Malbec grapes (also known as 'Cot') seen growing in Argentina.  They are originally native to South-West France

The Terroirist: Maddening Malbec

One in a continuing series

It's January, and across much of the northern hemisphere -the exception being parts of Germany and here in Niagara, where they're resting until being pressed into icewine- the grapes are sleeping. In the South, however, January is the time when the grapes start waking, having picked up enough heat to start making the transformation from tiny buds into small grapes; there is still more time needed to mature, of course.

There are a lot of value wines coming to Toronto this Saturday, from South American wines aplenty, to a handful of affordably priced Pinot Noirs. There are also some stratospheric bottles coming to town - they're beautiful and sexy, but not always (in this release at least) fantastic value. Keep your eyes on the wine, and your hand on the glass.

But on to the recommendations.

Something Red:
Chateau de Chambert Cahors 2002 (SouthWest, France) $19.25, 720821
Malbec (pictured above) has become famous in the past few years as an inky dark, chewy wine from Argentina. The grape's home however, is not in South America, but rather in the south of France, where it produces similar wines - often blended with Merlot - in regions such as Cahors. The Chateau de Chambert is a fantastic example of an Old World Malbec: from it's deep, bright purple colour, to the fantastically rich mouthfeel. The nose shows aromas of liquorice, chocolate, cassis, and blueberry, with the palate expreses cassis, blueberry, chocolate, and tar. There is a dry punch of tannins on the finish of this wine, which would suggest that a few years in a cellar would do it well, but if you can't wait, just give it plenty of time to breathe. Can be enjoyed on its own, or with red meat.

Something White:
Gonzalez-Byass Nutty Solera (Jerez, Spain) $11.95, 35204
I've said it before, and I'll say it again (and probably again and again): you will not find better value wine than those from Jerez, the sherry-producing city in the south of Spain. They range from the bone-dry to the lusciously thick and sweet, and cost about half as much as they would from anywhere else in the world. This sherry is an Oloroso, which means it has a bit of age to it, but also wasn't allowed lenghty contact with the flor yeast common to that area. The results? A pale beige-tawny wine with a luscious nose of nuts, dried figs, and almonds. Medium dry in sweetness (perfect for rich foods or on its own before dinner) with flavours of nuts, caramels, and figs coming to the fore. A very long finish that is just delicious.

Something Different:
Tenzan Junmai Genshu Jizake Sake (Japan) $34.95, 741637
I'll be honest, I really don't know nearly as much about sake, a Japanese rice wine, as I probably should. A lot of this can probably be accounted for from my first experiences with cheap sake, served warm. The rough, caustic notes of those turned me off for years, and it has taken a while to get back into the groove. This sake changes all that. It is to be served cool, and lacks any of those rough edges found in the cheap stuff. A nose of peach, apple, crushed nuts and lychee is immitated on the palate with the addition of a clean earthiness. Really delightful - now if only the local sushi shops would start stocking it.

Have fun, and happy drinking!

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