Wine drinkers well remember the pinot noir juggernaut that rumbled across the winemaking landscape not so long ago, shaking up the market and toppling some previously favored reds, most notably merlot, from their top-shelf positions. A new juggernaut is on the loose now, this one labeled malbec, and everybody and her sister is on board.
Not to be left out, a California winery best known for its old vines zinfandel (there once was a zin juggernaut, too) has entered the fray with the 2012 Gnarly Head Malbec ($12 or less at supermarkets and wine shops), fermented from grapes grown in Argentina's celebrated Mendoza region, the cradle of malbec in the foothills of the Andes.
This pleasant red sports a robust bouquet of blackberry and black pepper, both of which break ebulliently on the tongue, along with mocha, black cherry, cassis and a bit of blueberry. It is a rousingly harmonious blend of flavors, asserted by a long velvety finish spiked with more black pepper at the end.
Malbec is a fine and versatile food wine, but the first pairing we thought of is with smoky barbecued ribs.
By Colette and John Bancroft. She is the Times' book editor, and he is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel.