Kaiken 2009 Malbec Mendoza

Tuesday night we went to Boulevard and blew the rent. After two Woodford Reserve Manhattans, the sommelier John helped us pick out an astounding Barolo from Piedmont that set us back $165. Good thing the foie gras was amazing and the northern halibut was as close to the empyrean as one gets without angel wings.

Every cent we spent Tuesday was worth it. Except the next day, the cold reality of how we were going to survive the rest of the week set in. So on a chilly Wednesday evening we made radish salad and beef tacos, flipped through our Netflix, and opened a bottle of Kaiken 2009 Malbec from Mendoza that set us back a mere $10, one-sixteenth the cost of that Boulevard Barolo.

With the popularity of Malbec growing rapidly, there are numerous choices on the market, many of them downright vile. Technically a Bordeaux varietal, Malbec makes up less than 1 percent of Bordeaux plantings. And though still given lip service as one of the five components of the meritage blend, it rarely makes an appearance anymore, dwarfed in most California and French blendings by its more tannic sister-vine Petite Verdot.

As a result, South America has become the center of this burgeoning grape, with Argentina being its prominent producer and distributor. Since I work in the wine industry I taste between 50 and 100 wines a week, and can say that Malbec is a tricky grape. It often exposes unripe vegetal tones, unbalanced acids, and earthy funk, and for every good Malbec I buy, I take a pass on 30 others. But when done right it can be one of the most exquisite and consumer-friendly varietals on the market. Medium-bodied and unpretentious, Malbec is a versatile grape that can be paired with just about anything. It's fruity yet robust, and as in the case of the 2009 Kaiken, can cost less than two hours of parking in the Marina garage.

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