Category Archives: Malbec

Auburn James 2013 ‘Diablo Rosso’ Red Blend

Livermore Valley 15.2% ABV
Malbec – 66%, Tannat – 30%, Cabernet Franc – 4%
Produced and bottled by Auburn James in St. Helena, CA
$14.99 at the San Diego, CA (Downtown), store on 3 June

20170618_180242Due to the unusually high price point for Grocery Outlet, having lived in the Bay Area 10 minutes from their tasting room in Danville and having even played gigs there, but never having purchased anything (retail pricing is too rich for my blood), I had to pick this one up and taste it for the blog. I’m very glad I did. (In regards to Grocery Outlet allocation, I believe most stores have very limited allocations. I can’t say whether this wine is still available. And, from what I can find online, this wine may only be sold through Auburn James’ tasting rooms. I guess even folks who live in or tour through areas with >$1.3mill average home values do not want to pay the $60 retail for this wine.)

Were you to blindly ask me what varietal this wine were solely from the nose, I would swear it’s a big, bold quality Napa Cab from Rutherford or Stags Leap, and that’s a compliment. It is nice and inviting and draws you in and back with dark, toasty oak, tobacco, dark cherry, touch of dark chocolate, and there’s a floral component I’m having a hard time identifying that brings things together, trying to cut through that 15.2% Livermore-driven ABV.

The wine poured into the opposite side of the glass leaves nice, long legs almost immediately. This is a pretty heavily tannic wine that dries the mouth nicely but also offers a velvety mouthfeel despite the alcohol. I think there is some nice winemaking going on here. It tells a nice story beginning to end, with the riper portion of the fruit shining up front and through the mid palate with those tannins lingering lengthily on the finish.

Decanting for 2 hours, shockingly, had little effect on the wine. It rounded out a touch and the fruit showed through a bit more but again, that predominant alcohol and tannin do not decrease much. This is a very enjoyable, well made wine and definitely appears, smells and drinks as a sum of its parts in a pretty integrated way. Were I to be pressed, I’d admit that it fails most for me in body where I find it a touch hollow. However, this is hard to pick apart, both because those tannins are ever present and the mouthfeel is pretty silky even though it is high in ABV. Is the wine betrayed by its body? Nope. It’s just something I kept circling back to.

On Day 2, the body and that high ABV remained my two biggest distractions to enjoyment. I thought with the wine dulling on night 2 that the ABV may be even more present. I don’t see this wine getting better on Days 2 and 3.

If $15 is in your budget and you see it, I would recommend picking up a bottle if you’re a meat eater and have a nice rib eye or other richer piece of meat with which to pair it. It stands up to a lot of bottles in the $30-40 price range if not higher these days, but I’ve also had some stunners from Spain as well as better Argentine Malbecs that deliver 85% of this wine’s experience for the same cost as this bottle at GO.


Chateau Bellevue 2015 Bergerac

Merlot 30%, Cabernet Sauvignon 30%, Cabernet Franc 30%, Malbec 10%; 13% ABV
$7 at the Richmond, CA, store during the last sale.  Still there.

This wine is promising and tasty enough at first pour, but starts to really come around after being decanted 2:15.  I thought it fully aired after 3 hours, but tasty along the way.  It’s bit light, but nicely blended and complex, with flavors spanning the full usual range of Bordeaux, plus a little more thanks to the Malbec: earthy / woody red cherry / ripe redcurrant, cassis / almost blueberry, boysenberry / blackberry / hint of violets, gently drying tannic finish.  Thoroughly enjoyable for the price.

The saved, single-glass, screw-cap bottle was more accessible, tasty from the start and following a similar evolution of darkening fruit.

2014 “Pioneer Red”

“Imported by Vinedos La Consulta, Sonoma, CA
Product of Argentina
Vinted and Bottled by S&R Wines, Graton, CA”
unspecified red blend; 14.5% ABV
$5 at the Richmond, CA store on 8 Feb

pioneer_2014_redI usually stay away from non-traditional blends that don’t say what’s in them, but this one somehow intrigued me.  It’s a bit on the soft and ripe side for me, but it is quite tasty and easy to drink.

