As a rule I don't like World (INSERT RANDOM GRAPE NAME) Day, because by and large they're just marketing ploys by public relations firms. But World Malbec Day (April 17) is...not really any different.
However, I had been wanting to spend a little more time on a grape like Malbec that can be frequently overlooked by wine critics while simultaneously embraced by the drinking public.
Argentina is, of course, the King and Queen of Malbec and its ability to make the wine in large quantities, while maintaining quality at a reasonable price, has made it one of the dominant forces on the world wine scene for the last two-plus decades.
But in some ways, I still think of Malbec as a greatly misunderstood grape. The Bordeaux native is often viewed as a monolithic entity—it can produce wines that are consistently good, but rarely either bad or great. But I don't think that's fair—I've had ascendant Malbecs that sing with complexity and a few plodders that are dull and lifeless (and, to be fair, a lot of solid value wines as well).
So to celebrate this made up day, I figured the best way to honour this grape was to share its wide range with my friends/fellow editors and see what they thought. So I gathered five widely available bottles and put them into unmarked tester bottles and dropped them off to see what my colleagues thought. They didn't know the producers or prices—they just had to taste and record their thoughts. And here's what they thought.
Nathan: Kinda watery? Not bad, but didn't have the same body as some of the others.
Alyssa: This one really fills up your mouth! It’s got notes of blackberry and is very gentle.
Stacey: Like bitter cherries: not in a good way. Too astringent and sharp.
Anicka: Really different and bright tasting, compared to the others. Different enough for one glass, but probably that’s it.
My Take: The team was a bit all over the map here, but there were some truths. Nate's "kinda watery" speaks to this wine's lighter profile, while Anicka nails the brightness of this cheap and cheerful take on Malbec, and I can see Alyssa getting some blackberry notes.
Stacey's "astringent" is a bit of an outlier—Malbec's famous for avoiding astringency, but I think she means it's not as full bodied as the others. which is true, For me it had medium/dark colour, which was odd given the relatively light body. It's also quite rich on the nose, but it has decent acidity (this must be Stacey's astringency) but little complexity. It's simple, and would probably benefit from a slight chill even.
Wine 2: Finca Decero 2017 $28
Nathan: Fruity, dry.
Alyssa: This is the one I feel most confident about, taste-wise. It’s got a lush, herbal scent that I first thought might be vanilla but later defined as chai—cardamom? It’s light-bodied and spicy and good.
Stacey: I know wine is fermented, but this tasted kind of overly so to me, and too juicy.
Anicka: This one has a smokey nose, and a slightly smokey taste. Again, enjoyed this one enough to finish.
My Take: Again, early props to Anicka and Alyssa who honed in on the great vein of herbaceousness and slightly smoky finish that I think of trademarks of Finca Decero.
Stacey's out in left field here I'm afraid but am thinking she again is not enjoying the acidity this wine has, which is not insignificant. Nate seems like he's given up already. For me, Decero is year-in, year-out one of my fave Malbecs. It's confident enough to embrace it's wild side—eucalyptus and wild sage mixed in with tart cherry—and never gets too heavy. A lovely wine.
Wine 3: Luigi Bosca 2018 $24
Nathan: Smooth. I had it last so my tastebuds were completely gone at this point.
Alyssa: My favourite of the bunch was a little bit sweet, and tasted almost chocolate-y.
Stacey: It tasted cheesy-funky but also kind of like oranges; I kept drinking to try to define it, but not because I wanted to taste more.
Anicka: Warm, kind of a green smell to it. A little astringent in terms of taste. Didn’t love it
My Take: Again, a bit scattershot from the team. I chose the Bosca because I think it represents typical, well-made Malbec in that it's rich and round and lush. Both Nate and Alyssa agreed and I think if Alyssa likes this she's generally going to be happy with most $20+ Malbecs.
Anicka got the warmth but I wonder if the astringency is coming from the order she tasted it, because this wine is pretty low acid. And Stacey, oh Stacey: there are wines that taste like cheese and there are wines that taste like oranges. But those wines are not Malbec. I'd like a bit more acid in this wine, but that's personal as I can't fault the fruit-forward wrapped in oak approach as it's a winner with most consumers.
Wine 4: Catena Malbec 2018 $25
Nathan: Blackberry trash. Really bad.
Alyssa: This one was full-bodied, very floral. Totally different from my number one pick—more refreshing and rosy.
Stacey: Buttery but… light? The best of the bunch.
Anicka: For me this had a slight candy scent, though it wasn’t overly sweet to taste – slightly off-dry compared to the others. And it was one of the three that I wanted to keep drinking that night.
My Take Nate! You're insulting the most revered Argentinian brand in the world! I suspect he's had a bad experience with blackberries somewhere on his life journey. Stacey is sticking with the giving of white wine attributes to red wine (buttery?) but she did choose a beloved producer with her hard to earn love. Both Anicka and Alyssa spent a lot of time on the nose—floral probably closer than candy but both in the conceivable zone and both seemed to love the freshness that this wine delivers (again, thanks to healthy acidity). For me this wine was all blue fruits and polish and balance. Like Rob Lowe.
Wine 5: Dona Paula Los Cardos 2019 $13
Nathan: Floral, fruity, smooth finish.
Alyssa: My least favourite by a mile—this one smelled yeasty to me and was a lot more sour and bitter than the rest of them. It had a bit of a peachy aftertaste that did not make up for the first impression.
Stacey: I just wrote “sour ashtray.”
Anicka: Gasoline smell, but not in a great Riesling way. In a bad, I don’t want to drink this way. “Don’t love this” was the main tasting note.
My Take So it's becoming clear that Stacey may not like "wine" but I'm a bit with her on this bottle, as were Alyssa and Anicka, who both were put off by perceived off notes. I appreciate that this wine eschews the classic Malbec richness, it's just that the simple blue fruits and out of sorts nose it leads with don't help. Now it's a $13 wine so maybe we can pump the breaks on the harshness. Save for Nate "Cheap Date" Caddell who liked the floral and light fruit of a wine that's not trying to be overly serious.