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Feb 2021

Satellite Wine Club, February 2021

What the heck - Malbec?

Altos las Hormigas - ‘Malbec Reserve’ - Valle de Uco, Mendoza, AR - 2017

$46 Bottle,  $442 Member Case Price 

Lo-Fi Wines - Malbec - Santa Barbara County, CA - 2018

$30/Bottle, $288 Member Case Price


I’m so excited! We never talk about Malbec! 

The last time we offered a malbec in the club was back in February 2018… that’s a hell of a long time to go without America’s favorite boring grape!

… Wait… wut?

That’s right astro-wine-buds, I truly believe that the vast majority, literally 90%+ of Malbec you see on a daily basis, wasting away under the fluorescent lights of your local grocer, is hot trash. It’s the ‘red blend’ of single grape varietals. A hedge against passion! It’s a grape so completely exploited in the hills of western Argentina, forced to be what the market dictates will sell for the highest margin, quality and taste be damned!

Now, do you think I'd choose a wine like that? For YOU? My most beloved and wonderful, wondering winestronaut? NO WAY JOSÉ. Great Malbec still exists, and you’ve got it, in your hot little hands… twice over!

Let’s review Malbec real quick. 

Malbec is, of course, closely linked to the epic Argentine wine zone of Mendoza where some 75% of global production. But did you know that this grape has (historically) nothing to do with Argentina? A classic of South West France, it is slowly fading from its home in Cahors down the Dordogne River to Bordeaux. 

Fading yes, but failing, no! There’s still plenty of excellent wine produced from it… and we often carry it! (May I recommend the Fabien Jouves Tu Vins Plus aux Soirees Malbec the next time you see it on our shelf? I definitely will) It’s not even called Malbec in its home country! “Côt”, its birth name, is far more common. The wines from this region are deep and dark but with surprisingly bright acidity and flecks of green stemmy flavors. They’re great, but we’re not focusing on France today!

The grape is a vigorous and hearty grower with few viticultural issues. It’s a generous vine, lauded since the 16th century for its ability to produce *a lot*. While it can produce a ton, it has trouble maintaining acidity while ripens, resulting in potentially flabby, boozy, overripe nightmares! In Cahors they harvest early while the fruit is still tart, but in mountains of Argentina the huge diurnal shift from smouldering hot days to frigid glacial  nights increases retained acidity, allowing for a longer, more developed ripening. It’s a lovely thing!

It is the geography of Argentina that allows Malbec to stretch its arms (and its growing season), maximizing its potential. We could say that Malbec is a french immigrant realizing the Argentine dream! There it grows from the valley floor up to the highest reaches of the Uco Valley and its sub regions of Tupungato (named for the 21,000ft Mount Tupungato). Vineyards here average some 1,300 meters or 4200ft… That is ridiculously high for vines! Pushed to the extremes, Malbec shows its most regal and dramatic potential.

While we do have about 1,500 acres of malbec planted in the US that’s just 5% of Argentina! There are some excellent examples from the very most bugey to the casual and super fun. With all the varied geography here stylistic variations are as numerous as the vineyards growing Malbec… from Yakima Valley on the Canadian border to the southernmost coastal reaches of Santa Barbara county! Endless variation unlike the monoculture/consistent geography means we can get a lot more broad styles even with just 1/20th of the plantatings. 

This month we’ve got two ridiculously good Malbec wines. We’re not heading to its French birthplace either, we’ve done that before and, inevitably, we’ll do it again. This January we’re wiping away the makeup, putting away the agrichemicals, the machine harvester, the mega purple, and we’re getting to the root of the problem. Malbec is better. Better than what we are so often subjected to!

Join me, won’t you? The Malbec is Malbeckoning!

Lo-Fi Wines - Malbec - Santa Barbara County, CA - 2018

$30/Bottle, $288 Member Case Price

You know Lo-fi, you love Lo-Fi. Mike Roth and Craig Winchester are legends in Santa Barbara County -our local grandaddies of natural wine! They might not have been the first to ferment naturally, require organic fruit, and refuse additions beyond minimal SO2 but they are definitely the first winery to focus on all of that, styled in the image of small independent french renegade producers. 

The best description for their wines: Soif. I love this word. It’s fun to say, it’s so simple and descriptive. Soif is the french word for thirst. Yes, thirst in the sense of a dry mouth, but more-so thirst in the sense of desire. You could call Satellite a Soif bar, a Soifery of sorts! Same goes with Lo-Fi and their hedonistic but surprisingly populist wines. 

So where did Lo-fi even find Malbec in SB? Fortunately Mike has connections! As the head winemaker for another local estate, Coquelicot, Mike has access to their fully organic vineyard in Santa Ynez including their wide selection of vanishingly rare grape varietals. Originally planted to complement their Bordeaux blend, the grape has shown itself surprisingly elegant and well suited to the environment. 

This wine is made very simply: Hand harvested whole cluster are foot crushed in a bin then sealed  and fermented with native yeasts until dry. Pressed from the skins the juice remains unsulfured through the aging to allow for natural malolactic fermentation in neutral barrels. Finally it’s bottled unfiltered with just 30ppm of SO2 to ensure complete stability & drinkability. Booya, this is the Lo-fi way!

