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Argentine Malbec

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Malbec from Argentina is one of the most reasonably priced, reliable red wines around. OK, if that sounds more like a pre-recall Toyota tagline than a wine descriptor, I apologize, but it's true. In the under-$20 range, there are any number of malbecs that out perform their price point. The grape has been included in Bordeaux blends for centuries, but more recently its use has declined, with Cahors the only French region still championing the grape. Thanks to Argentina, malbec has had a resurgence in popularity, producing lush and lively reds that seldom disappoint. Here are the panel's top picks.

2008 Cueva de las Manos Malbec Reserve, $15.99

This wine opens with earthy blackberry, soft chocolate and red licorice aromas backed by a light stroke of spice and mineral. It's rich and creamy on the palate with a big core of smooth cherry and raspberry fruit. A smooth tannic grip marks the long finish with those red fruit flavors lingering nicely.

2006 Famiglia Bianchi Malbec, $16.99

There's a light hit of toasty oak and vanilla and a pleasant hint of tobacco on the nose, along with a medley of dusty fruit aromas--cranberry, blueberry and strawberry rhubarb. Round and racy in the mouth, this wine offers bright cherry and dark berry fruit that's colored by anise and spice. A nice hit of acidity balances things out on the finish.

2007 Fantelli Malbec, Serie Magno, $12.99

The nose of this wine is filled with dark fruit aromas--berry, cherry and plum--rounded out by touches of sweet mocha and earth. This is an elegantly styled wine with impeccable balance between the sweet berry and tart cherry fruit. Light tannins and notes of chocolate and coffee mark the finish. A definite best buy.

This week's panel: Ilene Dudunake, A New Vintage Wine Shop; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op Wine Shop; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Hayden Beverage; Leslie Young, Boise Co-op Wine Shop.

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