What Am I Tasting?

Will this juicy, savory and very pure red guide you to its identification?

August 01, 2013

Our blind tasting game—without the tasting! Can you identify a wine just by reading its tasting note? We post real Wine Spectator reviews. You use clues such as color, aromas, flavors and structure to figure out the grape, age and origin. Good luck!

Tasting Note: Very pure, with a beam of raspberry coulis, blackberry and cherry pulp notes that pump out layers of spice, flint and wildflowers. Juicy yet structured, with a mineral edge to the long, savory finish.

And the answer is...


This wine has myriad bold fruits and big flavors, as well as structure. Based on the intensity of these fruits, we can pretty safely eliminate Pinot Noir. While cherry is certainly at the heart of Pinot, the darker blackberry notes and firm structure of this wine are unlikely to come from Pinot, which typically has more moderate tannins and brighter fruit character.

The savory quality of this wine might lead us to consider Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon, as both of these varietals often have a leathery quality that can appear from even a fairly early age.

Sweet fruit and savory characteristics are common for Grenache, however, in the regions where these qualities are likely to appear together, such as in Spain or the south of France, the wine would typically also have more of a dusty, earthy note.

The savory quality in Cabernet is usually more intense and persistent throughout, rather than emerging only on the finish. Cabernet is also often marked by a green note such as bell pepper or herbaceous qualities that come from pyrazine chemical compounds found in the Cabernet grapes. None of Cabernet’s other usual markers such as black currant, cedar or tobacco are mentioned either, and so we move on.

In many ways Shiraz is a good fit with this description. Shiraz can certainly have floral, stone and spice notes, however, its fruit profile tends to be more decidedly in the camp of black and even blue fruits. Also, while there is spice here, the black pepper that is often the telltale sign of Shiraz or Syrah is missing.

Malbec can have the mixture of black and red fruits described here, and the plush, juicy quality is what makes it such a crowd pleaser. Floral notes, in particular violets, are often associated with Malbec. It also has an affinity for wood, which enhances its spice characteristics, and it has structure with some tannic grip.

This is a Malbec.

Country or Region of Origin

France is Malbec’s ancestral homeland. It was one of the blending grapes of Bordeaux, but after phylloxera, subsequent attacks from fungal diseases, and frosts, most farmers in the region decided not to replant Malbec. It is now mostly found in Cahors, in the southwest section of France, from where it is native. However, Malbecs from Cahors tend to have stronger earthy qualities, and the bold, fruit flavors in this wine are more likely to come from a New World region.

We can cross Oregon off right away, since there isn’t much Malbec grown there. California and Australia both grow some Malbec and production numbers are increasing with this grape’s popularity, however, when it comes to modern-style Malbec, Argentina still holds trumps.

This wine is from Argentina.


Since our wine is from Argentina, we can immediately eliminate Barossa Valley (Australia), Cahors (France), Napa Valley (California) and Willamette Valley (Oregon). We’re left with two Argentine appellations to work with.

Salta is an exciting region in the north of Argentina, which is growing vines at some of the highest elevations in the world. They grow some red varieties, but they are really known for their whites. In particular, it is the area’s success with the aromatic Torrontés grape that put it on the map, and makes it an unlikely home for our wine.

Malbec has been planted in Argentina since 1852, when immigrants brought over cuttings from Bordeaux. It found an ideal home in Mendoza, where it gets plenty of sunshine and is able to ripen well, but also retains plenty of acidity from the cool temperatures found in the best spots, which tend to be at higher altitudes in the foothills of the Andes Mountains.

This Malbec is from Mendoza.


There are no secondary flavors in this wine. There is no leather or tobacco, and the fruit is in no way dry or raisinated, so we can rule out the two oldest age brackets.

The spice in the wine indicates some wood aging, however, the wood characteristics aren’t overwhelming, so it is likely that this wine only spent a short time in new oak. (And indeed, this wine only spent nine months in French Oak.)

The fruit in the wine is very fresh, and beyond the touch of oak, so we can pretty safely rule out the 3- to 5-year age bracket. This is a young wine in its first two years.

This Malbec is from 2011, placing it in the 1- to 2-year-old age bracket.


This is the Achával-Ferrer Malbec Mendoza 2011, which was rated 92 points in the Aug. 31, 2012, issue of Wine Spectator. It was also highlighted as a Smart Buy, priced at a reasonable $25. This is an entry-level wine from a highly respected producer, and with its balance of structure and fruit flavor, this wine provides a lot of bang for the buck.

—Nicole Ruiz Hudson, assistant tasting coordinator