The wine is engagingly tasty from first pour, showing sweetly ripe red cherry with tangy dark red raspberry, rustic purple boysenberry, vanilla, and a hint of roses / violets.  It smooths out and darkens (including more mulberry / blackberry) over about two hours in a decanter.  The wine is highly Drinkable.

This wine appears to be from the La Consulta, Mendoza, Argentina winery Adelante.  Their web pages mention only Malbec, so I’ll assume this wine is at least predominantly Malbec.  The web site says, “The 2014 vintage was challenging as weather conditions varied from region to region and vineyard to vineyard,” so I’ll further speculate that this wine is Malbec that didn’t meet the standards for their Adelante label.  The label above appears to show an old photo of their winemaker, Ray Kaufman (left), who got his start in Sonoma County, CA.

The next day, the saved single-glass, screw-cap bottle is less red, more blue / purple, but still delicious.

Michel-Schlumberger 2012 Malbec

Sonoma County, CA, 14.4% ABV
$7 at the Richmond, CA, store on 1 July

MichelSchlumberger_2012_MalbecA number of wines from this producer have been popular here, so I thought I’d try this one.  I think it’s very good, too.

This wine was not bad from first pour, but not very interesting.  I thought it needed 2 – 2.5 hours in a decanter to become pleasurable.  Then, it showed richer, ripe fruit of dark cherry, boysenberry, and purple grape, with a tinge of roses / violets (especially in the acid), and a little spice.  The fruit darkened as the wine continued to air.

The next day, I liked the saved, single-glass, screwcap bottle better.  All the flavors were more forward and integrated, more obviously complex, and with more oily mouthfeel.  This is very good wine for $7.

Chateau Haut Jongay 2012 Côtes de Bourg

Appellation Côtes de Bourg Contrôlée, close to Bordeaux, France
85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec; 13% ABV
Imported by Bercut – Vandervoort & Co, San Mateo, CA
$8 at the Richmond, CA, store on 22 March

ChHautJongay_2012_CotesDeBourgWhen this showed up, I was very intrigued by the blend, especially the 5% Malbec.  It’s a little on the pricey side for the GO, so I waited for the sale to get one, and finally opened it tonight.  I really like it!

To my taste, this wine took 3:15 – 3:45 of air to open up, and it kept improving from there.  I tasted black-earthy, blackberry / plum, thick tannins, hints of boysenberry, violets, and caramel / prune, and acid of light red cherry / cranberry.  For those who enjoy young wines, this is good now, but IMO this has plenty of promise for the years ahead.

Indeed, while the saved single-glass, screwcap bottle was still good, I didn’t really know what to make of it.  It had a lot of the same flavors as the first day’s portion, but my best guess is that the wine seemed a little shut down, never showing the exuberant fruit it had the first night.  It might be better to just leave any leftover wine in the original bottle with the cork in it, or to just cover the decanter.

A pleasant surprise from the current buyers has been the good Bordeaux and Bordeaux-area wines, the latter of which this wine and the Bel-Air 2013 Bergerac are excellent examples.  Now… how about Burgundy, Rhone, and Loire wines?  🙂

Cloud Cap 2011 Malbec

Columbia Valley, WA; 12.3% ABV
$6 at the Oakland, CA, store on 25 March

CloudCap_2011_MalbecAlthough the back label reads “vinted and bottled by Cloud Cap Winery,” I could not find anything about it online except for a few menus serving this wine.

Upon opening, the wine shows somewhat lean, lighter red fruit that doesn’t seem very promising.  However, after about 75 minutes in a decanter, it filled out nicely, showing textured fruit of darker boysenberry, blueberry, and mulberry, with a little lighter violets / roses, and a nice fruit / acid balance.  It’s slightly funky in the finish, but not in a bad way.  Quite pleasant to drink, but don’t try to age it, as it doesn’t have the structure to last.  (It just occurs to me, it could have been good blended with a little Petite Sirah.  Is there PS in the Pacific Northwest?)

The next day, the second half (kept stoppered in a 375ml bottle with very little air) was redder, more acid and simple.  It was still decent to drink, certainly better than the other GO wine I opened, but I definitely preferred it on the first night.

