Wine Review: Finca La Linda Malbec Tiers

26 07 2018

By Peter Vetsch

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

In some ways, trendy grapes have it tough.  Malbec has a proud and lengthy heritage as one of the six permitted grapes in red Bordeaux (yes, I’m still counting Carmenere, and shall ever continue to do so) and as the dauntingly famous Black Wine of Cahors, and it is almost single-handedly responsible for giving an entire country a vinous identity that has led to the rediscovery and cultivation of astonishingly high-altitude decades-old vineyards and a re-imagination of what grapes are capable of achieving in Argentina.  It is both an Old World stalwart and a New World trailblazer, pulling off both with equal aplomb and giving itself new life in the process.  But with raging-wildfire levels of success comes an inevitable fight against consumer boredom, particularly amongst the more avant-garde and adventurous in the wine world, which creates a sort of quiet undercurrent of peer pressure to steer clear of what is currently painfully a la mode.

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Great labels, but why is one bottle a third taller than the other??

I feel this way quite a bit, pulled away from the customer staple of the day in part because of my own desire to see what else is out there, but in part because of some innate resistance that I see amongst other wine geeks, some refusal to go along with what is everywhere.  So it was with Australian Shiraz; so it is with Argentinian Malbec; so it will be with whatever comes next.  I don’t really have a hard stance on this, but I have recently tried to make sure that my efforts at open-mindedness in wine extend equally to those grapes and styles that are suddenly ubiquitous as to those that remain esoteric.  I have also tried hard to remember that I once relied very heavily on the Shiraz-laden fads of the day as a gateway that set wine’s hooks into me for the first time, and I enjoyed the living hell out of them.  Fifteen years later, I have a WSET Advanced certification and have been publishing reviews on a wine blog for seven years.  Trends can lead somewhere.  So let’s start somewhere.

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Stelvin Rating:  7.5/10 (Prince would be so proud. Sparkly purple for all screwcaps from now on.  Cork Rating:  2/10 (Definitely needs work. How can the same place have made both of these?)

2016 Finca La Linda Malbec (~$16)

IMG_8466Finca La Linda is the entry-level label of Luigi Bosca, a multi-generational family-run winery with seven different estate vineyards to its name across Mendoza’s premium subregions of Lujan de Cuyo, Maipo and Valle de Uco.  La Linda (meaning “The Beautiful”, if back labels are to be believed) doubles as the name of one of these vineyards, located in the first such subregion, which has the distinction of being the very first area legally designated as a Controlled Denomination of Origin in Argentina.  Since the grapes from this 2016 La Linda Malbec are stated to come from estate vineyards in Lujan de Cuyo, I presume without knowing that they hailed from their eponymous site in northern Mendoza.  The grapes for this wine were hand-picked and hand-destemmed, then subject to stainless steel fermentation and a scant 3 months in oak barrels, both to preserve primary fruit flavours and to retain a value price point (a shorter maturation period means less storage and opportunity cost).

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Ultra-cool graphic from the Luigi Bosca website.  But pretty sure I only agree with the last of the bar charts.

The first thing about this label that immediately drew my eye was the Malbec’s surprisingly low 13.1% abv (corrected upward to 13.4% on the official winery tech sheet, but still), suggesting that this was going to be something other than a copout fruit bomb.  This theory was ratified by the wine’s equally surprising translucent, almost delicate, ruby-purple colour — a restrained approach to colour extraction?  La Linda opts for a slightly bitter take on dark fruit aromas, like it swept in the leaves and the seeds of blueberries, black raspberries and currants along with the sweet flesh, rounded off by medicinal eucalyptus/Rub A535 and a brighter tang like pomegranate.  Juicy and peppery on the tongue, this does not want for acidic bite but suffers from a slight unevenness and lack of staying power in the underlying fruit.  Limited tannin and an initial jolt of primacy makes this an easy entry point for the casual wine drinker, and to its credit it doesn’t take the easy, heavy, over-exuberant path from there, but I just wish it held onto itself a bit longer.

86 points

2015 Finca La Linda Old Vines Malbec (~$19)

IMG_8467One step up the Luigi Bosca Collection ladder takes us to this Private Selection Old Vines Malbec, which has not only an extra year of age on it (thanks in part to 8 months in barrels, American oak this time, instead of 3) but also a completely different and far more standard Bordeaux bottle shape than its cheaper predecessor…only on a side-by-side view do you notice how tall and slender the base Malbec receptacle is.  The term “Old Vines” has no set defined legal meaning (nor does the term “Private Selection”, for that matter), but in this case it refers to vineyards with an average age of 30 years, longevity which probably aligns with the New World standard for “old” but at which Europeans might raise an eyebrow.  Hilariously, the average vineyard age on this bottle is exactly the same as the last one, but tier distinctions must be drawn somehow, and here it at least nets us an absolutely beautiful bottle label, complete with gnarled vine photography.

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How is this LESS intensively oak aged than the last one??  Or less tannic?  Or less complex?  Whatever, I still love the graphics.

Other than the oak treatment, the winemaking process for the Old Vines is identical to the base Malbec, and the resulting colour is damn near identical, but for a shade less purple and a shade more opacity in this Private Collection, traits consistent with a bit more time in bottle and in barrel respectively.  The more composed nose features crushed flowers, clove and allspice, sultana crackers and dark chocolate chips to go with the lush blue and purple fruit.  This is less skittish and more poised, more calm and consistent throughout its sensory journey than its younger brother, the fruit dipping into blacker territory (blackberry/ blackcurrant) and the surrounding flavours following suit (asphalt, hot rocks, topsoil, grip tape).  In what might be the largest deviation from entry-level to Private Selection, the tannic structure of the Old Vines makes itself dramatically known from the start, but without anything coming across as overwrought; this is evocatively reflective of Argentinian Malbec without pandering to the lowest common saleable denominator.  For the extra $3, I would turn to this bottle every time.

87+ points

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