La Linda Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Tell you what: This is the new deal. If you send me a sample of your wine, I will do my very best to provide you a piece of writing which may or may not have anything to do what’s in the glass. Think of it as something for nothing (other than a small ding in your PR budget): you send me wine, and you get (hopefully interesting, probably rambling) free association about the semiotics of your wine, random commentary, and maybe even an actual tasting note.

On to this sample, then, courtesy of an East Coast public relations agency who offered it up unbidden. (I replied thanking them and asking them for information on Australian availability, given that many of our readers don’t live in the eastern USA. They didn’t reply to that question, but they did send a bottle, which is lovely.) I initially agreed because I’d heard of Luigi Bosca; I have vague good memories of them from a weekend in Mendoza that was preceded by an incredibly long bus trip thanks to a general strike at the nation’s airports.

I’ll start by saying this: Screw Flash. Really. It’s just annoying. I went to load their Web site (linked below) and had to wait for a lame-ass animation of YAY A CORKSCREW uncorking white space in my browser. You know what, guys? Save the money and put it in your product. All I want from a winery’s Web site is technical sheets about their products (with tasting notes, perhaps), information on where to buy some, and maybe even a list of upcoming events at the winery. That’s it. And you know what else I really don’t want? One of those annoying “Please enter your birthdate!!!” pages. Hint: It’s the Internet. I’m sure that 20-year-olds will see that pages and say “You know what, never mind. I’m not old enough to drink, so I had better leave this Argentine wine site and go back to talking about Justin Bieber on Facebook with my little sister.” Please. It’s just irritating, ESPECIALLY when you have to enter your birthday using a Flash UI. STOP IT. (For the record, I was born on 1 January 1910.)

On to the wine, but before I begin, I’ll note that Luigi Bosca seems to have erupted in a mad bout of branding, PR dollars, and marketing a go go. This is cool; I loved their Gala wines, but if they want to sell twenty different wines at multiple price points with different branding entirely, that’s just fine. This wine, La Linda, or “the beautiful,” is their cheap stuff, selling for well under ten bucks in the USA. With that in mind, I’ll start by looking at the packaging: the foil is a little cheap looking, the cork has some kind of laser-printed inventory or other number on it, but once that’s gone, you have a fairly splendid looking bottle that exudes class. The label is well printed and looks like a twenty dollar wine; there’s exactly enough information on the back label to help your average supermarket consumer decide if this is the wine they’re looking for (geographical information, a straightforward, honest tasting note, and food pairings (red meats!)). In short, everything is perfect here; it looks like it was destined for Oddbins or any decent supermarket.

So what have we got in the glass, then? A bruiser of purplish-black, inky wine, blackberry sweet on the nose, but with an attractive seam of rich, toasty, vanilla oak (chips?). The real surprise is on the palate, where the wine pivots into something much more interesting (and useful to restaurateurs): a higher-toned, nicely acidic, brightly lifted red wine that seems purpose built for the wine list at an all-you-can-eat churrasceria joint in Dallas or Washington. The palate is classy, friendly, and slowly gives way to a firm but friendly tannic finish that should do incredibly well with charcuterie or, well, huge frickin’ steaks. Oh, and I almost forgot the best part: it’s only 13.5% alcohol, which means you can share a bottle with your partner and not have to call a cab home afterwards.The only competition I can really see for a wine like this – at least locally – would be something like a Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot from Washington, which offers an approximately similar drinking experience at a similar price point. Where this wine shines by comparison, though, is the classier packaging, the more complex taste, and perceived value (hey, it’s an import!).

If you run a restaurant, this would be perfect for a steakhouse, upscale Mexican restaurant, or themed Brazilian dining. There’s no reason you couldn’t charge $30 for this and profit handsomely; if I were the importer, I’d concentrate on hospitality sales and avoid retail, where it might not fit in to the standard retail mix (two wines from Argentina, one Torrontés, one Malbec).

