Feb 20 2012
I have spotted something interesting about Malbec recently… it’s everywhere. Even the 99, hardly renowned for its wine list, has a Malbec. The newest large red wine craze has gone beyond the initial stage of folk simply buying it, to newsletter coverage, to the tier of dining establishments who always appear to be the last to react to wine trends.
As well as writing a blog and doing plenty of talking with customers at the store, my primary responsibility continues to be ensuring that the fine wines are stocked. While not especially glamorous, this does give me a ground zero view of trends among our customers, and what I have spotted in the past couple of months is this: Malbec has decelerated to a crawl. Where once I had to make two passes a week through Argentina, now if it is necessary I will skip a week safely. It seems as if, again, the fashions are shifting.
This is a reoccurring theme for American wine consumers… remember Australian Shiraz? California Merlot? It’s an recognized fact that, in contrast to most of the wine drinking world, American citizens like to pick a style of wine, declare it to be “the best ever,” and so a hot trend is born. As more and more folks become fascinated by this newbie, producers start to change the wine… making it riper, fruitier, softer, and more oaky. Whatever slightly exotic personality the wines that started the trend might have had, when our Shiraz or Malbec shows up on the 99′s wine list, that magic has lost its luster.
This will all have sounded rather dismal, but in actual fact when wines go out of favour engaging things begin to happen. When Shiraz fell out of style, suddenly “boutique” wineries charging ridiculous amounts of money for so-so wine couldn’t sustain themselves. Prices came down, and the over-extracted, unidentifiable wines gave way to expressions that were balanced, interesting, even chic. We’ve seen Barossa Shiraz tone down the sugar content, Coonawarra embrace its more piquant personality, and seen the appearance of Mornington as a region producing medium-bodied wines that take as many cues from the North Rhone as they do from Penfolds. Australia has received a second lease on life, and has decided to build for the long run instead of embrace its hedonistic past.
Naturally, this returns us back to Malbec. As the wines that more sales representatives bring in taste more alike, and the style slows, I see bright spots set to appear. There are oakless Malbecs now, priced around $10, that really show off fruit because they have nothing to hide behind. I see single vineyard wines for only $20, that deliver both the classic Malbec violet note and show individual terroir. I even see Cahors, the French region famous for Malbec production, growing as our customers get involved in touching their new discovery’s roots.
Don’t be surprised if soon the most recent “best wine ever” appears. Look for your hostess gifts to change from Malbec to Rioja, or Old Vine Zinfandel, or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and look for in-store tastings to change their focus. Then head into Argentina and take a look at the regions, the styles, the claims of “balance” and “expressiveness.” Ask us questions, we love to speak about this stuff. Just as Shiraz has become today, so shortly you’ll find that Malbec has become an unheralded but brilliant role player in the larger sector of wine.
Patrick Suleski has been with Colonial Spirits, a Concord liquor store, since early 2008. Patrick studied to become a Sommelier in Florence, Italy, prior to going back to the United States to follow wine as a career. Quite able with his wine selections, Patrick can also suggest what food to pair with your favorite white wine and can potentially tell you which blues artist is playing over the store’s PA.