Many apologies for the blog radio silence over the past few days: after weeks of avoiding it, I finally ended up catching the sinus/chest cold that every single person in Calgary currently has, so I had to shut down my wine consumption until I was more or less healthy. The worst has now passed, but I still have a bit of residual congestion, so be warned in advance that the following review could be completely inaccurate…but it’s free, so what do you care?
Malbec! I have no idea how this is possible, but this is the very first Malbec that has been the feature of its own PnP review. The grape that has been a part of the blend in red Bordeaux wines for centuries but that has taken the drinking world by storm in the last decade with its single-varietal Argentinian incarnation is definitely the Shiraz of the 2000s, the new red wine that offers such an inexpensive and enjoyable experience that it has put a previously-ignored winemaking country on the vinous map. I haven’t been avoiding it on purpose — like everyone, I’m a fan of a good Malbec — but after a couple sips of this wine, I knew I was going to regret making it my initial foray into the grape.
The coolest thing about wine from Argentina, and the thing that makes quality winemaking even possible this close to the equator (wine grapes only successfully grow between 30 and 50 degrees latitude North and South, and Argentina’s dominant wine region of Mendoza hovers at around the 32 degree mark) is the altitude involved. The highest vineyards in the world are located in Argentina, and even the inexpensive wines are grown way up in the sky: this bottle comes from vineyards located at around 3,300 feet above sea level, in the foothills of the Andes. This height is critical because it lowers the average temperatures in the growing season into the range where grapes can thrive and leads to greater temperature differentials between day and night; the colder nights can help grapes retain acidity and develop more complex flavours instead of just ripening sugar. Unfortunately, this advantageous climate did not sufficiently work its magic on this bottle.
The Los Cardos (which means “the thistles”, surely the randomest wine name I’ve ever seen) was a dense purple glass-coating colour — the back label called it “violet-red”, but “Prince-purple” would be more accurate. Both the nose and the palate of the wine burst out of the gate with a great first impression, but both fall off just as quickly. The nose featured immediate notes of chocolate and candied dark fruit, blueberry and blackberry, as well as a touch of greenness, but little else. The palate started with lush sweet fruit but gradually grew more and more bitter, with deep black fruit giving way to tart rhubarb/sour cherry/green pepper notes and finishing harshly with a slightly metallic flavour that was almost like a cross between blood and citrus…not overly appealing. The Malbec had a not-quite-full body, fairly low acidity and indifferent tannins; there was not a ton of structure to the wine, but deceptively little fruit to necessitate any such structure. It didn’t taste awful, but it definitely seemed underripe, which simply should not happen in a climate like Argentina’s — the greenness and bitterness reminded me more of a mediocre Canadian red struggling to get ripe up north as opposed to a wine made in a nearly sub-tropical locale.
For the price (less than $15), the bottle doesn’t have to be a stunner, but in the realm of cheap Argentinian Malbec, I know you can do better than this: in particular, the base Malbecs from Catena and Andeluna are both solid and $13 or less. I was starving for wine after a week-long absence and still dumped half this bottle down the sink, and when I’m tossing wine, something is definitely not what it should be.
$10 to $15 CDN