Alright, alright, ALRIGHT! Take it easy, people. Ever heard of a little clickbaiting in the name of starting a conversation?
There's a few things at play here. One, I couldn't think of anything to write about so I had to get basic. Two, this is an excellent exercise in stimulating your noodle: start with a harsh statement and work your way in or out of it.
And three: Malbec is the worst and it's shitting in my cornflakes.
I said it.
But let me tell you why.
If it's cheap, it's too cheap to be good.
If it's good, it's too good to be cheap.
You're not at a restaurant in Buenos Aires at 10:30pm with a 32oz bone in ribeye. For one.
You don't have a rose in your mouth.
It's too purple.
It shouldn't be that purple.
Why is it so gad-damn purple?
It's $4 for a 19oz glass at Sammy J. Peppers.
Salt Bae is nowhere to be found. (He's Turkish, for the record. But I can't find him.)
Malbec wasn't imported into the Americas. It was deported from Bordeaux.
The trend is over.
You could be drinking cheap Touriga Nacional.
You could be drinking cheap Rioja.
You could be drinking expensive Marechal Foch™.
You should be drinking Tannat.
Why is my mouth black?
Let's get a little more academic (hardly). See, Malbec isn't that new and exciting, though you really could have fooled me given the notable producers who seem all too excited to rip up their Merlot after listening to the industry bad-mouth it for 16 years and replant it with God's gift to Karens everywhere. It's been utilized for years in Bordeaux as a blending agent and made on its own in Cahors in pleasant styles by steady hands. And guess what? There are some real beauties in Argentina when you get to the serious stuff, no question. I am not even arguing the value in some of the mid-tier juice. I've enjoyed several.
And that brings me to the purpose of this article. This is therapy for me. I make a general, bold, brash statement about something, and then I have to explain to myself (is anyone else reading this?) why I believe the statement. By the time I do that, I've usually calmed down and am able to see the other side of something. I chill the fuck out. And I figure out what is actually bothering me. Sometimes.
So, why am I so mad at Malbec?
The first thing that bugs me is its popularity in the budget category. I can't figure it out for the life of me. As a born contrarian, anything that becomes popular in the mainstream instantly irks me. And the reason for that is that I am not trusting of the overall mean intelligence quotient of so many people. Am I being too hard on people? No. Two words: Donald...well, you get it.
OK. There's that. Too many punters claiming that Malbec is the best. Too many mediocre chain restaurants saying that they can't keep it in stock. Too many Mal-Beckys out there saying that if it's not Marc Jacobs Malbec, then, they don't want it. Too many Chads out there having someone serve them a nice, complex Beaujolais Cru, complaining that it's too light, and exclaiming that's more like it when they get a glass of one-dimensional, $12-a-bottle Finca Los Primos. It used to be $7.99. Those were the days.
And so, there's this public and democratic fervor and buzz around Malbec.
"It's got great colour!"
"It's full-bodied and smooth!"
"It's got great colour!"
Sound familiar? Are you getting annoyed yet?
Malbec, to me, represents the herd mentality of public consensus in the worst possible way. It represents the death of expertise. It represents style and status over substance. It represents a successful marketing campaign rather than the natural evolution of a wine region. It represents the suppression of an area's diversity in favour of something that can be easily understood.
It bothers me that there are so many decent, inexpensive wines out there all over the world that get no attention because they don't appeal to tropes that have been propagated and disseminated amongst consumers by the big players in the military industrial wine complex.
It bothers me that people are so quick to attach themselves to something because their friends are doing it or because they saw it on Gossip Girl™. It's none of my business, I know. Why should I care what anyone does with their money, time, and taste buds? It must be akin to someone like Elton John wondering what everyone saw in O-Town. At least, that's how I justify it to myself.
But, it's not just the popularity that's got me down. It's the fact that this popularity has now turned Malbec into a cultish thing for some premium winegrowers and producers. Perhaps because of this foaming base in T.G.I.Friday's & Rainforest Cafes all around the world, there's a public and palpable excitement around anything with the word Malbec on it.
You go to a winery in Napa. Sonoma. Okanagan Valley. Washington State.
Hey, buy our Reserve Merlot! It's only $30!
Shit. They're thinking. We've got 2500 cases of this shit and we can't move it.
Damn. But try this instead....
This is our Small Lot Malbec.
Oh. My. God! How much can we buy?!
We only made 17 bottles.
We'll take it all!
It's $95 a bottle.
WE DON'T CARE!!!
Don't you want to taste it first?
No. We really don't. It's frickin' Malbec!
And then they proceed to rip up their Merlot, one block at a time, until nothing is left but a sea of Malbec that even Moses couldn't wade through on his best day. Well, maybe it's more of a puddle at this point. But it's a big puddle. A dark puddle. An ominous puddle. Oh, dear...
The sad thing is that while some of these wine regions have had great success emulating Bordelaise styles of wine production, much of it with Merlot, it's like this Malbec-induced trance has got them thinking that the varietal most notably ripped up in Bordeaux (with the possible exception of Carmenere, which I've got much nicer things to say about) must somehow be the one that is worthy of ripping up the Merlot and its proven reliability and deliciousness for in favour of the grape that the region they most emulated in Bordeaux ripped up themselves and probably replaced with Merlot.
Is the natural depth of colour, that rich blue-ish-purply tinge so appealing that we're willing to smack some new American oak on it and call it something special? Do people only want to taste one flavour at a time? I mean, I can't fault anyone for the metrics. Whereas Merlot has unceremoniously been torn down in wine pop-culture, Malbec has unceremoniously, if not organically, been elevated. There's no stain on its reputation, and awareness is at an all-time high. It's like the oceans of cheap, mass-produced, Argentinian Pantone™-flavoured swill has been prepping the masses for years, getting them ready for that big purchase when they feel like they finally know something. Because they KNOW Malbec. And as human nature goes, when you know something, it's just flat-out better.
To you, at least.
And so, here we are. I've made a big, ignorant, over-simplified statement about wine; the kind only GQ would normally make and the kind that I absolutely detest. Why? Because these types of generalizations, in my mind, if not "dangerous" (this isn't an election or a democracy), are plain detrimental to the development of otherwise fertile wine-minds. These kinds of statements make wine seem simple. Which, if you're new, is satisfying. It paints a picture of the wine world that simply doesn't exist, even in the world of Malbec. And that world is one where answers are easily obtained and understood, the opposite of which, I would argue, is the first great obstacle to overcome when embarking on a journey to learn about wine in the first place.
But, what's more dangerous at this point? The propagation of such ideas filtered through entire industrial wine producing regions and facilities and multi-million dollar marketing campaigns and deals with chain restaurants that threaten to eliminate the market for wines that a consensus of expert types would deem as more delicious and interesting by eliminating the consumer's ability to see them as such because an easier answer exists? Or statements like the one I made in the title of this article that aim to explore that very phenomenon?
You be the judge. I'll be here, sucking on my favourite Malbec.