A Couple Of Malbecs
I like Malbec: it’s one of those grapes that, until quite recently, was rarely given the chance to spread its wings and fly solo. I like Argentinian wines: they tend to be more European in style than those from her neighbour across the Andes. A good Argentinian Malbec puts a smile on my face and a steak on my barbecue.
I thought I’d revisit an old favourite, Catena’s Malbec (13.5%), which, back when it was made solely from Lujan de Cuyo grapes, was one of the best £10 bottles around. Nowadays, Lujan de Cuyo fruit is only around 10% of the blend and its price has inevitably crept up to £13, but it’s still a winner with a steak dinner. Inky dark and purple hued, with sweet, rich black and blue fruits, hints of white pepper and clove spice. Full bodied, judiciously oaked and with soft, grainy tannins, it had a definite balsamic acidity which was a touch overwhelming. It was easy to drink and enjoy but lacked a degree of its former complexity, now being closer in style to the introductory level Alamos Malbec than to the top Zapata wines.
I opened the 2008 Catena by way of a contrast. Two nights earlier I had opened its older cousin: a 1998 Château du Cèdre, Le Cèdre Cahors (13%). Now thirteen, it retained a respectably deep ruby colour whilst sporting the violet highlights of a rebellious teenager. The nose had fleshy black fruit, smoke, gentle oak spices and an intriguing minerally/pencil lead character. Pleasingly firm acidity was balanced by supple blackberry fruit and by deftly judged powdery tannins.
Such is the Verhaeghe brothers’ talent, the use of all new oak simply rounded things off, adding a silky viscosity without swamping the fruit. Smoke and oak spice flavours mingled with a savoury, almost salty, minerality and a lovely floral quality that lasted and lasted. The hugely long, chewy finish was a thing of beauty.
The Catena ticked all the boxes of a good modern Malbec, but the Cahors was an altogether more complex and alluring creation. Unfortunately, I only had one bottle, although I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for more.