Sunday, November 23, 2008

WN: BenMarco 2006 Malbec

As wonderful as it would be, one can't drink Cabernet Franc all the time. There just isn't that much of it around in the first place and it would eventually get a little boring. Fortunately South America is a big help as a producer of tasty wines that won't destroy your credit card. My latest venture south of the equator was the 2006 BenMarco Malbec.

Malbec, like Cabernet Franc, has a role as a blending grape in Bordeaux that lags significantly behind Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in importance. And like Cab Franc, Malbec is prominent in certain appellations in the Loire Valley of France where it's sometimes bottled as a varietal wine. Curiously enough both Cab Franc and Malbec go by other names in the Loire, Breton and Cot, respectively. Unlike Cabernet Franc, however, Malbec is white hot. Like branding iron on a longhorn's behind hot.

Argentinian Malbec in particular has earned a reputation as a great value wine in the US. The Mendoza Valley is ideally suited for growing wine grapes on their original rootstock, which isn't possible in the majority of wine regions where Phylloxera has been introduced. Additionally, many vineyards are at altitude and the climate provides a long, relatively dry growing season that provides grapes every opportunity to ripen perfectly. From past experiences, I've found mid-priced Argentinian Malbecs to be almost like liquid silk.

The BenMarco 2006 Malbec was no different. It's a seamless wine. You sip, the plummy flavor envelops your mouth, then it tapers off every so slowly. The tannins are perceptible, yet very fine grained. There's good mouth-watering acidity, too, to balance out the ripe fruit flavors. Another big plus was the information provided on the bottle. The grapes were grown at about 3000 feet above sea level, there's 10% Bonarda blended with the Malbec, the wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered, and the wine was aged in 50% new barrels and 50% one year old barrels. That's much more useful and honest than a bunch of hyperbolic adjectives that typically are a bunch of lies dreamed up by a marketer.

The one sticking point on this wine is probably the barrel aging. The use of 50% new oak barrels makes a definite impact on the wine. This Malbec didn't taste like pure oak and the subtle oak tannins likely added to the nice finish. But the bouquet was very closed, which is a characteristic I notice in many wines I know have spent a lengthy period in new oak. The aromas of the grape are suppressed, while hints of secondary aromas like vanilla, mocha and smoke from the barrels are about all you can extract. The result is a wine that smells good, yet doesn't really have its own character.

Fortunately, I have a second bottle which I'll try in a year or two. It may just take some time for the fruit to re-emerge and for other nuances to develop. As it is, this is a very enjoyable, technically perfect wine, but a wine that doesn't have much individuality. For $15, though, it's a superb value and you'll be hard pressed to find any wine in that price range with such sophistication.

Score: 88-91 out of 100 (though more of 88 on this night for me)
Price: $15 at Costco

Scoring disclaimer: Scores are based on the "typical" 100 point scale, though I've included a range since there's uncertainty in any human rating where context and expectations can influence the results.

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