Luigi Bosca
Price: $8.99
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Petaluma Piccadilly Valley Chardonnay 2005

Q: What do you do in the event of an earthquake?A: Well, if you’re me, you quickly check to make sure none of the wine fell over and broke (it didn’t) and then grab the first bottle you can find to calm your nerves.Thanks to the vagaries of the international wine trade, the local bottle shop had a dozen of these for a meager $14 a couple of months back. Sadly, the first two bottles were corked and nonrefundable, but this one appears intact.Not visibly old at all – it still looks bright and clean – the nose tells quite another story, with hazelnuts, burnt matchsticks, and pineapple clotted cream cake coming together to suggest a wine that’s been around for a few years. Rich, unctuous, and ever so slightly overwhelming (think California style) in the mouth, there’s a thick seam of rich, buttery pear and roasted nuts to be found here. The finish is plenty long, with just enough acidity to make it easy-going enough to please most anyone, I reckon. In short, this would be the ideal wine to serve in Qantas business class: rich, stuffed with enough flavor to register at even thirty thousand feet, and fat enough to please folks who don’t enjoy their wine unless it’s got a certain sense of luxurious, hedonistic plushness to it.The only thing I am is surprised: I love Petaluma’s riesling and viognier, both of which are wonderfully expressive and full of character – and yet this wine seems a bit vague (in the international style, at least). It doesn’t compare well, I think. to the Grosset chardonnay (which is presumably made from fruit from the same general area)… but it is at least a surefire crowd pleaser. Shame about the dead tree stopper, though. Petaluma
Price: $14
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Viña Cobos Felino Malbec 2008

Obviously still a young pup – the purple is so purple that it could even give Grimace a run for his money – the nose smells mostly of serious oak with well-tended Mendoza fruit, a very nouveau-riche kind of smell that smells more like a lifestyle candle from Pottery Barn – nay, scratch that, probably something from Theo Fennell – you know the drill: expensive, a little generic, best drunk with a French manicure or cufflinks. Hm.There’s also a bit of smoky-sweet, lifted cheery red fruit here, which is very appealing. Thankfully, there’s good acidity that hits you before anything else does, keeping things moving right along to a lovely, broad, mouth-filling midpalate that offers up toasted coffee, plums, and finely grained tannins. It all finishes slowly, very slowly, definitely quite young, not insanely complex, but with great finesse and subtlety.The wine I’d most like to compare this to would be Michel Rolland’s Clos de los Siete, which is sold at a similar price range, but which is grown, I believe, a bit further to the south towards Lujan de Cuyo. The difference between the two is subtle but important: Clos is fatter, richer, more Parker; the Felino is nervier, racier, less plush, more Robinson. There’s actual space to think about it between all of the notes that must be hit; there’s an elegance and modesty here mixed in with the obligatory new oak and full ripeness. Honestly, it’s damn good for what it is and good value to boot. Recommended.Viña Cobos
Price: $16
Closure: Cork

Luca Syrah Laborde Double Select 2006

There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for anyone to be using a bottle this heavy: to do so is just rude. It makes it harder to hold and pour, more expensive to ship, and of course there’s the whole doing right by Mother Earth thing to consider. Worst of all, buying this wine will make you feel like a total prat. After all, what idiot wants to be seen buying the biggest, heaviest, most ostentatious bottle in the shop? Please.On to the wine. Shortly after opening the bottle, I noticed that I had a huge sticky smear of something all over my left hand (I’m a southpaw). Yuck. I retrieved the cork from the garbage and sure enough, there’s a bunch of sticky, gooey mass at the end of the cork and smeared up the side of it. I haven’t had the pleasure of this experience before; I trust the wine is OK and that this is just an one-off, a production oddity.The nose is curiously slight: if Vosges made a chocolate bar called “Gentlemen’s Dark Chocolate with Cedar,” then this is what it would smell like. Oak oak oak and oak… and yet, there’s a pleasant, fleeting floral sourness hiding in there somewhere too. Still, I don’t get a real sense of place, just a sense of cash flow: this wine smells like money.Amazingly purple-y youthful, the wine looks ravishing. Tasting it, though, leaves me a bit less a-flutter: it seems just a bit insubstantial in the mouth at first, quickly hiding behind massive woody tannin and finishing on a slightly sweet note, again managing to taste more expensive than anything else.In short, this is a wine for a hedge fund manager with a penchant for bling. This wine would be absolutely perfect with a steak dinner at the finest steakhouse in town: I’m thinking El Gaucho in Seattle would sell cases of this to Microsoft marketeers dining prospective clients in town to visit the Executive Briefing Center. Drinking it on its own is a bit of a chore, rather like gargling with lavender water and sawdust, but add a fine cut of meat and even a cigar and now you’re talking serious money.Luca
Price: $20
Closure: Cork

Cavas de Weinert Gran Vino 2002

Gorgeous, rich pretty cherry black in the glass, you could almost mistake this for raspberry sauce gone missing from your cheesecake. However, trepidation sets in on the nose: there’s a slightly raspy note promising difficult acidity, a somewhat off-putting charred, smoky note, and just the briefest hint of a curious sweetness I generally associate with yeasts that may or may not be intentional. Very strange.Round and full at first if somewhat unstructured, it quickly resolves into a clunky, tannic finsh that leaves you with that tell-tale did I just accidentally lick a hamster? feeling. Again, the odd yeastiness is briefly here and there, just not consistently; I wish I could better describe what it is what I’m feeling here, but it’s (to my mind) very much a marker of New World winemaking. Over time and with additional air, however, the wine does open up a bit, turning into cherry coffee tincture with chewy tannins.Ultimately, I suspect that there’s a very, very low level of TCA contamination here, which would account for the odd, fleeting, yeasty-sweet off notes, I suspect. Sometimes this wine taste like a serious contender for well-judged, nicely ripe New World Bordeaux; sometimes, it tends more towards telltale wet cardboard. It’s a shame I don’t have another bottle to compare against this one; for now I’ll chalk this bottle up in the ‘might be good but I don’t think I can honestly judge it’ category.Bodega y Cavas de Weinert
Price: $20
Closure: Cork

Finca El Portillo Rosé Malbec 2008

When I’m shopping for a relatively cheap pink wine (and for me, that means ten bucks or less), there are very, very few things I’m concerned about, to be honest. The wine should be screwcapped so that I am able to quickly bust it open when I get home from work; the wine should be dry as I think that sweet pink liquids are best left to manufacturers of children’s medicines, and (ideally) there should be some flavor in the wine, preferably something you’d want more than one glass of.This wine works for me on all counts. It’s easily opened, it’s bone dry, and it tastes vaguely like a rhubarb fool: slightly acidic, with pretty red berry flavors and a fine, creamy texture. It is just fine. No, it will not leave you rambling on about garrigue and Provençal herbs. The color is pink, Jolly Rancher Watermelon pink, and not an elegant onionskin pinkish yellow. The flavors are straightforward and good, no pussyfooting around.It’d be hard to do better than this at this price point – yes, I would rather have a bottle of Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare or the Crios de Susana Balbo malbec rosé – but if this is on sale, it’s as cheap as you’re gonna get without venturing into “do not put in mouth” territory. Honest.By the way, if you ever find yourself on vacation in Mendoza, do take a trip down to the place where this wine is made. It is absolutely one of the most overwrought wineries I’ve ever seen (somehow without being vulgar) – if I remember correctly, it was built by Dutch orthodontists spending their retirement money in South America or something along those lines. It features the most insanely ridiculous spittoons I’ve ever seen: stand-alone plinths that look like they were ganked from a travelling Star Trek prop exhibition. I’ve never felt quite as self-conscious as I did horking up Syrah into those things; best of all, it’s a cavernous chai, so every tiny noise you make is amplified to truly epic gross-out proportions. Highly recommended: do book ahead and stay at the nearby Postales del Plata Valle de Uco Lodge if you get a chance. It’s awesome.Bodega Salentein
Price: $10
Closure: Stelvin

BenMarco Malbec 2003

Still almost a caricature of juicy-ripe fruit a fairly long time after harvest, this wine’s held up amazingly well. Squid ink and raspberries, iodine and white pepper come together as if the seaside’s been transported to central Oregon: there’s also a touch of dusty leather and dried tobacco leaves there as well. Lovely and complex, it promises quite a bit that (thankfully!) it mostly doesn’t fail to deliver.Initially somewhat thinly acidic, the wine quickly spreads out somewhat into a tart, taut, elegant midpalate suggestive of rhubarb tarts before mellowing into a softly tannic finish with subtle spiciness. Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the inky dark color of the wine while waiting for the finish to complete itself; it takes its time disappearing quietly.Quite good, although I’d personally prefer stronger oak influence here, this wine is surprisingly light for an Argentine malbec, tending towards elegance rather than brute force. Try this one with salmon in a heavy sauce.Dominio del Plata
Price: $18
Closure: Cork

Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec 2008

Such a beautiful color, this wine; it’s blindingly clear transparent watermelon candy, crimson rose petals leaching into a luxurious bath, cherry fruit leather drying in Andean sunshine. Strangely enough, I’m enjoying looking at this wine more than I am drinking it: this is a wine that doesn’t demand attention or thought, just enjoyment. Obviously, though, not every wine has to be some kind of profound experience; some are just fine as an accompaniment to White Castle sliders and the dying light of a cool May evening in the back yard. On the other hand, that’s really selling this wine short; there are many, many pink wines out there that are vacuous, boring, sweet, or insipid, and this isn’t that either. It smells of simple grapey strawberries, tastes pretty much like that too, but ends on a stylish pivot towards warm spices and refreshing, palate-cleansing acidity. This might not be the focus of my evening like a great wine would be, but it isn’t detracting from anything else, either.Plus: nine bucks? C’mon, that’s a steal. The Cayus Edith rosé I had last week was nowhere near the wine this one is and cost four times as much; I don’t know of any other sub-$10 wines that deliver as much pleasure as this one.Dominio del Plata
Price: $9
Closure: Stelvin

Altus de Gualallary Grand Vin 2000

With this wine you start with a quick huff of New World grapey goodness, but it quickly settles down into something with a bit more gravitas. The fairly richly scented, ripe Malbec fruit seems to have some good oak behind it, but not too much; this wine (surprisingly to me, given the name) seems to have avoided over-oaking in favor of something, well, more Spanish in style.Acidity is fine and frankly delightful, stealing center stage from the fruit, which is decidedly in the summer red berries stage here, strongly reminiscent of a fresh raspberry tart. Not decidedly complex at all, it seems much younger than it actually is, with barely a hint of aged character. It’s only towards the finish that – again – it seems briefly Serious Wine, but again not very much. Then again, thinking about it a bit more, the tannins are substantial but unobstrusive; they seem to have aged to the point where they’re just playing a supporting role here; this is why this wine seems a bit of a lightweight. But is it? I don’t know. Is it delicious? Yes, but shouldn’t I be expecting some heavy barrel toast and puckery tannins? Is it OK to like a good wine just because it’s summery and delicate?I can’t make my mind up about this wine at all. One moment it seems a trifle, the next an elegant, restrained wine in the Bordelais style that is way too sophisticated to be drunk with the food that’s on my table. This one’s an odd duck: probably not Serious enough to please folks who are expecting a massive bruiser of an Argentine malbec in the style of Clos de Los Siete and Michel Rolland, and way, way too sophisticated to be mistaken for your average supermarket quaffer labeled Los Gauchos del Sur (or whatever they call cheap Argentine Malbec where you live).I’ve decided it’s pretty damn good.Note: We bought this at the winery on vacation a couple of years ago; if you’re in the neighborhood (the Tupungato valley), the restaurant is absolutely worth a visit – that lunch in the vineyard was perhaps the best meal we had outside of Buenos Aires.Oh, and lest I forget: the encépagement is not listed on their Web site or on the bottle, so my guess of Malbec is just that: a guess. Apologies if I guessed wrong!Altus
Price: Can’t remember, probably around $25
Closure: Cork

Recoleta Malbec Bonarda 2007

For a moment I found myself transfixed by the nose of this wine… it smelled familiar, and yet not. But what was it? Ah, there we are: scented permanent markets, just like the ones we used to huff in elementary school. Childhood memories… Seriously, it smells like children’s fruit candy: plums and raspberries and nothing too complicated or unusual. There’s also a slight hint of camphor there as well; on the whole, a promising start.

In the mouth, it’s just this side of off-dry (as I’m coming to expect from fresh&easy’s own label wines), with a fleeting sourness and not much else in the way of flavor, save for something that’s reminiscent of raspberry flavored wax lips candy. There’s a bit of tannin on the finish, probably more from pressing the grapes too hard than any kind of barrel fermentation, and then it’s gone. It all works reasonably well and would be a fantastic accompaniment to spicy barbecue or good old fashioned meat loaf. Amazing value and recommended for your next braai.

Recoleta [but really fresh&easy]
Price: US $2.99
Closure: Short, low quality cork amusingly labeled “estate bottled”
Tasted: November 2007

I’d like to note that I won’t always be tasting bargain basement wines from Tesco’s new US chain stores; it’s just that they happened to open their doors here two weeks ago, which prompted me to buy a case of their least expensive wine just for the heck of it. So far, I’m impressed by the QPR [quality price ratio] but haven’t found anything I’d drink on a regular basis. Thankfully, I’m down to only a few bottles – the most expensive one almost breaking the ten dollar mark – and when they open one near my home in San Diego, I promise I’ll go back and try their high-end own-label wines [I think I remember seeing a $15.99 Napa merlot, for example].