Chances are that Malbec is not on your mental shopping list when heading to the store to purchase a ripe, juicy wine, but consider sampling a bottle if you aren’t already a convert. Malbec is one of the six red grape varieties authorized for inclusion in the red wines of Bordeaux, and it is the principle grape of the French wine region of Cahors, where it may present itself as a dark, brooding, tannic wine. But it thrives in the Mendoza region of Argentina, where abundant sunshine and cool nights typically produce a soft, dark, approachable wine, with decent mid-term aging potential. Plus, it represents great value when contrasted with similar quality wines from more upscale appellations, such as Napa Valley or Bordeaux.
The 2007 Crios de Susanna Balbo Malbec tips the scales at 14 percent alcohol, a good measure of ripe fruit at harvest. Presented in screw-top finish, there will be no worries about cork taint. A regal, deep purple in color, it offers soft, but noticeable tannins and pleasing, quaffable fruit.
A step up from the same winery is big brother 2006 Ben Marco Malbec. Adding to its complexity is a 10 percent dash of Bonarda (the most widely grown grape in Argentina, known as Charbono in California) and a 50 percent hit of new French oak, which also introduces a pleasant, but not overpowering, vanilla component. This wine features hand harvested mountain fruit with good balancing acidity and a long, lingering finish, good to pair with full-flavored foods.
Alamos Malbec 2007 is a juicy mouthful at an entry-level price. Medium ruby in color, it offers a nice, fruity bouquet and a soft finish. It is ready for consumption, but may mellow and improve a bit with shortterm aging.
To test the aging projections, I sampled a 2002 Altos las Hormigas Malbec. As an entry level Malbec, my sights weren’t set high, but it is holding together very well. Argentina had a great growing season in 2002, and this wine has maintained its soft, fruit-forward character.
House Bill 6644 update In my last column I discussed a House Bill that is bad for consumers and for Michigan retailers, urging readers to contact their legislators. The House passed this legislation by a vote of 97-9, after which it was referred to a Senate Committee, which quickly approved an amended version without opportunity for opposition testimony. The Senate passed the bill (complete with hastily drafted typo) 36-2, referred it back to the House the same night (which suspended its own rules requiring a 24-hour-layover), and the House then immediately voted 98-4 for passage.
Whether you agree or disagree with the result, this is lawmaking at its worst. The final bill makes it illegal for UPS or FedEx drivers to deliver wine, and require that wine be delivered only by direct employees of a retailer (essentially precluding retailer sales outside of a strictly local perimeter).
The law effectively prevents Michigan consumers from accessing the vast majority of wine labels produced in the world (we should be happy with whatever the wholesalers choose for us) and has no provision for collecting taxes from out-of-state retailers who figure out how to jump through the hoops.
The legislature could have established a mechanism for a controlled, tax-generating, permit-based wine shipping system, which would actually raise revenue for the state, but chose to inhibit commerce, hurt our retailers and slam the door on that opportunity. The bill has not yet been signed by the governor, so perhaps letters to our chief executive expressing outrage at the hijacking of state and consumer interests by special interests would be in order.
In vino veritas.
(Michael Brenton is president of the Greater Lansing Vintner’s Club. His column appears monthly.)