2018 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Malbec, Ryan Spencer Vineyard, Estate Grown, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Alfaro Family Vineyards, based in Corralitos in the southern zone of the Santa Cruz Mountains and founded by Richard and Mary Kay Alfaro back in 1998, is widely known for their incredible coastal cool climate Chardonnay and Pinots, but they have a few other surprises to offer from their impeccably farmed and beautiful hillside vineyards, including a fabulous Gruner Veltliner, a elegant Merlot and this inky, spicy and dark fruited Malbec, the fickle and tricky to grow alternative Bordeaux varietal that was originally from the southwest of France in the its historical home in Cahors. After a few disappointments with other grapes, especially a block of Albarino that got scorched in a heat wave in 2017, Richard focused his attention on his small plot of Malbec at the Ryan Spencer Vineyard, not far from some of the Syrah vines on the estate and the results are impressive with this cool climate version of Malbec, also known in the Loire Valley, where it also is commonly found as Côt, is a nicely concentrated and deeply flavored wine with a unique profile that includes layers of black cherry, forest floor, crushed tart blackberry, plum and a mix of sweet and savory herbs and spices along with a luxurious does of toasty French oak that helps polish and smooth out the tannic edges. The 2018 Ryan Spencer Malbec was carefully sorted and de-stemmed before a cool primary fermentation and then aged for 10 months in 50% new oak, everything done with a nod to both classic Bordeaux and the expressive Argentine versions that have brought this grape world wide fame in the past 25 years. The Alfaro Malbec is skillfully made and has a fresh underlying personality, coming in at a ripe 13.5% natural alcohol, it never feels heavy or hot, being well structured and having a fine cut of acidity from the close proximity to the Pacific Ocean only a few miles away.

The latest set of estate and Trout Gulch wines from Richard and his son Ryan, who has gained winemaking experience with stints in New Zealand and along with the legendary Adam Tolmach at Ojai Vineyards, are delicious and very serious offerings with the Alfaro Chards, as mentioned, being outrageously good and wonderfully stylish efforts, no one should miss the Alfaro Lindsay Page Chardonnay and the Trout Gulch Chardonnay, both of which are killer values and bright stars in this vintage collection. Besides the limited, only three barrels were made, Malbec, Alfaro has crafted some lot goodies from purchased grapes, like his Garys’ Vineyard and Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir(s) along with a powerful single vineyard Bates Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. While styled traditionally, the single varietal 2018 Malbec opens up and sheds its toasty sweet wood influence quickly in the glass to reveal the grape’s blue fruits, a delicate floral essence and an earthy note adding round mouth feel with air. Lingering herbs de Provence, anise, loamy stones, bitter coco and tart currants make for a dimension of complexity on the finish, in what is a robust example of Malbec that is at its best with hearty and meaty cuisine, though also quite nice with hard cheeses. In Roman times, Malbec was one of the great red wines of the world with black and fiery Cahors versions getting shipped throughout their empire, in fact it was the trading efforts with Cahors wine that helped Bordeaux become a thriving port city and gave the locals the idea of planting grapes there! Malbec was one of the most important grapes in Bordeaux up until 1956 when a huge frost killed off almost 75% of the Malbec and it wasn’t re-planted in large acreage, thus it turned into a minor blending component. Cahors has seen a rise in popularity in the last decade with many excellent wines, but it is all about the high elevation Mendoza Malbecs, like those of Catena, that have captured the hearts of Malbec lovers and this Alfaro version is an interesting California bottling that this grape’s fans should check out!
($40 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

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