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32516340752_06af070ee9_zLong before Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. changed their name, Malbec had lost its cool. It was no longer a grape that had anything unique to offer—save for that electric purple-blue color that gave me one more clue in a blind tasting—there was nothing more to that the Homerian dark-tinted rich fruit core. Not even Cahors, with an added benefit of earth, could help in resuscitating it. To be fair there were a few producers that made me pause when generalizing about Malbec, yet they would fill the glass so seldom they were like Halley’s comet in effect. It wasn’t that I was looking for the next hip thing either, but every time someone offered me a glass of Malbec it felt like a reminder that it should have been my last glass (…fool me twice, shame on me). Homogenized. 

Looking for inspiration, recently, I found an interesting bottle from Lo-Fi that had been discounted heavily by the retailer. Worth a gamble.

Mike Roth’s Lo Fi project—it’s local—works similarly to those earnest Loire Valley projects of quasi-natural winemaking that can yield exceptional beauty. The aim of Lo Fi is to express a wine that showcases more grape than winemaking as they eschew additives and there is little to no manipulation in the cellar.

I uncorked the wine, and began to analyze its appearance, which offered that peerless blue-ish purple in my Bordeaux stem. The aromatics were tilted to a darker set of fresh-picked berries, violets and there was a subtle earthy aroma… but otherwise the wine was unabashedly primary.

On the palate the wine was more akin to one of my favorites at our restaurant—La Grange Tiphaine. That is to say, closer to a Loire Valley expression of Malbec (Cot, as it is known there), than the imitable Southern Hemisphere examples. Medium-bodied with great acidity and more freshness of fruit that followed the nose. The wine was perfectly suited for the Wednesday that I opened it.

If you were looking for something big and concentrated then you should continue your search. But if you were looking for something that can genuinely bridge the gap between Old and New World Malbec, then this would be an apt selection.

Desperately clinging to the notion of downing (actually tasting and learning) Five Hundred bottles before the year expires, leaves me in a great predicament. I have tasted a vatful this year, omitting over three hundred bottles on my drinker’s journey, while documenting 350 plus wines allotted room on the countdown, yet, I find myself scrambling to realize the original goal. With the concentration of a college student the night before a term paper comes due, I am resolved to accomplishing my Five Hundred Wine mark, tipsy or not, with the same spirit Paul Newman asserted he could eat 50 eggs. In an effort to bushwhack the count, I recently took down six bottles of wine between Spain and South America, beginning in Argentina and finishing in the “old world.”

Argentina Malbecs are nothing new and they seem to be going the way of Australia’s Shiraz, with offers streaming in every day everyday to buy ‘new’ Malbec littering my e-mail, and a ton of samples poured/handed off by wine reps eager to show me their latest value red from Argentina.  I am not really against the palate exposure but I must admit that there is a bit of overlap in the wines, brooding concentration, inky purple juice with rich dark fruits that taste great and hammer the buds, as they are not so for the light touch in their tact. I have to say that this was the case with the last two Malbecs (2009 Altocedro and 2010 Altos Las Hormigas) I tasted from one of the local distributors, neither bad, but both were one and the same. They both shared properties that made them as enjoyable as they were nebulous—with respect to one another.

By comparison, a rare, different tasting experience emerged when I had a bottle of 2008 Manos Negras Argentinean Pinot Noir. Malbecs? Sure, but Pinot Noir? It wasn’t surprising to me that this bottle shared the concentration of its paesanos by bottle, as much as a thin-skinned grape could. The Pinot was tasty, and I could see it assuming the role of crowd pleaser but a definite departure from its Burgundian roots. A little jammy.

It was refreshing then, to finally taste the Montes Alpha Carmenère (my wine of the month in October), a wine that stopped me in my tracks, uninhibited and quick to flaunt its unique attributes. Chile’s champion grape made a lasting impression in this incarnation. Most notably, the wine possessed a great mouth feel, tannins that were grippy and chalky—a rare duality, while balancing the rest of the requirements to make a great bottle of wine. I tasted the bottle with a rep first, before running out to buy a couple bottles on my own. The gorgeous weight and sublime structure of the Carmenère had me chanting ‘Chile’ incessantly, like a soccer hooligan, by the end of the tasting.

I rounded out my Spanish themed drinking with a couple wines, white and red, from Spain. The 2010 Vivir, vivir (sic) from Ribera del Deuro, tucked in north central (Castile and León) Spain, was serviceable but the Viura from R. Lopez de Heredia stole the show. Aside from the beautiful golden color of the aged Viura (2000), the oxidized nose of the white Rioja was one of the most exciting of its kind that I had encountered. I buried my nostrils deep into my glass, reveling in the rich and layered aromas of mushroom, nuts, minerals and other intangibles. The effusive nose was only surpassed by the intensely tart flavors that exploded in my mouth. It was luscious and rich but it was oxidized leaving me to issue this disclaimer: Please be advised this is not a grassy Verdejo from Rueda or a mineraly Chardonnay from Chablis but a style of wine that is beholden to its classic producers from Rioja—there are those that still keep their own drumbeat in Rioja to this day. The oxidized Viura loses all fruit, leaving behind bracing secondary and tertiary notes and flavors that can be quite surprising. A lot of depth and nuance.

My tasting bore mixed results: the Altocedro was a nicer Malbec than I would give it credit for, but Cahors in Southwest France still holds the crown for great wines of this kind. The Pinot Noir was eye-opening, jam aside, while the Carmenère was mind-blowing, and the Viura stood tall for the old world. All things considered, it was a good showing. And I inched ever theatrically closer to the 500 mark with #138. Will he make it?! Tune in next time.

Watching my Ducks flounder, tail spinning out of playoff contention and desperate to make changes to halt the backsliding by acquiring goaltenders in the latest rash of trades in the NHL was depressing me. I wanted to spend my Thursday in an uplifting way, so I had my car detailed (paid for by the construction company that had previously showered it with cement) and attended a tasting at Silverlake Wine. Something else was in the cards. The nights agenda of tasting was transformed into something a little more big city.

After picking up my car from its date with detailing, I was set to faceoff against Los Angeles rush hour traffic. A normal thirty-minute drive multiplied in length by a factor of three.

I made it to Silverlake (an hour and a half later than expected), depleted of patience and thirsty for wine, meeting with my father and a friend from my wine class. My friend was already into his flight by the time I arrived; my dad and I shared two flights of wine, six glasses in total.

The first flight would be white Côtes du Rhône varietals—Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne while the three red wines shared a global perspective on a very popular grape—Malbec.

My first time in Silverlake Wine and I was in such a hurry to get there that I forgotten to take in my surroundings. A casual glance yielded a fashionable shop with modern touches like a home you would see in Dwell Magazine. I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout—cute girls were rampant, a food truck parked conveniently outside and a nerdier array of wines to consider purchasing after tasting through the flights.

The energetic staff walked us through the wines of each flight with panache. Detailing the lay of the land (the grapes’ country of origin), the varietals and any interesting tidbits about the wines or the winemakers.

I tasted the following:

09 Mas Del Périé Les Escures Cahors Malbec

08 Côtes du Rhône Andrieux & Fils

09 Earth First Argentina Malbec

09 Atrea “The Choir”

09 Cowhorn “Spiral 36”

08 Sur de Los Andes Argentina Malbec.

Aside from the flair-filled intros preceding the wines, they missed the mark with my palate. The white wines underperformed. They were served chilled and because of that the flavor intensity had been muted. More than that, though they were nearly devoid of aromatics they still showed some less-than-desirable traits, like a large blast of alcohol stood out, intensifying in my throat as I discussed the wines with my father and friend. That is not to say the wines were bereft of fruit: I noticed some aromas of pineapple, peach and citrus but not enough to be wowed or hide their transparent flaws.

