Once widely planted in Bordeaux, where its big tannins added structure to the blend, Malbec's popularity has declined dramatically in its native France. While still prevalent in the nearby Cahors region's reds, it is Argentina where the variety has really taken hold. One of that country's two most widely planted varieties (the more obscure Bonarda being the other), it produces a less tannic and more supple wine below the equator, rich and forward in its youth but with real aging potential. With top-quality Argentine Malbecs available for around 10 bucks, this is a variety worth exploring. All three of the panel's top picks for Malbec come from the Mendoza region, where the grape excels.
2006 Altos las Homigas, $11.99
This wine offers an interesting mix of aromas with blueberry leading off and mushroom, leather, restrained blackberry, vanilla and a hint of bacon on deck. It shows nice balance on the palate, and is filled with tangy berry flavors along with light tannins and very soft oak. It has what it takes to hold up to a variety of foods, but it cries out for roasted red meats or grilled portobello mushrooms.
2005 Durigutti, $10.99
The Durigutti opens with sweet, dark plum and red currant aromas with a lively bit of caramel and spice. Seductively silky blackberry and boysenberry fruit flavors play against a background of soft anise and caramel in this elegantly structured wine with a smooth kiss of toasted oak. A port-like warmth lingers nicely on the velvety finish that lasts and lasts.
2005 Septima, $11.99
A nice gaminess lurks beneath the sweet berry aromas that play against supple hits of vanilla, smoky oak, herb and black pepper. Unctuous berry and cherry liqueur flavors fill the mouth backed by a depth and complexity offering up vanilla, spice, mocha and licorice. Soft tannins, toasty oak and a nice hit of tart cherry come through on the finish.
This week's panel: Cheyenne House, BRJ Wine Cellars; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op Wine Shop; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Young's Market; Darcy Neumann, Idaho Wine Merchant.