Mendel: A Winery You Should Be Getting To Know

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One of the more under-the-radar wineries you should be getting to know is Mendel Wines. They’re small but steadily gaining huge respect in the industry.

Their highest rated wine is the Finca Remota, which is $100 in the US, but Mendel Malbec is a good (and fairly widely distributed) choice in the $25 range.

In between is Mendel Unus, a delicious wine around $50 that got 93 points from Wine Enthusiast.

 

 

Wines: ZaHa Malbec 2010

 

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4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

ZaHa Malbec 2010

Oh boy, is this stuff good. One of my new Twitter friends, @Pampallugas, was drinking ZaHa this afternoon and suggested I give it a try. It was $39 at our local Hop City (which has an epic assortment of South American wines – you’ll see that post shortly.)

This is a malbec-dominant blend. 90% Malbec, 8% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petite Verdot. (Can you really taste 2% of anything???)

It’s grown in a region of Mendoza I’m not familiar with called San Carlos.

The winemakers who created ZaHa are Jeff Mausbach and Alejandro Sejanovich, two longtime employees of Catena Zapata who broke away and started their own venture. They have an even higher-end wine called TeHo (around $70.) Strange names, and I must admit I bypassed them on the wine aisle a couple of times.

Big mistake. This wine is absolutely delicious. I am hard-pressed to name a more elegant and substantial wine for $39.

Jay Miller of Wine Advocate gave it a 92, and I think it might be even better than that number suggests. It may lack the complexity of a true $100 trophy wine from Argentina, but it has great weight, a nice finish and it just plain tastes wonderful.

Honestly, with Catena Alta starting to elevate from the $39 range to more like $43, this is a truly delicious option when you want to stay under $40.  And if you want to really stock up, Bedford Wine Merchants carries this for $35.99. At that price… it’s a steal.

I am officially on the ZaHa train, next destination: TeHo.

 

Store Check: Western Supermarket, Mountain Brook, AL

4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

 

The best place to buy wine in Alabama just may be… a supermarket.

Newcomers to the Birmingham area are shocked when neighbors tell them to go shop at this innocuous market in a Birmingham suburb for serious wine. Mountain Brook is one of the most affluent ZIP Codes in the country, and the well-heeled folks around here know a good bottle when they see one.

The Western in Mountain Brook has a full-time wine buyer who knows what he’s doing. The selection skews towards high-end Italian, American, and French wines. South Africa is also well represented.

And there is a very respectable Argentine inventory – I would say a little smaller than in previous years (I don’t particularly like that Spanish and Chilean wine starting to encroach on my Malbec aisle….) But you’ll find some interesting choices. The locals like Antis Reserve, Catena is respectably priced at $19.99 (but Costco has it cheaper) and there are some decent midrange selections like Luigi Bosca D.O.C, Enamore, and Vina Cobos’ low-end Felino. Alma Negra is fairly popular in Argentina, as I remember.

 

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Up on the top shelf are some of the Trapiche single-vineyards (highly rated), Cheval de Andes (a bit overpriced) and a number of things I’ve never heard of. Anyone tried these?

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For my money, the Western is one of the three best places to buy Argentine malbec in Birmingham. Shortly, I’ll be telling you about the other two.

 

 

 

 

Wines: Cobos Malbec

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Cobos Malbec

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It’s the wine most of us never get to drink. At least until we inherit a bigass fortune or win the Lottery.

I’m talking about Cobos Malbec, the icon wine from Paul Hobbs’ legendary Vina Cobos in Mendoza’s Luján de Cuyo region. Hobbs has consulted with numerous wineries in Argentina, but this is the vineyard he owns, so obviously it’s the one he’s put his most masterful touch on.

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I flew to Mendoza and visited the winery myself. But after 5000 miles and thousands of miles in of travel, would they give me just a wee taste? Nope. Not unless you bought the stuff. And at the time that just seemed highway robbery.

Should a malbec cost $200? Hell no. But this one does.

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This seems a good moment to back up and describe the entire line of Vina Cobos’ wines. All of these are available in a Malbec and Cabernet version, but as usual I am focusing on the Malbec.

Felino is readily available in the States for about $19. It aspires to take the sweet spot from Catena Malbec in this category. It’s not a bad wine, but with some shopping around I think you can do better for the price. 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Bramare is where Hobbs starts to get serious about wine. This bottle can be found around $43, again coincidentally about the same price as Catena Alta. 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

But for my money, where Vina Cobos starts to become a must-try is at the next level up: the green-label Bramares. These are the wines from specific vineyards. The one from the Marchiori Vineyard, about $75 if you shop carefully, is one of the best wines I have ever tasted. 4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

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But my friend Greg and I were sitting in the stunning courtyard of the Palacio Duhau – Park Hyatt, arguably one of the nicest places to have a drink in the world. And Cobos Malbec was on the wine list. I’d just gotten a mess of pesos at 11/1 exchange via Xoom.com. So everything was a bargain, right? It not now, when?

