Twenty-five years ago, malbec was barely a blip on the wine-grape radar for most wine lovers, and Argentine wines were exotic rarities. Today, these plush, inky reds are so ubiquitous in wine stores and on wine lists that malbec from Argentina's Mendoza region is beginning to seem ho-hum. But if Americans are tiring of this luscious grape — as they did with first merlot, then shiraz — it's only in the bargain tier, awash in deep-purple grapey malbecs of little distinction or character. Demand and sales are growing but are shifting to higher price points as this dark South American beauty continues to earn its stripes as a world-class fine wine, not just a temptingly priced tipple. Reserve-level malbecs from the most respected vineyards in Argentina have most certainly entered the wine collector's pantheon of greats. Savvy shoppers who want a taste of the good stuff without breaking the bank would do well to look to top-tier vintners and sample their more modest wines. Case in point: Achaval Ferrer is by any measure one of Argentina's leading wineries, and its single-vineyard malbecs are recognized as cellar-worthy investments. It was this less ambitious cuvée, however — loaded with earthy flavors of black cherries and roasted beets and accented with floral aromatics — that built the brand's reputation internationally for malbec excellence. It may now cost more than the average malbec, but it remains an excellent wine for the dollar.
Achaval Ferrer Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina. $16.99 (regularly $19.99; sale price through Dec. 2). PLCB Item #9088.