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Malbec

Clos de los Siete Red BlendDecember has so far been a cold, bleak, windy affair. No snow as of yet, and very little to recommend in terms of scenery. In fact, I would much rather go somewhere else entirely at this time of year. Some far country where I could forget about the artificial urgency of the holidays, truly kick back, and relax. New York winter weather makes me crave wines with opposing qualities: warm, lush, and full of cheer. Big, hearty numbers that shout “it’s time for STEAK, b****!” – or perhaps they’d shout something more mature, yet equally bold. Wines with hot bluster and tannin to match. And because I’m feeling the wallet crunch of the coming Christmas, I also want to enjoy wines that I know cost the makers many millions of dollars. Wine is a form of wealth redistribution I can get behind.

So let’s combine these elements: wine from a far country that has been really, really expensive to realize, but reaches we happy consumers with minimal pocket pinch. “Clos de los Siete” is of the more expensive wine projects in recent history, fitting all of my winter-and-I’m-depressed-tell-me-a-wine-story criteria. Headed by the star oenologist Michel Rolland, this effort focuses on expressing Argentinian terroir while sparing no expense in sourcing and vinifying high-quality grapes. We’re talking over 2000 acres of vines at 1,200 meters above sea level, right at the doorstep of the Andes mountains, turned into wine at seven wineries designed with extravagant attention to detail by master architects. Truly the kind of place where you’d expect fine wine to be made.

And so it is. The 2008 “Clos de los Siete,” the signature wine from this project, is blended personally by Michel Rolland every year, from painstakingly handpicked Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Petit Verdot. It’s a big wine, to be sure: a dark ruby red in the glass, with ripe aromas of plum, cassis, and saddle leather. In the mouth, more dark cherry and cassis fruit rage around like Lindsay Lohan on a road trip in the countryside, stomping all over hints of cedar and loam. In a good way. Finishes long, with definite grainy tannins that cloak your tongue; it could well benefit from a year or two more of bottle aging. While expensive to produce, “Clos de los Siete” will cost you only $20: good for breaking winter doldrums without breaking the bank. Begs for roast meats of any kind or caliber.

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The wine discussed in this post for me represents keeping the love of wine simple. Most of us, most of the time, want wines we don’t need to think too hard about to drink and enjoy. Perhaps too much condescension is leveled against pure enjoyment of a glass of fermented grape juice, whatever its actual quality. I am guilty of cuvée snobbery on occasion, thumbing my nose at perfectly decent wines because… they’re just decent. As if everything in this life needs to be spectacular to satisfy. Too much pretense remains in the wine world. It’s just juice, folks. And with that, I present to you a bottle of fun, fruity simplicity.

Located in California’s Central Coast, Clayhouse Vineyard produces a fine set of delicious reds, but the first wine of theirs I ever tried was the 2005 “Adobe Red.” I was hooked. Fruit-driven but not overly lush, with some tannic backbone giving it a firm feel, and a nice medium finish, my first sip of this blend reminded me why I keep going back to the U.S. and its AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) – the wines are straightforward and tasty. If you’re really cerebral about your wine, you’ll lay down some handsome dollars to get yours, but folksy wine lovers like myself get by just fine on buying mid-priced American. I like my wines the way I like my trucks: except I don’t like trucks. Simile fail. Anyway, I was hooked on Clayhouse Vineyard from the first sip. And nothing about that has changed from 2005 to 2007.

The 2007 Clayhouse Vineyard “Adobe Red” boasts fruit from their estate Red Cedar vineyard, near Paso Robles (a personal favorite for California AVA’s). As mentioned before, it is a blend of the following grape varietals: 41% Zinfandel, 32% Petit Sirah, 16% Syrah, 5% Malbec, 4% Grenache and 2% Mourvèdre. According to the winemaker, yields were a bit lower in 2007, with small berries, leading to excellent concentration of flavor. All varietals were fermented separately, 15% aged in French and American oak for just over a year, then were blended and bottled in 2009.

What results is a wine that appears vibrant red in the glass. On the nose, I found loads of ripe cherry and plum, a bit jammy but not overwhelmingly so, with some vanilla notes from the oak. The mouthfeel was supple, with good tannic structure, and enough acidity to keep it interesting, showing juicy cherry and blackberry flavors with more vanilla bean and spice. Medium finish; delicious. I would pair the “Adobe Red” with mushroom and cheddar cheeseburgers, strip steaks and scalloped potatoes, or possibly a slice of humble pie. $15.


It is summer. You and some friends are playing Ultimate in the park at midday. Trees, paths and grass are all damp from yesterday’s rain, but it’s hot now, naturally. All around, the smell of cooking meat, barbecue sauce, and perfectly roasted fennel, onions and tomatoes wafts from multiple grills. Someone calls a stop to the game of frisbee, maybe you, and opens a bottle of… what? Many things will do, but what for this occasion?

Enter the 2008 Terra Sparkling Malbec, produced in Mendoza in Argentina, a deep liquid ruby swirl in the glass. Loaded with blueberries and blackberries on the nose, leading to more rich black fruit and currants in the mouth with hints of black pepper and earth. The delicate perlage is reminiscent of a fine Champagne, backed by silky tannins culminating in a clean finish. Terra makes a great aperitif, and pairs with hors d’oeuvres, roast pork, or roast chicken, but I would bring out bigger guns (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah) for heavier meats or real barbecue. $10.