It is important to note that Malbec, a varietal that has its origins in Bordeaux and is primarily used sparingly in blending those wines, is not a grape that generally offers enough complexity to stand on its own. What continues to make wine so fascinating to me is the role that climate and soil play; what works in one region may not work as well in another, and conversely, just because a grape doesn’t grow well in one region of the world, that doesn’t mean it can’t be successful elsewhere. None of this is immediately intuitive, and the ultimate answers regarding which grapes will be successful where only become apparent after years of experimentation, trial and error. In Argentina, they have been able to craft the cultivation of Malbec as a stand-alone grape in a manner that bears no rival anywhere on the planet. As opposed to Bordeaux, where it is grown to add to balance to the more tannic, powerful and elegant varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, in Argentina, the grape is allowed to soak up its unique terroir and express itself in an unparalleled fashion. Regions such as Mendoza and the Uco Valley offer almost constant sunlight at high elevations over a mountainous landscape and clay soils, resulting in an expression of Malbec that is rich and ripe, boasting complex undertones of mocha and smoke that is inherent to the soil, and almost always finishing with a blast of easily identifiable chalky mineral. Additionally, the since nature of the grape doesn’t usually necessitate much time in the celler, these big, powerful red wines are ready to drink on the date of bottling. One winery that is a sure bet perennially is Bodega Catena Zapata, whose entry level Malbec is affordable and widely available. Their 2009 effort may be their best yet.

Bodegas Catena Zapata Malbec Mendoza 2009, 91 Points, $20, 75,000 Cases Imported- There’s lots of wet mineral on the nose here along with ripe red fruit, mocha and cedar aromas. This is very ripe with a savory herbal edge and a velvety texture of rich plum, fig and fruitcake that leads into undertones of mocha bean and smoke, finishing with a chalky bite but lingering long. Gets extra points for a mesquite-type of smoke flavor that adds intrigue and merits attention.

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