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Concha y Toro Xplorador Malbec 2001
One of South America’s most important wine-producing countries, Chile is a reliable source of both budget-friendly wines and premium bottlings. Spanish settlers, Juan Jufre and Diego Garcia de Cáceres, most likely brought Vitis vinifera (Europe’s wine producing vine species) to the Central Valley of Chile some time in the 1550s. But Chile’s modern wine industry is largely the result of heavy investment from the 1990s.
Long and narrow, Chile is geographically isolated, bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Andes Mountains to the east and the Atacama desert to the north. These natural borders allowed Chile to avoid the disastrous phylloxera infestation in the late 1800s and as a result, vines are often planted on their own rootstock rather than grafted (as is the case in much of the wine producing world).
Chile’s vineyards vary widely in climate and soil type from north to south. The Coquimbo region in the far north contains the Elqui and Limari Valleys, where minimal rainfall and intense sunlight are offset by chilly breezes from the Humboldt Current. While historically focused solely on Pisco production, today this area finds success with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The Aconcagua region contains the eponymous Aconcagua Valley—hot and dry and home to full-bodied red wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot—as well as Casablanca Valley and San Antonio Valley, which focus on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The Central Valley is home to the Maipo, Rapel, Curicó and Maule Valleys, which produce a wide variety of red and white wines. Maipo in particular is known for Carmenère, Chile’s unofficial signature grape. In the up-and-coming southern regions of Bio Bio and Itata make excellent Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Known for its big, bold flavors and supple texture, Malbec is most famous for its runaway success in Argentina. However, the variety actually originates in Bordeaux, where it historically contributed color and tannin to blends but was susceptible to viticultural problems. After being nearly wiped out by a devastating frost in 1956, it was never significantly replanted, although it did flourish under the name Côt in nearby Cahors. Malbec was brought to Argentina in 1868 by a French agronomist who saw great potential for the variety in Mendoza’s hot, high-altitude landscape, but did not gain its current reputation as the national grape of Argentina until a surge in popularity in the late 20th century thanks to its easy-going drinkability.
In the Glass
Malbec typically expresses deep flavors of freshly turned earth, black fruits from berries to plums, and licorice, appropriately backed by dense, chewy tannins. In warmer, New World regions, such as Mendoza, it can be quite intense and often needs time to mellow before becoming drinkable. In the Old World, its rusticity shines, with aged examples showing dusty notes of leather and tobacco. The best examples in all regions often possess a beguiling bouquet of violets.
Malbec’s rustic character begs for flavorful dishes, like spicy grilled sausages or the classic cassoulet of France’s Southwest. South American iterations are best enjoyed as they would be in Argentina: with a thick, juicy steak.
If you’re trying to please a crowd, Malbec is generally a safe bet. With its combination of bold flavors and soft tannins, it will appeal to basically anyone who enjoys red wine. Malbec also wins bonus points for affordability, as even the most inexpensive examples are often quite good.