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Mmm Mmm, Malbec!

20 Jan

I love malbec. The best are sensual, sexy, full-bodied red wines that, at a price range between $7.99 – $11.99, are a great bargain.

It’s sort of an immigrant grape. One of the up to six grapes used in Bordeaux wines, it rarely took center stage except in other more “rustic” regions like Cahors. (One example is the really excellent Clos La Coutale from Cahors, which is a bit southeast of Bordeaux. The Clos La Coutale is 70% malbec, 15% merlot, and 15% tannat. This Kermit Lynch selection has the finesse and grace of a fine merlot but the suppleness of a Argentine malbec.) It took the importation of this grape to the New World in the mid-1800s to give malbec the home it deserved.

The growing conditions in South America–especially Argentina–were ideal for malbec, which requires more sun and heat than cabernet and merlot (its more famous compatriots). This allows for New World wines that are 100% malbec.

My favorite malbec is from Maipe, which is an intense, staining shade of deep purple. It almost pulses with an animal, sensual energy. There are dusty fruit aromas that, upon drinking, fill your mouth with an utterly satisfying, powerful explosion of plum, chocolate, earth. It’s a bronze fist covered with a silk glove. It is delicious by itself, with chocolate, with anything you can throw at it–I wouldn’t, however, pair it with fish or anything too delicate. The Maipe would destroy any gentle partner.

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Wine Snobbery

20 Jan

It’s easy to poke fun at people like Miles in the movie Sideways (which was better as a movie than the book was as a book, in my opinion)–people for whom the entire world revolves around wine.  It’s also fun to stand around in some fancy wine bar and agree with your friends that adjectives like gunflint, slate, leather, barnyard, plum, stone fruit, etc., etc., etc. are just the sign of snobbishness.

But in reality, isn’t that what much of the fun of wine is all about?

Sitting around a table at night with one of two of your friends, a bottle or two of newly-purchased wine.  The first is–say, the 2006 estate riesling from Robert Eymael, which is a gorgeous amber or straw color, sweet, with a honeyed mouthfeel.  It’s nice to take turns describing the wine in terms wine critics would be proud of, nice to know that for a little bit of money one can feel part of the social and cultural elite.

Because that’s a huge reason for why someone would start to have an interest in wine.  People who choose to take an active interest in anything–poetry, sports, cars, food, photography, music–start to delve deeper into their subject, to examine all the details and nuances of the Red Sox or William Carlos Williams (one point for someone who can name the very superficial link between those two!).

Yet wine transcends mere hobby.  It’s a lifestyle–more than that, it’s a statement of a lifestyle.  It’s very possible to drink wine casually with dinner or during social gatherings.  But why not… water… or soda…?  Or malt liquor, for that matter? 

To get a nice buzz is a good reason.  But come on.  Anyone who’s ever tried to impress a date would know that a glass of good wine is more showy than a glass of Mr. Pibb (which is delicious).  A glass of wine says something.  A glass of soda does not.

There is the 100-point scale of Robert Parker.  There is the “Do You Know What You Like?” metric developed by Best Cellars (try it–it’s great!).  There is the rather unorthodox method of Wine X Magazine of comparing wines to songs, or ideas like “a deep French kiss in a phone booth–nice depth, great mouth feel, a little woody, a bit tight.”  Then there is the Song family method of “good” and “bad” wine.

There are so many wines out there, so many different regions and winemakers and varietals and cuvees and blends–it’s impossible to learn about wine without relying on categorizations.  So have fun–feel classy–write tasting notes–get a little bit snobby.  Give wines a score, assign them an idea, or split them into the good and the bad.  It’s why you picked up that bottle before showing up to a fancy dinner party, right?

UPDATE: My friend Laszlo just as I published this post sent me this link for an article from The Wall Street Journal that talks about wine snobbery!  Give it a read!