Food & Drink, Libations

Malbec blend wines with the Doctor

In the last five years consumers have enthusiastically embraced two concepts: that red wine is good for you and sweet red wine is fabulous.

This has introduced a whole new group of consumers to the market, buyers who really don’t care about the grape involved. Vintners now treat their wines serving these buyers as another branded product, no different than Coke or Puppy Chow.

Why not? Barring a desire to become a cork dork, who really cares whether the wine is Crljenak Kaštelanski or Dortmunder? All that matters is how things taste; that depends rather less on the grape than the winemaker.

Good vintners have always blended their wines, often for commercial reasons, but also to make the best wine. Almost all grapes are remarkably improved with a touch of this or that added to the blend.

Argentina has been reaping the rewards of the single varietal craze with malbec. I’ve always had reservations about naked malbec. The best versions I’ve enjoyed were usually malbec merlot blends. In any event, the price pressure from the malbec craze and the inability to get consumers to buy the secondary Argentinian red, bonarda has resulted in the obvious compromise – make a blend.

There are three such wines listed here at the moment, and no doubt others will follow. Argentinian Malbec tends to be voluptuous New World style. The new Argentinian blends are easy drinking with soft tannins, and an interesting structure. Bonarda has a nice palate, tasting of cassis and cherry and adds weight to the mid-palate.

ConfuZion is a blend that takes a direction than average, using a very large dose of cabernet sauvignon. It works to some extent, providing a bit of a spine to an otherwise invertebrate wine. However if you’re a serious cab drinker I doubt this (or any of the other wines listed here) will work for you.

It is a dry wine (mirablis scriptu!) having a mere 4.5 g residual sugar. But the cabernet is clearly a sort of decadent voluptuous cousin (probably a remittance man, expelled for gambling and other nameless sins) of the sterner Old World family. It is a very dark wine, and there is a genuine rasp of tannin, but this is really an easy drinking wine. It is walking a tightrope between old farts like me and people needing a softer gentler sort of wine. If I am squaring the circle between people like me and fans of the new sweet reds style ConfuZion is a great pick, although the sweeter crowd may doubt that judgement.

Trivento entry to the category is Amado Sur a blend of mostly malbec with almost equal amounts of bonarda and syrah. The addition here of the bonarda and the syrah is clearly to round out the malbec. The vast majority of the wine (78 per cent) is still malbec, but the syrah provides a plush dark fruity entry that most drinkers will find endlessly appealing, particularly people relatively new to red wines.

I had a hard time getting a handle on the wine so I put it aside, open for 24 hours. After a day the acidity began to shine and the wine reminded me a bit of dolcetto, oddly enough. This seemed like a lamb wine to me. I think this is a case where the blend is infinitely superior to the base wine, and what’s more took me in a completely different direction than I expected.

Extravaganza is the same set of grapes blended but here they went left at Albuquerque. This is a wine clearly aimed at the newest drinking segment, folks who like an off-dry red. The wine is dark rich and plush a combination of malbec, bonarda and syrah. It struck me as too much, so again I left it overnight, but all this did was make the sugar more apparent than ever.

Extravaganza is not aimed at me, nor at others who like traditional dry red table wine. It is perfectly drinkable and reasonably well made, but the acidity and tannins are so far into the background, and sugar so apparent, I can only imagine pairing this wine with something like oriental food or pulled pork with a sweet barbecue sauce.

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Folks like me are happiest with confuZion and its more formal structure. If I know the wine will be for pre-dinner cocktails, I may buy Amado Sur. The sweet wine crowd will survive it, however they will prefer Extravaganza.


confuZion, Malbec/Cabernet/Bonardo, Argentina, 2010. $20 ****

Amado sur, Malbec/Bonarda/Syrah, Argentina, 2010. $18 ****

Extravaganza, Malbec/Bonarda/Syrah, Argentina, 2010. $16 ****

James Romanow writes about wine and all things boozy for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him @drbooze.