2012 Alfredo Roca Mendoza Malbec-Merlot, Argentina $4.99

Silverdale, WA    12.9% alc.    (Purchased on 1/24/15)
60% Malbec 40% Merlot

IMG_1995Color & Clarity: Clear medium ruby color.

Aromas: Nose of dried cherries and some unidentifiable spice aromas.

Flavors: Some “sweet” cherry and berry fruit on entry, then, as the wine airs in the glass, it shows fairly tart acidity with flavors of pie cherry and understated leather.  To my taste, the wine declines rapidly once poured.

Texture: Soft at the front of the palate; rather light in texture with little tannin.

Likely a fairly decent food wine that tastes more Italian than Argentinian to me.  Old world style.  Appears to sell for around $10 at regular retail.  Lacks real character.  Not a repeat buy for me.

Kennedy Shah 2007 Rattlesnake Hills Merlot

80% Merlot, 12% Petit Verdot, 8% Malbec; 14.1% ABV
produced and bottled by Woodhouse Family Cellars, Woodinville, WA from vineyards in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA
$4 at the Berkeley, CA, store on 28 Jan

IMG_1387[1]Regular readers know I usually don’t go for Merlots, but this one was older, in a nice label and bottle, had two of the more unusual Bordeaux varietals blended in significant quantities, and came from a designated American Viticultural Area.  My hunch was correct; this wine is amazingly good for the price.

I first decanted the wine off a medium amount of sediment that had settled over a couple days.  The sediment didn’t taste bad, really, but the wine probably tastes “cleaner” without it.  At first pour, the wine is a little closed and astringent on the finish.  After an hour in a decanter, it had opened and integrated nicely.  To me, it tasted mostly of Petit Verdot, with ripe fruit of blueberry / blackcurrant and dark cherries.  Despite its age, the wine seemed quite solid and youthful, not showing much aged complexity.  The fruit is ripe enough, although not jammy, that I would have guessed its origin was California, not Washington.  Although it’s not tremendously complex, it’s certainly complex enough to be entertaining, and altogether a steal at this price.  (I couldn’t believe it was $4, but that’s what my notes say.)  None of it survived to be sampled the next day.

Baja Tanga non-vintage sparkling rosé

Mendoza, Argentina; 12.5% ABV
apparently made from Malbec (red), Torrontés (white), and Chenin Blanc (white)
$5 at the Richmond, CA, store on 17 Oct; $13 online

BajaTangaAlthough this wine is slightly fruity for my taste, it’s pretty good for the price.  I thought it had nice flavors of ripe strawberries, medium-ripe cherries, with a hint of orange, brought forward with nice acid.  Although fruity, the flavors are nicely balanced and have a delicate aspect as well, and the carbonation is good and finely textured.

I found other tasting notes online that, although a little fancy for my taste, I think are pretty good: Aromas and flavors of earthy wild strawberry jam and sour cherry yogurt with crisp, fruity light-to-medium body and a very tangy cranberry sorbet, lime curd, and nougat accented finish. 

2011 Montemar Andes Curico Valley Harmonia Red Blend, Chile $3.99

Silverdale, WA    13.5% alc.    (Purchased on 10/6/14)

IMG_178635% Syrah 35% Malbec 30% Cabernet Franc     Clear dark ruby with a pink rim.  After about 45 minutes, it has a pleasant enough nose of cherry, licorice, tobacco, mint and just a hint of bell pepper.  In the mouth, the bell pepper comes through much stronger, especially on the front of the palate, but the flavors also show cherry, raspberry, espresso and leather.  The tannins are light, but noticeable and provide body and texture.  The moderate acidity gives the wine tang and balance.  Really no bell pepper at all in the finish.  I’m no fan of that quality, but I didn’t find it to be so strong as to be offensive.  So I really enjoyed this red blend and I haven’t generally said that about Chilean reds.  One suggestion: this wine started losing flavors and weight the next day.  Drink up!

I re-read BW’s review of the 2010 Harmonia after I finished my review and can certainly see similarities…though, thankfully I got no sulfur in this vintage/bottle.  BW also reviewed the 2010 Carmenere here.  Montemar just may be the GO “go to” red from Chile.  (P.S. Label is actually white not blue…thanks to my prowess as a photographer!)