Non-Traditional Wines: Malbec & Halloween

Epitomizing the spirit of both The Oregon Wine Blog and our series on non-traditional wines of the Northwest, we decided to do our tasting of Malbec in a unconventional fashion - at least when it comes to the classical method of reviewing wine. That's right, we paired the tasting with our Halloween party, and invited our rag-tag group of friends and fellow bloggers to participate. After all, most of you aren't professional wine drinkers, so why would you want to read reviews from them? Who are we kidding anyway?

Before we dive in to the Malbec, I have three disclosures to make: I'm half a bottle of Lemberger in as I write this post, we tasted 6 different Malbec's in one sitting [and we don't believe in spitting, unless of course, we're driving], and all the wine was supplied by the wineries. So, take it for what it's worth!

About Malbec

Wikipedia, being the bastion of all that is known in the universe, has once again served as our trusty reference as we explore the wonders of Malbec. One of the six grapes allowed in the blend of Bordeaux wine, Malbec is an inky dark grape with robust tannins, found primarily in the Southwest region of France. A think skinned grape, the fruit needs more sunlight than Cab or Merlot to mature, fitting for Eastern Washington or Southern Oregon.

Malbec has traditionally been used in making Claret, it was a significant variety in California prior to the prohibition used in blended bulk production wine. After the prohibition, Malbec became popular in Meritage blends and US production has increased seven-fold in the last 20 years. Seven Hills Winery planted the first Malbec vines in Washington in the late 90's, and a number of Washington and Oregon wineries have been experimenting with 100% varietals in the last 10 years, primarily in the Columbia Valley and Walla Walla AVA's.

The Wine

As I mentioned, we combined the Malbec tasting with our Halloween party. As a result, a number of our closest friends provided tasting notes that contributed to this post. Free wine, right? The methodology was simple -- Rick and I tasted through all 6 samples prior to the party to get some baseline reviews, and then we provided the bottles to our guests to drink throughout the night, only asking that they jot some notes down on each wine they tasted for our review. Scientific...not so much, but we got some unique and varied perspectives that reflect the diversity and tastes of each individual. Thanks to Drew, Micheal, Chris, Kathryn, Gordon, Andrea, Craig, Megan, and Zack for joining us!

The six wines sampled were:

Five were from Washington, one from Idaho. In reviewing these wines, we found that all had appealing qualities, and all had some characteristics that didn't resonate with some of our audience. It ultimately comes down to taste and the experience one is looking for. All in all, though, two clear favorites emerged:

Dusted Valley: This was my personal favorite. We found a jammy, fruity nose with raspberries and cherries quite prominent. The taste built on the nose and added some cranberry with a bit of tartness on the finish. This was a very refreshing wine and didn't require a food pairing to be successful - although would do well with pasta. One of our guests picked up some leather and black pepper on the nose, although I didn't see it. I definitely drank my fair share of the Dusted Valley and I'd suggest picking up a bottle for any time drinking if you can get your hands on one. At $35 per bottle, I believe it is only available to wine club members.

Pend d'Orielle: Our only Idaho wine in this flight, it was a pleasant surprise (although shouldn't have been a surprise based on our previous experience with PO Wine). With a prominent nose of rose petals, some red fruit, and licorice, we picked up cocoa in the flavor profile with a pomegranate finish. This was an extremely drinkable wine in which some of our guests noted hints of leather, berry, and a bit of sweetness. With a price point of $29 per bottle, this is highly recommended.

The other four were well received by various members of our tasting panel. One interesting note was the prominent leather on the Maryhill offering. It definitely wasn't as off-putting as it was on the Barbera; it seems that leather is a feature of the Maryhill Gunkle vineyard. Flavors of raspberry and cranberry seemed to stay constant throughout, and we noted some differences between AVA's in the smoothness of the wines.

So there you have it -- Malbec and Halloween, The Oregon Wine Blog style. Stay tuned for the continuation of this series, some book reviews, a feature on the Southern Oregon wine tasting event from a guest blogger, and some Yakima Valley coverage. What were you drinking on Halloween?