Review - Wine - Graffigna

WHERE MALBEC IS BOSS
Argentinians aren't just for scoring goals, you know - as this drop clearly shows.

Ah, Argentina. What a country. The tango; Madonna; corned beef. You can't argue with that line-up, can you. And then there's Ernesto "Che" Guevara. You might think you know him from a million student bedroom posters, but in actual fact - and I'm quoting from Wikipedia here - he was a gorilla. Amazing.

And let's not forget Diego Maradona, the footballer who reinvented the beautiful game in the mid-'80s. He reinvented it as a game you play with your hands while hopped up on Bolivian marching powder.

And then, of course, there's wine. Great big lakes of the stuff. Argentina, you see, is one of the world's biggest producers of plonk, ranking fifth after France, Italy, Spain and the US, and coming in ahead of Australia, Germany and South Africa. Quite impressive for a country that was almost colonised by the Welsh.

Argentina's wine industry shares much in common with its neighbour over the hills, Chile. First of all - and predictably enough - both sprang from 16th century Spanish conquistadores. It's those foothills of the Andes you see - nice and sunny, dry and easy to irrigate. And until relatively recently, both countries had a name for producing huge quantities of pretty ordinary jug wine, most of which was consumed domestically.

Seeing the success Chile had in reinventing itself in the 1980s, especially its successful marketing to huge markets in North America and the UK, Argentina followed suit and did very well. By the mid-'90s - around the time Maradona stopped eating salads and his sister, Madonna, started getting her Golden Globes out - Argentina was shipping out vast quantities of plonk.

Now, although Argentina is home to nearly 20 successfully cultivated grape varieties - tempranilla, cab sav and sangiovese being particularly agreeable - it's malbec that has become synonymous with the country. Although not exactly dismissed in its native Bordeaux, the French generally think of malbec as a blending wine; something to pad out the good stuff. In Mendoza, a region west of Buenos Aires responsible for almost 70% of wine produced in the country, malbec is boss.

The malbec I grabbed from Gourmet Market at Emporium (Graffigna, 2006, 580 baht, 14% ABV) actually comes from the region just north of Mendoza, San Juan. Unfortunately, although only a stone's throw away, San Juan is not and never will be Mendoza. Much hotter than its southern pal, the grapes tend to be high in volume but low in quality. Basically, San Juan is to Mendoza what Phil Neville is to Maradona. And I don't mean taller.

Not that the Graffigna was awful. There's a light, ripe berry nose to it, and after being ignored for a good half hour the harsh, boozy thwack that characterised opening swigs had been replaced by a gentle, boozy thwack that got less and less thwackish the more ratatouille (courtesy of Madame A) my guests and I shovelled down our gullets.

But no one buys wine actually wanting alcohol to be the dominant taste (although I guess Maradona may have done in his youth), and the overriding feeling was that if we could force the wine back into the bottle for another six months or so, it may well have "found itself".

But, much like my own teenage conviction that I had a future in authoritative, well-researched, hard-hitting journalism - sometimes you've just got to be realistic. And so, all I was left with was a compulsion to hunt down a reasonably priced Mendoza malbec to compare and contrast. And my Che "Cuddles" Guevara poster.

The issue of how little is too little is causing all sorts of anguish in the Grapevine Towers mailbox. Peeraya (last week's letters) gets support from Andy Rankin, who argues that 500 baht is the equivalent of 8 (probably nearer to 20 by the time you read this), and if he were spending that kind of money at home in England he'd expect something "better than passable. And so," he continues, "while in Thailand, I'm a beer man!"

But enough of the handwringing, let's move onto Kim, who actually put his 285 baht where his mouth was and sent a bottle of Mont Clair Bin 9 Reserve (2007, shiraz, 13% ABV) round to Grapevine Towers. Not a bad drop either, Kim, cheers. A light, easy-drinking drop that although somewhat lacking in character, is certainly something you could glug every day without ruining your palate or you wallet. The grapes are South African, the bottling is Thai and the savings are yours. Not a bad deal, doncha think?

Bangkok Post, November 2008

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