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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.

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