I Think I Love You

When I say Malbec, you might scratch your head asking, "Is that a wine, and have I ever had it?" Chances are, you have, even if you didn't know it at the time. Long a blending grape in Bordeaux, it's also mixed with Cabernet Sauvignon and Gamay in parts of the Loire Valley. The only region in France to treat it as anything other than a workhorse grape is Cahors, but it has begun to lose favor there due to being susceptible to frost, mildew and rot.

Perhaps you're still frowning because French wine is out of your budget or not your thing. You may still have had Malbec. Many California blends that replicate the style of Bordeaux use the grape to add color and nuance. Wines in the United States need only contain 75 percent (85 percent in Oregon) of one grape to be named as such on the label, the other 25 percent could contain any number of varieties, including Malbec.

If you want to experience the lush, dark red on its own, however, look to South America. Chile produces a tasty version with heavy tannins, but the country that has truly embraced Malbec is Argentina. There, Malbec is one of the most widely planted grapes and one of the most loved.

The region that seems to do the best job is Mendoza, producing most fine wine for the country. Located in the eastern foothills of the Andes, the dry climate makes for ripe grapes, which lead to big, high-in-alcohol wines. The best thing about these wines, though, is that they usually represent great value. Part of this is due to high production paired with less popularity.

Some wines you should be able to find locally:

Los Cardos (about $9) made by Dona Paula and quite a winner with intense berry and plum flavors and spice to boot.

Budini (about $10) named after a wild cat, this shows bright cherry and plum, nice finish.

La Posta (about $16) from an Italian winemaker, well-structured, though leaning toward vegetal.

Others in the area include Susana Balbo, Tikal and El Felino—a Paul Hobbs venture. My personal favorites may be difficult to find, but try: Terrazas and another Paul Hobbs project, Bramare.

When it comes to pairing food, stick with what the natives eat. As Argentines consume more beef than any other country, have that Malbec with a rib eye, prime rib or New York strip steak. You'll have the money in your wallet after making an economical wine choice.


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