What Am I Tasting?

This structured red offers dark fruit notes with chocolate and spice accents ... Play the game!

September 03, 2021

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: Explosively fruity aromas and flavors of blackberry, dark cherry and plum tart are creamy and filled with rich savory and cooking spice accents. Powerfully structured, showing dark chocolate and mocha on the finish, with hints of dried mint.

And the answer is...


Variety

Our powerfully structured wine explodes with creamy dark berry and stone fruit notes that are accented by chocolate, mint and spice. Let’s figure out what it is!

We can start by eliminating Frappato, which produces light-bodied wines with red fruit notes and low levels of tannins.

Though St. Laurents can display dark berry, spice, chocolate and herb notes, they aren’t full-bodied or very structured wines. This grape has to go too!

Cabernet Francs are often full-bodied with plenty of tannins. But unlike our mystery wine, they generally display red fruit notes with green bell pepper and stony mineral accents. This doesn’t sound like our wine either.

Pinotage makes bold, full-bodied wines with high levels of tannins and notes of black cherry, blackberry and mint. While this sounds right for our wine, we’re missing Pinotage’s hallmark tar and roasted meat accents. Let’s move on!

Malbec produces wines with dark fruit notes and spice, chocolate and herb accents, often supported by bold, structured tannins. This sounds like the best fit.

This wine is a Malbec.

Country or Region of Origin

Malbec is an international variety, but it would be hard to find plantings in Austria and Italy. While it grows in California, the grape isn’t nearly as prominent there as other varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Malbec originates in France and continues to be a significant grape in the country’s southern regions, especially in the Cahors appellation. French Malbecs tend to emphasize the grape’s briary and earthy accents, alongside red fruit, olive, meat and mineral notes. Malbec was brought to Argentina in the 19th century, and it is now the South American country’s premier red grape. Argentine Malbec is often full-bodied and structured with ripe dark fruit notes and rich chocolate and spice accents. We’ve found a match!

This Malbec is from Argentina.

Appellation

We know that our Malbec is from Argentina, so we can eliminate France’s Alsace, Austria’s Burgenland, California’s Livermore Valley and Italy’s Sardinia. This leaves us with the Argentine appellations Médanos and Uco Valley. Médanos is in the wider Buenos Aires province, a newer wine region with cool, windy weather that’s well-suited for making white and sparkling wines. Along with Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs, the Buenos Aires region makes Malbecs. But it’s not particularly well-known for these reds. Farther west, Malbec is the primary red grape grown in the Mendoza region’s Uco Valley, where it is used to make rich, bold wines.

This Malbec is from Uco Valley.

Age

Our Malbec is still showing powerful structure and expressive fruit aromas, but its creamy texture and spice notes indicate time spent in barrel, which is common for Argentine Malbecs. Let’s look at Argentina’s most recent vintages to figure out our red’s age. 2019 was a cooler year, and produced intense and minerally Malbecs. Growing conditions were nearly ideal in 2018, leading to Malbecs with fine-grained tannins and red fruit notes. The weather was dry in 2017, resulting in refined Malbecs with peppery accents. 2016 was a cool, wet year with lower yields, and the vintage’s best wines are spicy and powerful with creamy dark fruit notes. 2016’s Malbecs are closest to the mark.

This Malbec is from the 2016 vintage, making it five years old.

Wine

This is the Familia Zuccardi Malbec Uco Valley José Zuccardi 2016, which scored 94 points in the Dec. 15, 2020, issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $45, and 5,000 cases were made. For more on Argentine Malbec, read senior editor Kim Marcus’ tasting report, "The Comeback Kid," in the Dec. 31, 2020, issue.

Collin Dreizen, assistant editor