It’s no secret that malbec has been on a tear in recent years. I had fun researching a piece on Argentina’s adopted grape for wine-searcher magazine. Check it out to read snippets about the transformation of the Argentine wine industry, the rise of malbec there and in export markets, and why Miles from Sideways may have helped open the door to malbec.
Argentina has been on a tear internationally this year with the new Pope, Lionel Messi’s passing and scoring acumen, the gracious Ángel Cabrera coming one putt away from a second green jacket, and malbec. One thing that’s perhaps not as well known here is that Argentina’s economy is suffering what The Economist calls a case of “gaucho blues.” In the face of high inflation–the unofficial rate hovers just under 30%–the government of Cristina Fernández has been trying to impose capital controls and mandatory schemes to boost exports by offsetting imports. But they’re not working: while the official exchange rate with the US dollar is 5.1 pesos, a side market for “blue dollars” currently is about 9 pesos to the dollar.
For the piece, I spoke with Ed Lehrman of Vine Connections, which imports estate wines from Argentina. He told me that for the first time in a decade, his growers have raised prices to him–some two or three times in the past year simply because they have to pay their workers 30% more than they did last year to keep even with the eroding purchasing power. Lehrman is working with his US distributors to maintain key prices points for his wines as best he can. But he said two things are happening in light of this inflation: more malbec is leaving the country in bulk to be bottled closer to points of consumption and more malbec is being exported at higher price points.
Malbec sales in the US have thus far weathered the economic storm in Argentina by posting strong growth in Nielsen data last year. But if prices rise or quality falls, will this be the year that malbec’s decade-plus run in the export markets leads producers to sing the gaucho blues? And, speaking of inflation, given malbec’s skew toward retail over restaurants and associated reliance on point scores, does point inflation also pose a threat to the category? What is your anecdotal experience with malbec recently?
Known as “the black wine of Cahors” for its inky character, Cahors wines had their heyday in the early 14th century when production was high and half of it was exported. Then, rivalry with downriver Bordeaux led to taxes and levies that severely crimped exports and thus renown.
The marketing campaign today exclaims, “Cahors is back, Cahors is black, Cahors is Malbec!”
Hitching the Cahors wagon on to Malbec train is easy to understand. The grape has experienced sharp growth in popularity over the past few years. But Malbec has also become the signature grape of Argentina, which has almost three-quarters of the world’s Malbec plantings and is stylistically and literally oceans apart from Cahors.
So I wonder if the folks from Cahors are setting expectations incorrectly since Malbec is often understood to be big, soft, and gentle (a Bloomberg story suggested it was “stealing” Merlot sales). Those are not terms usually used to describe the wines of Cahors, which, though some can be charming and surprisingly age-worthy, can have fearsome tannins and acidity. In fact, in my book, A Year of Wine, I suggest trying a Malbec from Argentina and “black wine” of Cahors as a way to understanding the term “rustic.”
I brought a couple of Malbecs to a late summer grill-fest at some friends’ house, bagged them and poured them blind. The two wines were the Clos la Coutale 2007 for about $11–a firm but somewhat modern Cahors–and the Bodegas Salentein for about $19–not the most over-the-top Malbec form Mendoza. Generally speaking, I described the Cahors style as having higher tannins, less fruit, lower alcohol and more “rustic” and the Argentine style as having more fruit, higher alcohol, and generally a plusher feel. Although the assembled group was able to nail each for what it was, they were divided on which they liked better, particularly with the grilled meats, which improved the Coutale for those who favored the Salentein.
Maybe the new slogan should emphasize food? “Cahors Malbec: meat, your match.”
In other news, a friend who has consumed many Argentine Malbecs over the past couple of years recently admitted to getting bored with them. So maybe Cahors should just play the Cahors card in case the seeds of a Malbec backlash are germinating?
If VOS Selections were a wine consumer, the company would just be allowed to drink. The boutique wine importer and distributor, based in New York City, is celebrating its twenty-first year. I dropped by their trade tasting on Monday and sat down with president and founder Victor Owen Schwartz to ask him four questions. What follows are his juicy thoughts on the dollar and wine prices, strikes, the summer from hell, Greek wines, the word of the day (“autochthonous”), and why he’s drinking rosé all year long.
