Friday, 19 April 2024

Foodie Freak: Malbec



In recent columns I've compared wines to celebrities, and when it comes to describing Malbec Wallace Shawn best embodies the wine.

What, you’re surprised? You didn’t think all grapes are supermodels and square-jawed leading men,

did you? Inconceivable! Sometimes a grape isn’t sexy!

Most people would recognize Wallace Shawn as Vizzini, the egotistical but somehow loveable criminal “mastermind” from the movie “The Princess Bride” who says the overused but unforgettable catch phrase, “INCONCEIVABLE!” But besides being an actor, he’s a comic, playwright and political activist.

The Malbec grape is tannic, thin-skinned, very susceptible to diseases and frost, and has a tendency to “shatter” (without going into huge detail, it means to not produce well for numerous reasons).

Malbec vines are the proverbial 98 pound weakling of the vineyard, which is kind of amusing since it produces a grape with 300 pound flavor. It’s similar in this regard to Wallace Shawn, who in real life is only 5 feet, 2 inches tall, yet he produces characters that are larger than life.

The fact is, Malbec just isn’t a statuesque, buff, sexy grape. Some winemakers may disagree, just like some women might consider Wallace Shawn a hunk of beefcake, but he was once described as “one of the worst and unsightliest actors in this city.”

In 1956 a hard frost killed off 75 percent of all of the Malbec vines in Bordeaux France, Malbec’s homeland. As if to say “You’re more trouble than you are worth,” most of the acreage wasn’t replanted with Malbec but with the more hearty and currently marketable Merlot vines.

Malbec is considered to be one of Bordeaux’s “noble grapes” yet, due to its finicky nature, it has lost favor with winegrowers and is dying a slow death in France. It’s not as if they ever really loved the

grape to begin with, since “Mal Bec” means “bad beak” or “bad mouth” in French.

An annoyingly talkative person is also called “mal bec.” Wallace Shawn, with his whiny kind of voice, could be called a “mal bec.”

The true origin of the name for the vine isn’t known. Usually this wine is inexpensive or used for blending. Argentina, however, has developed a love for Malbec and is planting it and producing it

with a passion. It has become so popular in Argentina that 70 percent of the world’s Malbecs are now produced in Argentina. Because Argentina is flooding the market with their Malbec you can usually find them for between $7 and $14 in your local mega-market.

Wallace Shawn won’t become the next Dirty Harry or John McClain, but put him in an ensemble cast and he’ll steal the show. So much so that all you have to do is say “Inconceivable!” and everyone instantly knows who you are speaking of. There is even a Grand Negas Zek impersonation on YouTube for all of the Star Trek fans.

Wallace Shawn, like Malbec, commands attention. I’m a big Wallace Shawn fan, but if you were to tell me he would be replacing Stallone in the next Rambo movie I’d call you crazy.

Same thing if you told me that Brassfield Estate’s Malbec was voted to be the winner of the 2009 People’s Choice “Best Red Wine of High Valley”… It was?! OK, I’ll admit at times I may be incorrect … so maybe Wallace Shawn as Rambo could work. I guess I’ll have to suffer a little schadenfreude from the Malbec winemakers.

Wallace Shawn is fantastically talented and adds depth, humor and personality to everything that he is a part of. Malbec is the same way. There are good 100-percent Malbec wines, but it does its best work in a blend.

A straight Malbec wine isn’t a leisurely, sit-around-and-drink-on-the-back-deck kind of wine, it needs to be paired with food, and is especially good with rare red meat. Malbec is an “in your face” red wine that slaps your tongue around to make sure it gets its point across.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like heavy tannins in wine, and I don’t like the whininess in Wallace Shawn’s voice. But those tannins and that voice are both the claims to fame for each of them. It is what makes them unique and marketable, just as they are.

Flavor descriptors you can find in Malbec are anise (black licorice), blackberries, black cherry, cassis (currants), citrus, coffee, damson (a tart variety of plum grown for making jams and jellies, the term is

mainly used by wine snobs trying to sound condescending), figs, flowers, lavender, mint, mocha, oak, pepper, plum, roses, sage, yogurt and, my favorite – that I have never heard to describe any other wine

before – fleshiness. Someone needs to explain that one to me.

If you want to start sounding like a pretentious wine snob you can start by embellishing on descriptors, so instead of saying, “It tastes like figs and coffee,” say, “Reminiscent of grilled figs and espresso.”

Try compounding flavors like “blackberry jam,” or bring up obscure references that give no information that the general public can use, such as “Flavor of damson,” or “the taste of purple after it rains.” While researching Malbec I found many of these snobbish descriptors. Again … “fleshiness”?

Malbec’s color is often described as dense, so dense that Malbec is even called the “Black wine.” Many of Wallace Shawn’s plays and characters can be described as dense, dark, and deep. I can’t think of

any of them that can be described as shallow or flighty; well maybe Rex the tyrannosaurus in “Toy Story.”

Malbec can be intense, so intense that often when winemakers consider putting 2 percent Malbec into a Cabernet Sauvignon they end up just adding 1.5 percent instead. Wallace Shawn can also be considered to be intense, being very politically opinionated in his personal and professional life.

This intensity is what makes Malbec such a great blender. Alone it can be an acquired taste but still an outstanding wine, especially if served with a meal. Blended it can add depth and complexity to an

ensemble cast. Either way the idea that you won’t like Malbec in some form is inconceivable!

Lake County Malbec

Blackstone Winery (Lake County Grapes, Sonoma winery)

Brassfield Estate Winery (Best Red Wine of High Valley AVA, Peoples Choice Awards)

Dusinberre’s 100 percent (new branding)

Ceago Vinegarden

Steele Wines Writers Block (10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 5 percent Cabernet Franc, 5 percent Merlot)

Ledson Winery and Vineyard (Lake County Grapes, Sonoma winery)

McDermaid Family Vineyards (8 percent Petite Verdot)

Moore Family Winery (SOLD OUT)

Zina Hyde Cunningham (Lake County Grapes, Boonville winery)

Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community. Follow him on Twitter, .

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