So when they served the bottle, it was… good. Actually the bottle was a little warm, and I asked them to cool it off. And our first sip was just, nice. But after five minutes, oxygen worked its magic and we started to realize we had one delicious glass of wine in our hands.

It grew in complexity and the legs on the sides of the glass were just huge.

It was truly amazing, but for the price, you could have three bottles of equally amazing wine. So was it worth it? That depends on where you are, and what you are celebrating.

For all the talk of trophy wines that are too big, too New World, and too alcohol-tinged, there is something to be said for a wine that just blows you away on a perfect afternoon in one of the world’s most perfect places. Cobos Malbec 4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

 

An $8 malbec at Whole Foods?

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Bodegas Belgrano Malbec

2.0 Stars (2.0 / 5)

 

Time to atone for that $200 bottle of Cobos.

I figure my job is to make the mistakes, so you don’t have to.

So when I saw this $7.99 bottle at Whole Foods Market, I decided to take one for the team.

The wine is called Bodegas Belgrano.

Never heard of it. In. My Life.

(If the audio were louder, my skepticism would come through even more clearly.)

And the verdict…

Is it good? 

Well, yeah. In its own way. But so is Kool-Aid.

This stuff is jammy, jammy, jammy. Light-bodied and fruit forward – almost like an inexpensive Zinfandel.

I’ve had worse $12 wines, to be sure. There’s nothing overly barnyard, tannic, muddy, or obnoxious about it. And I wouldn’t avoid this. But I also wouldn’t give it as a gift.

Wine Lists: Hot and Hot Fish Club, Birmingham, AL

4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

 

 

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Chef Chris Hastings, a repeated James Beard winner, is making some of the nation’s best food happen off Birmingham’s Highland Avenue. His inventive new Southern cuisine is taking critics by storm, and he’s deservedly proud of his food and way of doing business. It’s quite likely that Hastings will walk over during your meal and chat you up.

blacktearsbottleFor me, the winner on his wine list is Black Tears by Tapiz. This is the trophy wine from a longtime Mendoza winery where I had the privilege of eating lunch a couple of years ago. Most of the Tapiz wines are just okay – but Black Tears is a big, bold, classic New World red. You’ll like it; and as I remember the wine was relatively well priced. It’s about $40 in stores and it seems like it was less than 2X on this menu.

 

 

On my wine lists feature, I don’t attempt to rate the food; only whether Argentine wine is well-represented and well-priced.

 

Should you buy wine in Argentina?

Once you’ve been seduced by the steak, the tango, and of course the delicious malbec on your Argentine vacation, it’s hard to resist the urge to fill your suitcase with as many bottles as you can find.

But the truth is, there are many reasons NOT to buy wines during your Argentina vacation. Many of the best wines are available in the US, at the same or better prices as you will find in Argentina. Shipping is incredibly expensive, to the point where it almost never makes sense. And checking wine in your baggage comes with its own set of hassles.

The good news is, there are still some compelling things to look for – and new mobile smartphone tools that can help you make better decisions on the fly, in the store. For example, WineSearcher.com or its app. Do a price search with US retailers, as you’re viewing the bottle in the Argentine wine shop. Use eRobertParker.com ($99/yr) to check ratings and reviews while you are in the store.

A few thoughts on this from the taxi, as I head on my own trip to one of my favorite wine stores, Terrior in Buenos Aires, to stock up.

Has the Parker effect ruined the South American wine industry?

An increasing number of retailers and vineyard owners seem to think so.

My conversation with Claudio Fontana, owner of esteemed wine retailer Terroir Casa de Vino in Buenos Aires, was most revealing.

Fontana understands the double-edged sword that ratings and popularity have brought to certain vineyards. And as someone who has benefitted enormously from the popularity of Malbec, he doesn’t question that Parker ratings are what originally put Argentina on the map.

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What worries him is customers’ slavish devotion to the numbers. He says:

“Don’t drink points – drink wine.” 

The interesting point that Fontana makes is that popular wines tend to have a life cycle. They come out of nowhere when a Wine Advocate or Wine Enthusiast reviewer assigns them a high numeric rating.

Being the value seekers we are, consumers flock to that particular label of wine. Hooray! For consumers and the winery.

But then the next harvest comes, and consumers want more of that delicious, highly-rated wine. So, what’s the winery to do?

Find. More. Grapes.

Make. More. Wine.

But chances are, the winery was already using all their best grapes in the previous year’s output. So, they have to go find grapes somewhere else. Maybe even on the bulk market, from unknown vineyards in unknown locations.

And the wine you fell in love with, that Robert Parker or Jay Miller or Neal Martin loved, isn’t the same wine anymore.

Really skillful winemakers can mitigate the effects of higher volume, but it’s hard to do, and exceptionally hard to deliver the same wine at the same quality.

So, following Fontana’s theory, it’s even smarter to look for under-the-radar wines from smaller vineyards that haven’t yet suffered from The Parker Effect.

But, as I pointed out, as Americans we don’t have the luxury of Claudio standing beside us in our local grocery store or wine shop. I’ve relied heavily on Parker ratings throughout the years, because otherwise, what are you going to do?

What are you thoughts on this?