Moving to the Malbecs, I was feeling a bit more optimistic because the Malbec grape is typically brash. In contrast it would provide dynamics that were not delivered with the previous flight. As I sipped through fuller-bodied reds, I detected a lot of meatiness in the Argentinean examples of the grape where the French Malbec from Cahors was a little buttery and did not do too much for me.

After sipping through the six glasses of wine (only 403 wines left) my friend invited me to continue the night in Downtown at Seven Grand—a whiskey bar, housing over 270 different producers of Scotch Whiskey—with a few of his friends… and I obliged.

Before departing and saying goodbye to Dad, I was hit with the idea of chasing the tasting with a hot dog from the Let’s Be Frank food truck. A little expensive—five dollars for an artisan dog—but my hot dog was perfectly spiced and quelled my cravings for a bona fide food truck experience.

On to Downtown, I made it to Seven Grand and traded in my wine glasses for a specially numbered silver cup to house my Mint Juleps. My buddy was entertaining two young ladies from Canada and he was dead set on showing them a good time, pulling out all the stops. In a moments time we packed up from the elegant digs of Seven Grand and made our way to a crowded speakeasy. Late into the evening and the place was packed, didn’t these Angelenos have to work at 9 a.m. the next morning too?

About an hour and a half into Friday morning it was time to wrap up Thursday. Although the body of wines was not too memorable they served as catalysts in launching a great night and I cannot wait to see what next Thursday has in store for me.

 

 

Dust off and fire up those barbecues—assuming you ever put them away—because the weather ahead is typical California, sunshine and heat waves are on the horizon. The sun was out on the past weekend; it was the perfect weather for firing up the grill and basking in the warm rays after an extended period of gloom.

I was invited to an ambitious meal on that Friday night to celebrate the occasion. On that night’s menu were coffee rubbed burgers with bacon, onions, thin wedges of tomatoes and sharp cheddar cheese all crammed in a potato bun with a generous helping of tantalizing chipotle sauce (made from scratch) for the condiment. I could not go empty handed, I just couldn’t, so I brought a bottle of Malbec to pair with the subtle notes of coffee on the patty and matchup with the sauce, at least that is what I was hoping for.

I was excited about the outing, being invited to spend time with close friends is always awesome, and of course eating a favorite food, that too makes any event that much better. When I first learned of the burger that would be served, I was a little skeptical because too many flavors can crowd the palate, overwhelming the taste buds. It was not too daring but the sauce and bacon were going to be heavy and hard to compete with. This left me to recount—mentally—all the failed burgers I have eaten because they were too bold, the ideas too grand. This burger however was well thought out.

When the burger made the plate I took a ceremonial picture (to officially mark the beginning of the season) and then dug in. Upon first bite the flavors were rich and well balanced; the tang from the sauce was mildly piquant and married the flavors of the coffee rub perfectly. The barbecuing also helped melt the rub into the ground meat, saturating the beef with complexity, which was quite savory. The texture of the meat was firm, not too crisp from the charred exterior of the patty lending to the depth of the burger. It was the best homemade hamburger I have had—it got better with each bite. A lot of time and trouble went into making that epicurean delight and each person polished their plates—so the chef (a friend’s girlfriend) could take pride in the fact that her guests were enraptured.

The Malbec—Doña Paula 2007 from Argentina, redolent of dark berries, currants and a little chocolate cocoa coated the tongue like a cashmere jacket. It has been a favorite wine of mine for a few years for the following reasons: it is affordable, approachable and consistent. The big fruit flavors are intense hitting your mouth instantly and they held up pretty well to the chipotle sauce on that burger. The wine is even satisfying on its own but it gets better when it is paired with matching flavors.

It was a nice night, punctuated by a fantastic homemade barbecue burger. This was a great way to kickoff the barbecue season and I sure hope it will be a long one if this is any sign of things to come.

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