It may seem a little mean to call a wine “user-friendly.” But I mean it in a good way. An excellent way, in fact. I’m talking about malbec, a red wine with no hard edges, no searing acids or harsh tannins. I often compare its flavor to those chocolate-cherry bonbons in the crinkly brown wrappers.
It’s a great wine to sip by itself, and its mellow richness goes with lots of foods — from simple cheeseburgers to fancy French beef stew. And when it’s supplemented by firmer grapes, from cabernet sauvignon to zinfandel, it can stand up to any charcoal-grilled steak.
Malbec has an interesting history. Grown since Roman times in France, with its cool growing conditions, it came out quite sturdy, winning fame as a blending grape to add tannic backbone to the famous red wines of Bordeaux.
It hit the world stage in 1853, when the president of Argentina had it imported to improve his country’s wine industry. There, the warm South American sun turned malbec riper, softer, fuller in body, almost unctuous, popular by itself or as the primary grape of red blends.
In Argentina, Chile, malbec grapes are planted in high-altitude plateaus, often within sight of the Andes Mountains, seeking hot daytime temperatures to ripen the grapes and cool nights to preserve their refreshing acids.
And now malbec is catching on in the world, being grown in similar climates in California’s Sonoma County and Paso Robles area. Miami was one of its first markets in the U.S., where it was brought in by Argentinian producers who felt comfortable in the Spanish-language-friendly area.
Starting in 2011, wine fans are even celebrating Malbec World Day, now in 60 cities in eight countries. It’s on April 17, the date in 1853 when the Argentinian president had it imported.
Parties are held in New York City, Washington, Los Angeles, Seattle and other cities. They include barefoot grape crushing, wine tastings, food truck snacks, speeches, hot air balloons, even free apps for iPhone and Android devices seeking to attract malbec’s sought-for audience, 25 to 35 year olds.
Malbec may never reach the pinnacles of Bordeaux or Burgundy, but it’s a very nice bottle to have in your cellar.
— 2013 Alamos “Selección” Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina (100 percent malbec): inky hue, aromas and flavors of black raspberries and black pepper, full body, ripe tannins; $20.
— 2012 Layer Cake Red Wine, Mendoza, Argentina (malbec, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, petit verdot): ultra dark hue, concentrated and powerful, with aromas and flavors of blueberries, bittersweet chocolate and cinnamon; $15.
— 2013 Layer Cake Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina (100 percent malbec): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black raspberries and dark chocolate; $16.
— 2013 Concha y Toro “Casillero del Diablo” Reserva Malbec, Rapel Valley, Chile (100 percent malbec): deep, dark hue, aromas and flavors of black cherries and dark chocolate; $12.
— 2011 Bodega Vistalba “Corte C” Red Blend, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (malbec, cabernet sauvignon, bonarda): dark red hue, aromas and flavors of black cherries and dark chocolate, smooth and creamy; $18.
— 2013 Argento Malbec “Ficha Técnica,” (100 percent malbec), Mendoza, Arg.: soft, smooth and rich, with aromas and flavors of black plums and coffee; $14.
— 2012 Niner Estate Malbec, Paso Robles, Calif. (malbec, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc): dark hue, aromas and flavors of blueberries and pumpkin pie spices, firm acids and tannins; $30.
— 2013 Decopas Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina (100 percent malbec): dark red hue, aromas and flavors of black cherries and black pepper, smooth, soft tannins; $12.
— 2012 Bodega Trivento “Golden Reserve” Malbec, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (100 percent malbec): soft, smooth and mellow, with aromas and flavors of black raspberries and milk chocolate; $21.
— 2013 Handcraft “Artisan Collection” Malbec, California (malbec, zinfandel): aromas and flavors of black plums and black coffee, smooth, ripe tannins; $12.
— 2012 Tom Gore Vineyards “Field Blend,” Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, Calif. (petit verdot, malbec, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, tempranillo): dark hue, hint of oak, hearty, aromas and flavors of black plums and espresso, firm tannins; $40.
Note to readers: If you have trouble finding wines featured in this column, try going online to the winery’s website for the “store locator” icon. If there isn’t one, call the winery’s 800-number and ask where you can buy it. If it’s not nearby, wine fans in many states can buy it online direct from the winery.