By Rick Riozza
While gearing up for the coming 2013 Palm Springs Restaurant Week celebration, I thought it would be a great idea to prime up our vino sense and sensibility so we’ll be in shape for all the gourmet food and fine wine ahead us.

And this is a great time to get out and try some of those different grape varietals and wines that, for some strange reason, we’ve been putting off.

What’s up with that?

We’ve just finished a three-part series on Rosés and I know the weather here behooves us to talk about some refreshing whites, but let me slip in a quick juicy red that’s playing the seductive siren to those vino lovers old and new.

I know a bunch of you have already moved into the murky depths of Malbec.  I write “murky” as in the sense of “dark” or “shadowy” for this original French grape produces some of the darkest wine around town.

In fact, in France way back in the day, it was affectionately known as “le vin noir”—the black wine!  What a great bottle to be enjoying while watching a scary movie at midnight.

Of course you foodies are well aware of the health benefits associated by means of very dark fruits with all of those antioxidants hanging about.  Same with this wine: all current health studies find that Malbec is one of the healthiest.  A glass can provide comparable health benefits similiar to those reaped by drinking green tea. It helps in the prevention of heart attacks and stroke, while actively increasing your good cholesterol levels. It may also prevent certain cancer and improve longevity.  Wow! I’m ready for that big fat steak.

Definitely a red meat wine (maybe that’s why it has become so popular &  famous in Argentina) but realize you can also pair this up quite nicely with spicy Mexican, Cajun, Indian, Thai or Italian fare.  We did mention Restaurant Week—yes?  Also be on the lookout for a glass of Malbec when at restaurants whose specialties are game, lamb, chili, stews, and sausages.

The Malbec flavor profile starts with a predominance of black cherries, plums, and spices.  Then things start to open up: dark chocolate seems to permeate around other flavors of blackberries, dried fruits, earth, game, leather, licorice, tobacco, and vanilla. No wonder it can match all of the mentioned cuisines.

Red wine fans are particularly keen about Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Malbec is a red that can pal around with those two.  Indeed, for such a long time, all three were blended together—along with Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot—to produce those famous Bordeaux wines.
Due to growing difficulties (i.e., costs), Malbec got edged out of the modern Bordeaux band but, like the Phoenix, has risen enormously in its new found homeland of Argentina.

Since Argentina has taken charge in the production of Malbec , almost all Malbec that you find at our markets are from South America .  The range from $8 to $20 will get you a decent to very good quality wine.  I look forward to doing an entire article on this New World wine.
However, as to appreciation, quality, and just general good-to-know stuff, why not first go back to France to try the original.  I know—we’d all love to go to France, but to save us the packing, air flights, and jet lag, (j’suis desolée Paris) at least we can be comforted with the fact that a very nice bottle awaits us locally.

Costa Nichols, owner of Desert Wines & Spirits, 611 S Palm Canyon Dr # 1, Palm Springs, CA 92264 (760) 327-7701, carries just what the wine doctor ordered: The 2010 Clos La Coutale from Cahors—Malbec’s  original campsite.

Broadly speaking, where the new world wine seems to be uniformly rich, ripe, jammy, and juicy, the unique French version tends to be more meaty, rustic, and tannic. The wine world wins here where we can enjoy both expressions of this hearty grape.

When opening this fine example of Cahors Malbec, we were greeted by an amazing, sultry nose of ripe berries, flowers and spices followed by a palate of roses, ripe plums, and raspberries with mineral undertones.  Because there is a 20% infusion of Merlot, the bitterness of the young Cahors is tempered and balanced to produce a wine that keeps one coming back for more.

Absolutely delightful and it’s a bargain at around $13 a bottle.  Order a case and I’m sure Costa will offer a further discount.

Over the weekend, while I was enjoying a Rosé wine-tasting at Desert Wines (good to see Costa doing fine wine-tastings again), Executive Chef Johannes Bacher, owner of the eponymous Palm Springs restaurant, was present and we spoke of his Restaurant Week menu.  I challenged him to pair three different glasses of wine to the special meal.

Cool! We’ll get the scoop and run-down on his always fresh, inventive and delicious cuisine.

Bon Appétit  Cheers!
Rick is the desert’s sommelier-about town entertaining at wine events. Contact