Ok, I have soif! I must taste it!

Frothy and purpley in the glass. It looks delicious and very inviting. 

The nose is like blackberry juice: Ripe, tart, popping, like a whole basket of fresh purple fruits just squeezed through a wicker basket onto the dusty chaparral covered ground… I’m smelling a memory of a picnic on warm, windy bluff over the pacific on a summer sunset… and I want more.

On the tongue it’s vivid. The juicy density of the wine syncs up with the lively acidity to balance. The tannins are sneaky; so refined that one might not notice much until a solid swish around the mouth. Like fine dark chocolate, they coat the palate but don’t necessarily make it arid. Like a blackberry fruit-filled dark chocolate truffle… and perhaps topped with a sage leaf. It’s dense as it is racy - a thoroughly ripe blackberry or ripe plum fruit just permeates but does not weigh it down, like a black tea with really really good dried fruit perhaps! The lightness on the palate makes this so eligible for day drinking 😈

This wine can be served with anything, chilled or not, and should be enjoyed regularly throughout the year. Liberally. 

I think this wine is a study in loudness, lightness, and subtlety. Up front it’s a punch of acid, a wave of black and purpley fruits, a nice and balanced finish. Nice... BUT WAIT - I want more. This little bird is getting his beak wet on this wine! With every undeniable swig of this juice I find an extra layer, something more that I like. It really is a black tea backdrop, with a dusty feel and essence of place… like the dry dusty earth in the Coquelicot vineyard - all ancient alluvial silt and clay dried out by the heat of the Santa Ynez Valley. 

This is a wine for drinking. Not pricey, not asking much, just generous, jovial, really really friendly. Malbec the way we like it: unpretentious and excellent!

Like all things Lo-Fi, it’s a hit! Now that quarantine days are (hopefully) trailing off for good I hope you find yourself at their tasting room in Los Alamos! Whether it's the owners Mike and Craig, or Jake the tasting room jam-jockey you’re bound to find incredible wine, hear much rare vinyl, and generally feel great. What’s not to love?

Altos las Hormigas - ‘Malbec Reserve’ - Valle de Uco, Mendoza, AR - 2017

$46 Bottle,  $442 Member Case Price 

The High Ants, The Height of Ants - Altos las Hormigas are busy little workers making wonderful wines from their anthills… the Argentine Andes. 

The core of the project are the four visionary partners: Pedro, Attilio, Antonio, and Alberto. Together they’re undoubtedly the most capable winemaking team in South America with multiple PhD’s and at least a century combined winemaking experience. Each brings a specialty but one really stands out. Pedro Parra is the only South American on the Italian-dominated crew and his specialty is terroir. 

They see themselves as part of the [gloriously] scenic landscape, like little ants dotting the mountain vineyards and also dragging their bellies in the soil, intimately intertwined with the vineyard ecosystem. You wouldn’t expect it but this is not the prevailing approach to wine growing in Mendoza! Altos are a major exception to the factory-style farming common in the region. 

Tasting notes:

Deep and inky in the glass, this wine is typical malbec: impenetrably deep and purple hued right to the edge of its meniscus! Foreshadowing for the wine ahead? Perhaps! 

Let’s give it the nose treatment: Woah. It’s like taking a really excellent blackberry or blueberry chocolate truffle, smashing it up, and putting it inside of your nose. I get all the classic Malbec notes (aside from a huge dollop of unnecessary new oak, thank heavens!) like cocoa, blueberry, black berry and cherry, a leather belt wrapped around it, a bit of green stemminess flows in from the background. Yum. This wine is depth and the nose is proving it. As it sits in my glass it continues to give, ever more herbs, ever more clear fruit, hey maybe someone squished a nice tomato in here! This is nice, I’m having a nice time smelling this wine… (drooling face emoji goes here)

Let’s pop it on the palate! 

Hello gorgeous. This is a phenomenal example, friends, of how good wine can be without oak flavor. No new oak in sight, no vanillin hiding the natural appearance of perfectly ripe fresh blueberries and blackberries. The wine is lithe and elegant, composed… and yet it’s razor-like, structured and refreshing… so well built

Structure: This wine is built like a fine, reasonably sized brick home. It is so well made. Harmony defines this wine, it is balance, it is intentional. From the initial clear deep spiced blue fruit, seemingly fresh-mashed on my tongue, to the fine cocoa tannins distributed to the gums and beyond, the mouthwatering acidity making this anything but a slouch, the 13.5% ABV reminding you that this is, in fact, a solid wine, but never overdone. It’s clear the best grapes go into this wine, it will age for decades.

Malbec isn’t known for being a long wine. Sometimes a shorter finish is a blessing! God, stop lingering… Cabernet! 

This wine is a joy, right through to its smoke-capped, purely fruited, and refreshingly racy finish. 

Photos on their website overflow with what we want: images of worm-loaded, living soils, vibrant and herb-packed vine rows, and absolutely epic glacier capped mountains looming. It’s a constant practice for the Altos team, like their eponymous ants they are woven into the natural system, maintaining, improving, and benefiting from it. 

We love this project, invigorating the Andes with a sense of responsibility and purpose. These wines give back in a big way :)

This is February at Satellite. 

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