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From a neglected grape, a good Argentine wine

The 2004 Don Miguel Gascón Malbec demonstrates that Argentina’s star red grape can be delicious even when young. And at $13, it’s a good value.

If there is one word to remember about wine from Argentina, it is malbec. 

Transplanted from Bordeaux, where it is now a footnote, this red grape has become the star of Argentina, where it thrives, producing wines packed with flavor and intensity, even when quite young.

Unfortunately, many casual wine drinkers in this country still don’t know about malbec, much less the fact that it is the source of excellent, undervalued Bordeaux-style wines.  A perfect example is the 2004 Don Miguel Gascón Malbec from Bodegas Escorihuela Gascón.  This century-old winery is in the Argelo area of Mendoza, Argentina’s most important wine region, and is partially owned by Nicholas Catena, one of the country’s most respected winemakers.

I’ve become somewhat skeptical of young, relatively inexpensive red wines from Argentina and Chile. Many have no business being released, as is the norm, with just a year or so of aging, and the result is often coarse, with rough tannins, unsubtle oak and only average fruit.  This is especially true of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, which, at the lower end, are often second-tier wines, although I’m sure that some will disagree with this.

Malbec, whose importance in France is now limited to Cahors in the southwest, seems different.  The Don Miguel Gascón, which comes with a suggested price of $13 (although I have seen it advertised for less) is surprisingly accessible now, although it will certainly evolve for a couple of years.  There’s nothing rough about it.  This is a ripe and luscious wine, even in its youth.

It’s all about full, dark berry fruit — blackberry and secondary notes of blueberry, as well as plum.  It’s dense yet fresh, earthy yet round, young yet ripe and softly tannic.  This is a great wine for all kinds of meats, from steak to sausage, and will hold up nicely to smoky grilled entrees.

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Malbec thrives and ripens easily in western Argentina’s high-altitude vineyards, where a day without sunshine is rare. Meanwhile, the grapes used in the Gascón are mostly from old vines, some more than 50 years old, in three separate vineyard areas, all of them above 3,000 feet.  The wine received eight months of aging in oak barrels, and the wood is nicely integrated.  Some 30,000 cases were imported to this country, so the wine will be widely available.

There's a second, less-expensive label called High Altitude that’s a bit lighter than the Gascón.  The 2004 High Altitude is a blend of 70 percent malbec and 30 percent cabernet sauvignon.  It’s a good value at about $10.

Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at EdwardDeitch