What are you most worried about this fall? Read more…
A new wine made from certified organic Malbec grapes will soon be available in the United States. But instead of a bottle, the wine will use lightweight packaging known as TetraPak, traditionally associated with juice boxes, in the name of lowering its carbon footprint.
Matthew Cain, regional sales director for fine wine importer Kermit Lynch for nine years, will be importing the wine through his new company, J. Soif. “Over a period of time I came to the realization that the wine business just doesn’t work,” he told me in a telephone interview last week. “Eighty percent of wine is drunk within a week. It doesn’t make sense to put nine liters of wine in a 40 pound box and ship it thousands of miles.” Read more…
Chateau Petrogasm (such an unfortunate name–wine? oil? sex?) is a blog that does visual tasting notes, using a single picture. Sometimes their reviews make me say “huh?” But more often than not, it’s good for a laugh, taking wine reviews in a new, word-free, points-free direction.
In this vein, I offer you my visual tasting note for the Colome Malbec 2005 from Salta, Argentina (find this wine).
Where was the small man with the big hat? Or was it a big man with a small hat–and even bigger vines?
I stopped by the Cavas Wine Lodge in Mendoza, Argentina last spring after it had just opened. Proprietor Cecilia Diaz was showing us around the new lodges interspersed among the vines with breathtaking views of the Andes. This guy rode out and started doing his thing but posed for me to take a picture. Cecilia said that he had worked there forever so they kept him on when they bought the property and gave him a new bike. And, no, he wasn’t very tall, in fact.
Nice guess, Luiz, with Zuccardi in Mendoza! In fact, I took another photo of Jose Zuccardi gesticulating wildly under his similar trellis system. They grow them vines big there!
It was a wide range of guesses that emerged in the comments including: Golan Heights; Bekka, Lebanon; Brazil; Rias Baixas, Spain; Greece; Portugal; California; the Swan and Barossa Valleys of Australia; Thailand; and “the outback region of Mukwonago, Wisconsin” (thanks, Gary!).
There were good captions for the photo too, including “Frodo Baggins better destroy that damn ring or I’m going to be making wine for that sulky serpent Saruman!”
So without further ado, thanks to a roll of the dice at random.org, the winner of The Emperor of Wine is: Philippe Newlin! Congratulations, Philippe! And thanks to all for the participation and humor.
SIPPED: Freddy boy
If there were no Fred Franzia, would journalists have to invent him? In this story, the man behind Two Buck Chuck swears, slams all wine over $10 a bottle, mocks the concept of terroir, and relieves himself near his car–all in the first paragraph! Business 2.0 lapped it up talking about his “wars” and why he has an Enya CD in his Jeep. [Business 2.0, now defunct]
SPIT: Blind tastings
Eric Asimov writes “maybe as wine drinkers we’re all a little more grown up now and don’t need to taste blind all the time.” Indeed! Three cheers wine evaluation without numbers! [The Pour]
SIPPED: Gringo vino
Are Americans finally heading to Argentina to make wine? Fortune Small Business found a few. I hope they read my article from January about the pitfalls! [Fortune SB]
SIPPED: Bambino vino
Gabriella writes up her experience taking 55 elementary school kids on a winery tour in Spain. Could this ever take place if it were in America? [Catavino]
SIPPED: green wine
Whole Foods rolls out an “organically grown” wine in a tetra prisma! [Seattle dbusiness]
The grape, spit in Sideways, will get it’s own defense on the silver screen with a new documentary. Key question: will anyone notice?
SPIT: The greenback
The US dollar falls to 15 year lows. Say hello to more expensive imported wine–and wine travel overseas!
(Photo credit: Fair use is made here of a reduced-size crop from a larger image in Business 2.0 attributed to Michael Kelley)
Last week I had the chance to taste with Jay Miller, Ph.D., whose duties include vast swathes of the wine world ranging from Australasia to Iberia to the Pacific Northwest. I met with him to taste wines of Argentina. Dr. Jay and Dr. Vino, mano a mano. Or at least Riedel a Riedel.
I didn’t have to travel to Monkton, Maryland. The setting was actually the Argentine Consulate in midtown Manhattan. I walked into the palatial room, which must have been 40 x 25 w 12 ft ceilings, complete with friezes. On one side, Jay Miller was seated at a table with two settings. On the other side were hundreds of wine bottles, even more hundreds of Riedel glasses, and a small flock of people to pour. Read more…