Best value

Pure pleasure: discovering an affordable wine that kicks an expensive pour’s glass.

Happily, vino values abound. Today’s most consistent winner: Argentine malbecs.

No one knows for sure why a so-so grape in France soared to go-go heights on western slopes of South America, but malbec did. Next time you are in a wine shop and want to take a flyer on something new and delicious and unlike what bored you last night, Argentine malbec is the answer.

OK, this is no unassailable assertion. Reds from southern Italy, a spate of wines from Spain, niches from French Loire and Rhône valleys, and South African surprises are contenders in the value race.

But, if you yearn for single go-to wine winner, Argentine malbecs arguably are your best bottle bets in 2012.

Malbec is to Argentina as zinfandel is to California—signature grape capable of world-class performance—and it almost didn’t happen. In 1980s, Argentines began abandoning malbec to chase trendy cab and merlot markets. They made acceptable—but not stellar—wines, then glut of cabs and merlots from everywhere pummeled profits.

Thank goodness growers came to their senses, and tonight we do not have to cry for Argentina.

Spicy, velvety malbecs rival pricey Super Tuscans and even pricier California big reds for quality. They easily can fill a wine shop shelf with approachable, delicious $10-20 offerings. Robert Parker, world’s most powerful wine critic: “Malbec can compete with Bordeaux several times the price.”

Panjandrum of pours has pontificated. Make mine a malbec tonight.


• Catena Alamos Malbec Mendoza 2010. Dark color; black cherry, plum; smokey, toasty oak; balanced, nice density; excellent value play. $11

• Pascual Toso Mendoza Barrancas Reserve Malbec 2009. Loads of fruit, raspberry, plum, mocha; smooth, creamy palate; firm, sweet tannins. $21

• Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec 2009. Terrific nose, rich mouth; black fruit, plum, olives, herbs; rich red, gripping tannins, fine finish. $26