between day and night-time temperatures — like 35 degrees Fahrenheit. This produces structure and acid in the fruit. There’s very little rainfall, which stresses the grapevines and creates more intense aromas and flavors; and almost constant winds that challenge the vines but keep them relatively free of pests so that chemicals aren’t necessary. Read the rest of this entry »

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Three Thieves Steal Reality TV

thievesI said in yesterday’s post that TV “Wars” are all the rage. The only fad that can top it, is Reality TV.

There are reality TV shows about all sorts of crazy stuff. They run the gamut from bizarre to downright creepy, following characters such as spoiled rich kids, spoiled rich adults, truckers driving very big trucks on very icy roads, people who dwell in swamps, and spoiled rich celebrities.

Personally, I couldn’t care less what any of these people do. But Scripps Network and the Cooking Channel have finally stumbled on a story idea that’s really interesting to me. There is a group of three guys who bottle wine under the Three Thieves label; Joel Gott, Charles Bieler, and Roger Scommegna. Gott is a Napa Valley native (fifth generation Napa, in fact) who has his own eponymous label (fancy word for “named after him”) and has thrown in with the other guys for the Three Thieves project. They chose that name because they “steal” premium surplus wine and bottle it to sell at crazy low prices.

What Joel, Charles and Roger are doing is taking very good advantage of the current oversupply of premium wine. They can buy surplus wine and sell it for a fraction the price it would normally command, so they set out to find great juice from around the wine world.thief

Amador Zinfandel was their first project, and it got great ratings. They moved on to California Cabernet, and hit the jackpot again. Their next project was Argentine Malbec, and that’s what I’m reviewing today.

I have a special interest in Argentine wines, because I lived in Buenos Aires for two years. I’ve traveled the country, and know that it’s an amazingly diverse place (not unlike the USA), and has been making good red wine for centuries. Argentina is red wine country, because they eat beef, beef, bread, and beef. Vegans would starve there…

But Malbec  is Argentina’s special gift to the wine world. While the grape originated in France, it has virtually disappeared there. It has thrived in the Andes foothills of Argentina’s Mendoza region, where vineyards at high altitudes get intense sunlight to ripen grapes and cool temperatures to develop acid and structure. Malbec has indeed become Argentina’s signature grape.

So in honor of the Cooking Channel’s broadcast of the Three Thieves show, I uncorked a bottle of The Show 2009 Malbec. The  Three Thieves had set out to make an “iconic” Malbec, and the grapes they chose for this wine come from two Mendoza vineyards, both at over 3000 feet elevation.

I think the flavor profile is right on: this wine is no tooty fruity, easy-drinking red. It has substance and character, and needs a little more time to show what it can do. The nose shows tart berries like cranberries, with a little gaminess and floral aromatics. The palate at first showed just tart fruits such as red currant, rhubarb and cranberry. But there’s a deep, dark element too, with a hint of tar, cedar spice and tannin on the finish.

Then I did my “kicker”: I smelled the empty glass. This is a really revealing exercise: the empty glass shows the true essence of a wine. And this one showed rich mocha.

So fast-forward to the next day, when I poured a glass of The Show Malbec with Thai Chicken. The fruit had ripened and softened, and matched well even with the sweet/spicy coconut milk sauce. It was really fun…

I’d suggest you look for the next showing of the Cooking Channel Three Thieves show, grab a bottle of The Show Malbec (or whatever Show wine you can find), kick back and enjoy. Cheers!

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