In the last few years, many wine-related marketing boards have promoted a specific grape or region by proclaiming a certain day to be "________ Day." And while I'm not one to jump on these kinds of promotions -- I like drinking what I want, when I want -- I'll admit it's a good opportunity to explore a certain grape or place.
Such is the case with Malbec, which will be fêted on April 17, declared Malbec World Day by Wines of Argentina. Anyone who enjoys a glass of Malbec now and then knows it's Argentina's flagship red grape, so it makes sense the country would spearhead the charge in promoting the grape worldwide.
Malbec's global origins are in the Bordeaux region of France, where it is one of six grapes allowed in their reds. While it's rarely used in that region anymore, it's still one of the primary red grapes in France's Cahors region, where it's known as C¥t.
And while Malbec has been planted across many of the world's wine-producing regions -- including Chile, California, British Columbia, and more -- it was when the grape landed (and was planted) in Argentina that Malbec really took off.
Argentine producers have embraced Malbec, producing wines of impressive depth and flavour in all price ranges. Producers have been willing to take risks with the grape; despite its thinner skin and susceptibility to frost and disease, producers have seen success planting Malbec in the foothills of the Andes mountains, hundreds of metres above sea level.
Typically quite dark in colour, Malbec brings big dark berry notes that work well with oak aging to produce impressive, age-worthy wines. (Having said that, most Malbec we buy/drink regularly is meant for immediate consumption). They're often paired with big meat dishes which, when you consider Argentina's beef production, makes a lot of sense.
For more information, see www.malbecworldday.com.
Enjoy -- I think I'll drink some Chardonnay.
At the end of March, private wine store The Winehouse held the final round of its second annual Manitoba Wine Tasting Championships. The event is a chance for folks of all walks of life -- from wine novices to industry experts -- to sit down and taste five wines blind (ie. not knowing anything about the wine in the glass).
In the preliminary rounds, competitors had to try and determine the grape, country, region and vintage of five wines. Correct answers earned competitors points, and the top point-getters proceeded to the final round on March 27.
I entered the competition, and for the second year running managed to make the finals. Now, I have an advantage in that I taste hundreds more wines than the average palate, many of which are under these same conditions.
Two prizes were awarded -- one for the best taster in the preliminary rounds and one for the winner of the live final. And, as it happens, both winners were non-industry, general-public folk who simply love wine.
Cindy Gould won the trophy for the best score in the blind-tasting round; she hadn't even planned on entering, but had accompanied a friend and decided to take the plunge rather than sitting around getting thirsty.
In the live final, Kris Paulson was the last palate standing after five tough elimination rounds, and took home a 50-bottle wine fridge and a dinner at the Winehouse valued at $1,000.
As for me, I was knocked out in the second round -- one round better than I did last year.
Trapiche 2012 Zaphy Malbec (Maipu, Argentina -- $13.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
The least up-front fruity of the three wines reviewed, this organic Argentine Malbec brings intriguing earthier, leathery aromas with ripe blueberry and plum notes. The medium-plus bodied Zaphy has some nice blue/black fruit braced by modest acidity and earthy complexity, which keeps things lean but lively. Would be a good meat wine: steak, prime rib, etc. 3 1/2 stars
Carlos Basso 2012 Dos Fincas Malbec (Valle de Uco, Argentina -- around $16, private wine stores)
Pretty plum and blueberry/blackberry notes on the nose show well with lighter dark chocolate, floral and bell pepper notes. It's a medium-plus bodied Malbec, with plenty of ripe berries on the palate to go with the dark chocolate and espresso. Modest acidity and light tannin go hand in hand here, providing balance and structure. Nice wine for the price. 3 1/2 stars
Bodega Piedra Negra 2011 Malbec Reserve (Mendoza, Argentina -- $19.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Deep blue fruit aromas -- blueberry, plum, and blackberry -- lead the charge, with raisin, vanilla, ash, cocoa and black-pepper notes as well thanks to some time in oak barrels. It's a full-bodied, ripe red, with a deep core of blackberry and cherry flavours with supporting licorice, cocoa, vanilla and white-pepper notes. This is a big, well-built Malbec that's not in your face. 4 stars