Wednesday, April 17, 2013

World Malbec Day Luncheon At Lucques


April 17th is World Malbec Day and, for a change, I’m ready for it.  Yesterday I was in good company at the tony Los Angeles eatery Lucques, on Melrose, for a luncheon event put on by Wines of Argentina.  Our host, Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser, briefly shared the floor with Nora Favelukes, of Wines of Argentina, and The Honorable Cristina Vallina, the Consul General of Argentina in Los Angeles.  I told you the place was classy.  Gaiser tasted the crowd through fourteen great and varied Malbecs from Argentina in fine style.

World Malbec Day doesn’t really celebrate Malbec worldwide - it commemorates the introduction of the French grape into Argentina.  In 1853, April 17th was the day the governor of Mendoza reshaped his country’s wine future by asking Frenchman Michel Pouget to bring some new vines over to try out in Argentina.  Malbec was one of those vines, and the rest is history.  Now known more as an Argentine variety than a French one, Malbec is Argentina’s grape of choice.

This event was the only one to mark the day on the West Coast, but Favelukes commented that their tour included seven events in five states.

Gaiser, perhaps overcome by his allegiance to the San Francisco Giants, compared Malbec to baseball.  He said, “Whatever you do to it, you can’t change its soul.”  That, he said, is probably why the grape was used as a blending variety in the Rhône Valley at one time.  He swears that Malbec is as good as any Bordeaux grape at expressing its terroir.

The big region for Malbec in Argentina is Mendoza, and Gaiser credits the dry, hot conditions there for the grape’s success.  “The rain shade provided by the Andes mountains makes Mendoza incredibly dry, and the summer days are hot with a big thermal amplitude, or diurnal shift - the difference between hot afternoons and cool overnights.”

Gaiser’s comments were quite informative, but he wisely let the wines do most of the talking.  Chef Suzanne Goin presented a truly wonderful lunch for pairing with the Malbecs that were poured.

Upon entering Lucques, I was handed a rosé, Finca Las Nubes Rosé of Malbec, of course.  After lunch, it stood as one of my favorites.  This wine is from the Salta region, in the northern part of Argentina, and is made by one of the most respected winemakers in the country, José Luis Mounier.  He’s known as “Mr. Torrontes” in his homeland, but he certainly knows his way around Malbec.  The rosé has a very deep red tint and includes a 10% splash of Cabernet Sauvignon.  The fruity nose is almost perfumed, while the bright acidity reflects the lack of oak.  Strawberry, cherry and cola notes drape a graceful minerality.

FLIGHT ONE: served with rare lamb loin and baby carrots

All four of these wines come at a lower price point.

Finca Flichman ‘Reserva’ Malbec - Blackberry, cherry, cranberry and black pepper aromas converge on a floral aspect on the nose.  After a bit, caramel comes into play.  The palate features tart fruit and minerals.  The wine has great acidity.

Bodega Lagarde Malbec - From the Lujan de Cuyo region of Mendoza, this wine is 100% Malbec.  A lower elevation site, the fruit is ripe, the minerals are assertive and the tannins are smooth.

Alamos ‘’Seleccion” Malbec - This is a wine many American diners are familiar with - it turns up on lots of wine lists, especially those dominated by lower price points.  The floral nose with a smokey edge is beautiful.  Ripe fruit and great structure make it winner with the lamb.

Bodega Ricardo Santos Malbec - From the lower-elevation Maipu region, this wine sees  French oak for six months.  The acidity is the calling card here, it’s great.  Flavors of red plums and cherries battle to a finish where a hint of raspberry comes forward.

FLIGHT TWO: served with Chicken Paillard and mushrooms on a bread pudding

These four wines move up a bit in price, in the 20 to 40 dollar range.

Finca El Origen ‘Gran Reserva’  Malbec - The hot, dry Uco Valley is home for this wine.  It shows a beautiful nose of mocha and black cherry, with big tannins.

Gascon ‘Reserva’ Malbec - Imported by Gallo, this Malbec has 3% Petit Verdot mixed into it.  60% of the wine is aged in French and American oak, while 40% is aged in stainless steel. It gets 15-18 months of ageing before bottling.  A bit of funk shows on the nose, and it wears its minerals on its sleeve.  Smooth tannins and a huge savory side put me in mind of France.

Navarro Correas ‘Alegoría’ Malbec - One of the stars of the event, this wine is quite complex, with a savory, cranberry-laced nose and a palate that shows more of the same.  Great tannins, a nice touch of oak and brilliant acidity make this the food-friendliest of all the food-friendly Malbecs offered here.  At $18, it’s a steal.

Bodega Domingo Hermanos ‘Domingo Molina M2 - Another 100% Malbec wine, this Salta product has 40% of its contents aged in French oak.  The suggested retail price of $35 seems a little high after the Navarro Correas.  Mocha and spice on the nose and a sleek, supple, mineral-driven palate certainly do deliver, however.

FLIGHT THREE: served with braised beef short ribs with turnip greens

The final wines allowed our hosts to break out the big guns.  These are higher-end wines in which the complexity is turned up a notch.

Nieto Senetiner ‘Nieto Terroir Blend’  Malbec - From the Lujan de Cuyo region of Mendoza, this 100% Malbec has a savory bouquet of mocha and dark fruit which is introduced by a big floral show.  In the mouth, it’s very dry with great acidity and minerality.

Salentein ‘Numina’ - A big floral nose with a hint of chocolate is an instant winner.  The nice level of acidity and the streak of minerality come as a bonus.

Luca ‘Beso De Dante’ - A $41 blend of 60% Malbec and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine is aged in French oak for 14 months.  Quite ripe in the nose with great structure and fruit, this was a favorite of mine.  It paired beautifully with the beef.

Familia Zuccardi ‘Zuccardi Zeta’ - Minerals are the rule here, so much so that some at my table were a bit put off by them.  Very dry.

Renacer ‘Renacer’ 2008 - Another favorite here, this 100% Malbec was cited by Gaiser as one of the finest varietal representatives of the grape he has tasted.  Aged 24 months in new French oak, the wine carries a staggering 15% alcohol number.  The nose has it all - mocha, caramel, smoke, fruit, flowers and a box of chocolates.  The fruit on the palate ranges seamlessly from blackberry to raspberry to a cranberry/mocha finish.  The acidity is refreshing and the tannins are just about perfect.  It didn’t beat out the Luca for pairing with the beef, but it was a delectable sip and complemented the dessert cookies perfectly.



Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter