Long ago, the Malbec grape thrived as a part the red blends of Bordeaux, France. These days, the grape is nearing extinction there, and elsewhere in the world there are only scattered plantings of meager populations. There is one major exception: Argentina. In the dry climate just east of the Andes Mountains, Malbec is flourishing, and producing some of South America's best red wines, often at very modest prices. Expensive bottles of Malbec are the exception, with value prices being the most common.
Keep in mind that since the wines are from the southern hemisphere, the growing season is 6 months ahead of us, and therefore, most of the vintages you will see in stores will appear to be very young.
It wasn't easy. Malbec Mayhem saw votes for every wine, with very little variation in total points. Only 3 points separated the winner and the third place wine. We tasted the same wine, but presented in different vintages. We enjoyed the dark flavor profiles and rustic qualities evident in every bottle. We understood how well these wines would go with grilled meats or barbecue. And, we recognized how much value Argentina's signature red can produce.
First Place: Bodegas Escorihuela Malbec Don Miguel Gascón 2002 (Mendoza). Nose of burnt sugar, smoke and plums. Sarah described aromas of "kettle corn". Tasters noted flavors of cherry, prunes, and dark leather. A bit more acidic than some others. Drying tannins on the finish that Andy described as "like it's on a clothes line". Kristin and Andy's favorite of the night. Received a total of 21 points. David's bottle. About $10.
Second Place: Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec Catena 2001 (Mendoza). The aroma of this wine reminded tasters of tomato skin, oak, vanilla, and crayons. Looks unfiltered, and almost cloudy. Perhaps the most velvety on the palate, with recognizable thickness. Kristin said that it "tastes homemade". Flavors of plum, dark cherries, and pepper, with an inky quality. Stephen and David's favorite. Received a total of 19 points. Kristin's bottle. About $20.
Third Place: Pascual Toso Malbec Maipú Vineyards 2002 (Mendoza). Aromas and flavors dark earth, cherry, plums, spicy toasted oak, raisins, vanilla and burnt sugar. Robust, medium-bodied, rustic and hearty. This was Ali's favorite, and proclaimed that it was "bold, but not harsh". Received a total of 18 points. Stephen's bottle. About $10.
Altos Las Hormigas Malbec 2000 (Mendoza). Looks cloudy, having a perfumed nose of figs, saddle leather, smoke and blueberries. Kristin suggested that it smelled of "spray adhesive", while Sarah noted that it was "carroty". The palate tasted of blackberries, blueberries, honey, pine, tobacco, pepper and exotic spices. Andy said that "it's got a lot of personality", but everyone agreed that the finish was short. Stephen described a port-like quality. Received 12 points. Sarah's bottle. About $14.
Viña Doña Paula Malbec Luján de Cuyo Los Cardos 2003 (Mendoza). Bright ruby color. Nose is crisp, with apples and a floral quality. A bit higher in acidity, and not as oaky, with dark ground spices. Good attack, but has a short finish. Sarah's favorite of the night. Received 12 points. Andy's bottle. About $9.
Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec Catena 2002 (Mendoza). Andy boldly suggested that it "smells like wet dog", while others noted tomato, vanilla, and wet pavement. The palate suggested cherries, blueberries, and coffee beans. Also evident was a root beer or cherry coke quality. Alcohol stands out on the finish. Received 8 points. Ali's bottle. About $20.