- 2019 Piatelli Vineyards Reserve Malbec, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina ($9.89 @Costco in California – Item #1316321)
- 2018 Ben Marco Malbec, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina ($9.99* @Costco in California – Item #101580)
*net price after $5 discount
Black Skins Matter
There are basically three “colors” of wine grapes here on earth: white, grey and black.
There’s a saying in the wine business that all wines are born white. That’s because the color of the skin determines the color of the wine – but only if the wine is kept in contact with the skin. If you pulled all the skins out of a “red” wine fermentation vessel ASAP after crushing, you would have a Cabernet Sauvignon the color of Chardonnay. Or maybe a very pale rose.
The grape skins are also big contributors to the presence of tannins in wines. More skin contact, more color and more tannins.
The thing that really struck me about these two wines are how lovely they present in the glass. That has a lot to do with where they are grown. Both are grown at altitude. Some of the best Malbecs in the world are now being produced in high-altitude vineyards in the Andes Mountains in Argentina, where a combination of long hours of intense, UV-heavy sunlight, balanced by cooler air at night and a long growing season, can produce some remarkable wines, with vibrant, lively flavors. Thicker skins yield deeply-colored wines.
On their face, these two wines have a lot in common. Both are from Argentina. Both are made from the Malbec grape and from vineyards farmed at high altitude (3,000 feet above sea level for the Ben Marco and nearly 6,000 feet for the Piatelli). Both were bestowed 93 points by critic James Suckling, hence both are killer deals when you consider their sub-$10 price points.
You Could Spend More for Wines this Good, But Why?
Speaking of price points, it is good to see that the net price of $9.99 (after a $5 discount) for the Ben Marco Malbec has not changed since we first featured this wine in 2019.
The wines diverge a bit stylistically. The Piattelli is a bit more restrained, the Ben Marco a bit more lush. I attribute this to not only the difference in altitude, but also vintage. The former is one year younger than the latter. But both have the flavors and mouthfeel I look for in fine Argentinian Malbecs – a hard to describe warmth and saltiness that makes it such a good wine to pair with roasted meats and empanadas.
Tasting Notes (Piatelli):
Aromatic notes of ripe plum and violet. Fruity bouquet marked by structure and softness. Vibrant flavours of blackberries and blueberries, with slight notes of spicy smokiness. Full-bodied and bright, this wine would pair well with roasted meats and other bold rustic flavors.
Tasting Notes (Ben Marco):
Pours a tantalizing deep purple color that promises good things. It delivers with aromas of fresh black fruit and floral notes of violets. The palate shows nice balance, smoothed tannins, and notes of blackberry and light tar notes. Hints of dark chocolate and walnuts. Pairs well with beef, sausages, spiced or grilled pork, medium-strong cheeses, and meat-based pasta sauces.
A Little History about Wine, Malbec and Argentina
The success story of Argentine Malbec is well-documented. A once important part of Bordeaux blends, contributing firm tannins and dark, brambly fruit flavours, it fell out of favour after a terrible frost in 1956 wiped out most of the crop in France. But it was reinvented in Argentina, which began to produce good value, richly fruited, velvety Malbec, shot through with appealing acidity and lightness of touch on the palate: ideal with steak and other red meats.
Mendoza, the home of Ben Marco, is by far the largest wine region in Argentina. Located on a high-altitude plateau at the edge of the Andes Mountains, the province is responsible for roughly 70 percent of the country’s annual wine production. Malbec thrives here, having made its New World home in the vineyards of here, producing red wines of great concentration, intensity – and value.
In the 1800s, Spanish and Italian immigrants flooded into Mendoza to escape the ravages of the phylloxera louse that was devastating vineyards in Europe at the time. A boom in wine production came in 1885, when a railway line was completed between Mendoza and the country’s capital city, Buenos Aires, providing a cheaper, easier way of sending wines out of the region. For most of the 20th Century, the Argentinean wine industry focused almost entirely on the domestic market, and it is only in the past 25 years that a push toward quality has led to the wines of Mendoza gracing restaurant lists the world over.
Altitude is one of the most important characteristics of the Argentinian terroir. The strip of vineyard land that runs along the base of the Andes lies between 800 and 1200 meters (2600 and 3900ft) above sea level, and it is this altitude that moderates the hot, dry climate of the region. Warm, sunny days are followed by nights made much colder by westerly winds from the Andes. This cooling-off period slows ripening, extending the growing season and contributing rich, ripe flavors to the grapes that do not come at the expense of acidity.
Need More Wine Picks from Costco – or Trader Joe’s Even?
If your wine shopping excursions land you in Costco, prepare by grazing our most recent reviews of Costco wines here in our Lucky 13 list.
And if your shopping finds you at Trader Joe’s, you can find our Lucky 13 list of TJ’s wine here.
Stay safe and healthy everyone!