For an object lesson in how to mismanage the brand of a hot commodity in the wine industry, you would have to take a look at Bordeaux and Malbec. Bordeaux wines’ present-day downturn in popularity stems from a history of price-gouging; Malbec is a story of overproduction to meet hot demand and resulting in a noticeable decline in quality. In as few as five years ago, Malbec from Argentina was on the lips of U.S. consumers everywhere. People couldn’t get enough of it, and the buzz was in hyperdrive. Smash cut to today’s perception of the wine, and you’re met with a been-there-done-that blasé attitude. Everyday consumers looking for a low-priced thrill have moved on to Zinfandel-based red blends as well as Moscato, Prosecco and Rosé—and wines from Chile and Spain are creeping up there in popularity, There was a time where every restaurant wine menu demanded a Malbec selection, whereas now it has virtually disappeared from upscale casual and fine dining establishments. Wine stores couldn’t stock enough of this stuff, but Malbec’s presence on the shelves is diminishing. What happened? So much Malbec flooded into the U.S. market over the last ten years and it became obvious that the consistency of quality level was streaky at best. Frankly, the U.S. got hit with a lot of bad, bad Malbec.
Given the current environment for Malbecs, you still can’t ignore that, on a deliciousness-to-price ratio, a great Argentinian Malbec gives plenty of bang for the buck. If you can sort out from the good, the bad and the ugly, a solid Malbec, like the 2012 GASCÓN Reserva Malbec, delivers truly great value and is an all-round crowd pleaser for the dining table. The Don Miguel Gascón winery, for one, has been making wine for over 100 years from prestigious vineyards in the Mendoza region, so there is authenticity here and genuine, hard-earned craft. This small-production wine is assertive, direct and forward in its concentrated blackberry and plum flavors. Eminently quaffable, it finishes on a firm note, with a taste of medium toast French and American oak and brown spices.
Malbec is hardly ever a complete wine—it’s not particularly aromatic, and for elegant structure you typically have to pay up and venture into the $80 to over $100 price range. But it’s not fair to rate the majority of Malbecs 89 points or less because of this; an affordable Malbec wine really needs to be rated on a deliciousness and enjoyment scale, not the stuff of wine geeks and certified wine professionals. And on this scale—a “regular peeps” scale—this Malbec rocks. –J.M.