A Tale of Two Malbecs: Vina Cobos Bramare 2006 and Catena Alta 2004

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IMG_4179Vina Cobos and Catena Zapata are two of the best producers of wine in Argentina. They also share a connection in that Vina Cobos partner and winemaker Paul Hobbs, a famous Napa winemaker, many years ago consulted for Catena and helped Nicolas Catena develop what has become the best chardonnay in the country. I recently poured one of Hobbs’ lower end wines from Cobos at the YVR Wine public tasting, using it to illustrate the inadequacies of the 100-point scale. That wine, which scored 91 points and costs $20, found many admirers, albeit some detractors. I thought it was well made, but in the end its made from sourced fruit.

The Cobos Bramare wines are their mid-range offerings, but they show a massive step up in quality since all the fruit used in the line is sourced from Cobos’ own Marchiori Vineyard, which is a mecca for lovers of old-vine malbec. This particular wine sees some pretty heavy use of oak, lees treatment, and malo, so it’s pretty rich and creamy. This does hide the fruit a bit, but that doesn’t mean this wine isn’t pretty darn delicious, especially when paired with the braised lamb shank I went for.

The nose on the Bramare was a bit hot, with red and black berry fruit, loads of chocolate, and a bit of briar. The palate had coffee, chocolate, blue fruits, and a rich and creamy texture. This still came off a bit hot for me, although the food helped sop that up. In the end this is crazy rich wine, molydooker style, and I have to admit it’s a tasty wine, even if not overly singular.

Very Good+
$40 at BCLDB

IMG_4186The Catena Alta malbec has consistently been one of my favourite malbecs, only topped by the absolutely mind blowing Argentino malbec, also from Catena. It is also sourced from older vines, in this case from  Lot 18 of the Angélica vineyard, Lot 2 from the La Consulta vineyard (one of the most famous in Argentina), and Lots 3 & 9 from the Adrianna vineyard (also an impeccable vineyard). This wine was far more open to expressing its fruit. The oak is hugely dialed back, particularly when compared with the Cobos. This is all big blue fruit, kirsch, nuts and violets on the nose. It smells big and brawny, but also floral and deep – there is depth here that low end malbecs just can’t touch. You can also tell within 5 seconds that this is made in such a different style from the Cobos. A point that emphasized to me that Argentinian malbec, despite its many wine geek detractors, can be nuanced, varied, and ‘honest’ (still working on the second post in that series), without being geek-trendy.

That said, the Catena malbec is a more ‘geek-friendly’ malbec, simply because it is more distinctive and offers real and firm acidity on the palate, which by the way is comprised of cherry, blackberry, blueberry, violets and nuts. The best part of the wine is the interplay between the fresh fruit and the floral violet component. That, and, oh ya, this wine is 100x more drinkable than any French malbec. I like it muchly, even if it’s $20 more than the cobos.

Very Good+ to Excellent
$61 at BCLDB and Kits Wine Cellars might carry this too.

So ya, Argentinian malbec can rock and be food friendly and nuanced and keep its reputation for being eminently drinkable. Sure there aren’t a ton out there that are that good. But these are two that rise to the challenge.


  1. Oana
    November 17, 2009

    Have you tried the Don Miguel Gascon? It’s my favourite find in the malbec realm.

  2. Shea
    November 17, 2009

    Hi Oana, thanks for the comment. I have not tried that wine. I will look for it.

  3. Adam
    November 17, 2009

    Hey Shea, the Cobos Bramare Cab Sauv is also very good/excellent. it’s $40 and compares to California Cabs 2x the price.

  4. Mark
    November 18, 2009

    Argentinian Malbecs are great.. but honestly at $40-60, that’s crazy.
    The whole appeal of Argentinian wines are the sub $10, sub $15 gems 🙂

  5. Shea
    November 18, 2009

    Adam, I have a bottle of that to try one day.

    Mark, that is expensive; however, you won’t get anything like either of those wines, particularly the Catena, at sub $20. Most of the sub $20 ones are pretty boring to me. Remember, in the US these are probably more like $30-$40.

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