Selections for September 2017

We’re squeezing this in

2014 LUCA ‘Paraje Altamira’ MALBEC – Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina

Let’s get the obvious out of the way:  What a remarkable coup it is, your paying 39.99 for this month’s pair of bottles – and that includes the sales tax.  I hope you believe we are doing well by you!

Let’s explore an idea:  The Evolution of Argentine Malbec and its market.  This wine type arrived here in full force barely two decades ago.  Within three years of its introduction it had become known to all bargain-hunting wine lovers as a surprisingly affordable, big-impact dark red.  This craze induced an Australian-Shiraz-style devaluation with different brands duking it out for market share and the bottle price dropping lower and lower.  For a little while the quality of this “fighting varietal” remained intact, but Argentina’s wine industry couldn’t sustain the provision of its better fruit and newer barrels for its cheaper provisions.  Fifteen years later:  $10 Argentine Malbec ain’t what it used to be.

- And that’s okay, since this sends the cheapskates looking elsewhere andlets the serious wine lover look upwards again, wondering if there’s something beyond big dark fruit and generously-lavished oak to Argentine Malbec.  This wine meant to cost $30 or so positively replies.  You who smell your wine:  Do it now.  There’s more intrigue than just plain blackberry fruit happening here, certainly!  How about the texture?  This soothes the palate while exciting it.  How about appeal to the intellect?  This ‘Luca’ intrigues the mind with terroir chatter:  Would a special neighborhood (Paraje Altamira) of an important sub-region (Uco Valley) of a significant wine place (Mendoza) of a great wine country (Argentina) have been discussed ten years ago?    

. . . And the critics are also evolving.  Ten years ago the kind of wine getting a 91-point Parker score might have cost half as much but would have declared a third as much character as this thoughtful beauty.  Witness the new kinds of things said by the reviewers, per The Wine Advocate:

“There is a big jump in quality from the 2013 to the 2014 Malbec Paraje Altamira that matured in 500-liter oak barrels for eight months. There is much more freshness here, the fruit is a mixture of red and black and there are violets and some spices. The palate is juicy and soft with clean flavors that are easy to drink. The nose grows in the glass to become more floral. Delicious Malbec.”

Has Argentina’s wine scene scene moved past adolescence?  This wine suggests so! 

Another great 2015! 

2015 DOMAINE de PIAUGIER – Sablet, Cotes du Rhone Villages, France

Having visited this humble winery in the little village of Sablet, once with Importer Charles Neal and once with a daughter, I have since recommended the experience to many of our Rhone-trotting customers.  Sofie and Jean-Marc Autran are very personable and generous with their time and tastes, and the product is very good for the reasonable price.  If you are headed in their direction I’ll put in a good word for you, and it’s also my hope that they will welcome a group of us from next May’s (sold out!) river cruise.

Sablet is just a couple miles down the road from Gigondas.  Both towns share beautiful views of the dramatic Dentelles de Montmirail and are but a short drive from iconic Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Like all the neighboring villages including Rasteau, Cairanne, and Vacqueyras, Sablet’s most planted grape is the Southern Rhone workhorse Grenache.  Perhaps “workhorse” is the wrong name, though, as “she” is responsible for the cherry charm in this wine.  Pretty Grenache is responsible for 75% of this blend, and that component never saw a barrel, instead spending its pre-bottle days in the less oxidative environment of cool underground concrete vats (these are lined with fiberglass, by the way).  The remaining 25% is devoted to Syrah which did see some wood, but most of that was used and thereby neutral in flavor.

While this wine should age well for at least five years, I believe it’s ready for action right now so long as you pair it with food.  The endearing fruit and herbes de provence (“garrigue”) qualities, along with a delicate “snap” of tannins, definitely activate the appetite!  My favorite treatments are grilled meats such as lamb, pork tenderloin, or chicken treated simply with olive oil, cracked black pepper, coarse salt, and a flick of dried thyme – or the whole herbes de provence ensemble.

We hope you enjoy this great wine from great people!