Want value? Try a Malbec

May 22, 2013 

Have you ever ordered a bottle of wine at a restaurant only to be intimidated when the waitperson opened it tableside and handed you the cork? Well you shouldn't allow such an innocuous event to create an anxiety attack. Take the cork and sniff it to see if it contains any unpleasant odors. Then take the glass that was just poured, look at the color of the wine and taste it. If it tastes good, proclaim the wine is acceptable.

The more difficult part of ordering a bottle of wine is finding a bargain on a restaurant wine list. One of the more reasonably priced varietals available today is a Malbec.

Malbec wines are known for their very dark inky color and the wine can have a significant amount of tannins, thus making them very good to blend with cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

The Malbec grape is one of those that is commonly blended to make Bordeaux style wines. In Argentina, Malbec is a very widely planted grape and there are a number of value-based wines on the market.

Three Malbec wines from Mendoza, Argentina, that are easy to drink and easy on the wallet -- ranging in price from $9 to $19 -- are the 2010 Catena, 2011 Alamos and 2010 Nieto.

The 2010 Catena is made of grapes from the Vista Flores appellation of Mendoza and is produced by a family that first planted Malbec in that region in 1902. This wine paired very well with mussels steamed in white wine with garlic, parsley and scallions as an appetizer and it tasted even better short ribs that were roasted with onions over an open fire. The fat from the ribs

helped bring out the flavor of dark berries and caused the wine to feel somewhat smooth in the mouth.

The 2011 Alamos is also produced by the Catena family and this wine paired nicely with a red sauce served over penne pasta. I could immediately detect the aroma of plum and found this wine to be slightly peppery with hints of raspberry.

The last wine tasted was the 2010 Nieto, which was quite earthy on the nose. It took this wine about 30 minutes to open up -- meaning that at first the wine's flavors are not real evident but over a period time, they become more noticeable. Once open, the dark fruit flavors and earthiness of this wine became very pronounced. Try this wine with an oven-roasted chicken.

Remember that Malbec wines usually contain a significant amount of tannins, which provides that dry mouth feel common in many red wines. Generally, tannins come from the grape skins and they are a natural preservative that allows wine to age. When you read a wine critics' comment that are a particular wine has "tight tannins," he is referring to a young wine that is concentrated and should age well. On the other hand, a wine with "tight tannins" creates a very dry mouth feel and doesn't taste great when it is young.

Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at jimrawe@gmail.com.

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