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Celebrate Malbec World Day: April 17

16 Apr

By Sharon Kapnick

Like many people I know, I’m always eager to have an excuse to celebrate with wine, so I’m looking forward to Malbec World Day on April 17 (when we can also celebrate finishing up and sending in our taxes!).

Argentina also has much to celebrate, for Malbec, its signature red grape, thrives in Mendoza’s high altitudes, dry air, plentiful sun and cool nights. And Argentina’s Malbec has achieved phenomenal growth in the U.S. Annual sales of it have roughly tripled in the past 5 years.

In addition to its good value, Malbec is loved for its lush, fruity, spicy qualities and its soft tannins. In Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine, Mark Oldman writes: “It’s a lesson in vinous voluptuousness.”

Malbec is generally medium to full bodied, with good (medium to high) acidity. Flavors–and it’s a flavorful wine–associated with it are those of black cherries, plums, blackberries, spices and dark chocolate. Its texture is round, rich, silky, smooth, soft and/or velvety. Think of Malbec when you might otherwise choose Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz or Zinfandel. Malbec is best served with (especially) grilled or barbecued beef, game, lamb, pork, veal, sausage, short ribs, steak, venison, goat, cheeseburgers, stews, empanadas, lasagna and other meat-sauced pastas, medium strong cheeses, beans, mushrooms and black olives.

For excellent value and great taste I recommend:

2009 Mapema Malbec (SRP*: $19):

Teamwork is the hallmark of Mariano di Paola and his staff. He’s one of Mendoza’s “Deans of Winemaking” and teaches young winemakers at Don Bosco University.

This Mapema has aromas and flavors of black cherries, black raspberries, blueberries and plums, dark chocolate and mint. It’s spicy and fruity, made from 83-year-old vines, and as good on the second day as the first.

2010 Benmarco Malbec (SRP*: $20):

Susana Balbo has made wine in Australia, California, Chile, France, Italy, South Africa and Spain. In 1999 she added Argentina to the list, crafting wines from her sustainably farmed Mendoza vineyards.

This Benmarco is 90% Malbec and 10% Bonarda (to add complexity and improve balance). It has aromas and flavors of ripe red fruits, currant jam and roasted coffee beans. It’s lush, full bodied, has bright acidity and is  made from 25-year-old vines.

Note: I received these wines as samples from the importer.

*Wines can usually be found for less–sometimes considerably less–than the SRP (suggested retail price).

McManis Family Vineyards: Good Wines, Good Values–Even Family Values

8 Feb

By Sharon Kapnick

I’m always pleased to come across a producer that makes good-value wines, so I was delighted to recently discover McManis Family Vineyards, which makes several of them. After I noticed that their $10 2009 Pinot Noir was chosen by the Wine Enthusiast as one of the Top 100 Best Buys of 2011, I wanted to learn more about them. After all, excellent $10 Pinots are about as easy to come by as flamingos in Central Park.

I found out that the McManis family had been growing grapes, almonds and peaches in the Northern Interior region of California since 1938. But Ron McManis fell in love with the grape side of the business, so in 1990, as soon as they could manage it financially, 4th generation farmer McManis and his wife, Jamie, purchased their first vineyard. Then, in 1994, they founded the McManis Family Vineyards, 80 miles east of San Francisco. With some vineyards in Lodi and some in Modesto, the McManises sold only bulk wine until 2001, when they bottled their first wines using the family label.

The wines can generally be found for an easy-on-the-pocketbook $8 to $9 a bottle in a wide range of varietals–Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Zinfandel, Malbec and Barbera. Last year saw the addition of two even-more-inexpensive options: a red blend and a white blend in nonvintage box-wine formats.

The wines truly are a family effort. Fifth generation daughter Tanya and son Justin are involved, and the McManises look upon their workers as part of an extended family. No big corporations are involved in this business.

In a testament to their skill and hard work, production has gone from 4,000 cases to more than 300,000 cases in a decade. And while McManis started out selling grapes in bulk to other wineries, they now purchase about 25% of the grapes they use in their own wines.

Another reason to support them: the company is currently planning to reach green winery certification from the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing program and it adheres to sustainable farming practices.

Their goal, Ron says, is to “constantly showcase the passion and commitment we have to make quality wines that overdeliver on value and are consistently good year after year.” They’re doing a pretty good job at it.


2010 Viognier (SRP* $12): aromas and flavors of pear, peach and apricot, a touch of honey, good acidity, good balance; recently won the “Best in Class” award for Viogniers up to $19.99 at the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

2010 Malbec (SRP $12): aromas and flavors of raspberry and blackberry, good acidity, medium body, delicious

2010 Merlot (SRP $11): aromas and flavors of black cherry, berries; juicy, soft; recently won the “Best in Class” award for Merlots $10 to $14.99 at the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

2010 Petite Sirah (SRP $12): aromas and flavors of blackberry, boysenberry and cassis, smooth, soft, flavorful

Jack Tone Vineyards Red Wine (SRP $22 per 3-L box, equivalent to four bottles): The blend, which may include Petite Sirah, Syrah, Zinfandel and Petit Verdot, will change from year to year. It currently features Syrah and Petite Sirah. Aromas and flavors of dark berries, especially blackberry. A great bargain

* suggested retail price

Full disclosure: I received samples of these wines.