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Two terrific wines from Nieto Senetiner, plus two others well worth drinking

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nieto senetiner wine reviewsThe Wine Curmudgeon has long been in a quandary about Argentine wine. The best tend to be expensive, and there are other wines I’d rather spend the money on than its malbecs and red blends. The least expensive wines are too often corporately dull, and overpriced at that.

Which is why it was such a pleasure to taste the wines from Nieto Senetiner, a 126-year-old Argentine producer whose wines were none of those things. Santiago Mayorga, one of the company’s winemakers, knew exactly what I was talking about when I explained my dilemma to him; the company’s approach, he said, was to offer better quality than grocery store malbecs, but at a better price than the country’s high-end wines.

Much better prices, actually. These four wines are each worth buying, and the first two are exceptional values and highly recommended:

Torrontes 2013 ($12, sample, 13.5%): A bone dry torrontes, which is as welcome as it is rare. Most versions of this white wine, the most popular in Argentina, are sweet to off dry, and too many are sickly sweet. There are delicious off-dry torrontes, but this one has even those beat. Look for an almost lemon tonic flavor with a hint of orange peel, and much more subtle than a sauvignon blanc. Pair this with grilled vegetables, Thanksgiving, even fried fish.

• Bonardo 2012 ($13, sample, 14%): Malbec gets most of the attention, but bonardo has long been an important red grape in Argentina. This wine shows why — juicy strawberry, but also spicy and almost minty. Spaghetti wine in the finest sense of the word, as well as anything with red meat and roast chicken.

Malbec 2012 ($13, sample, 14%): I drink very little malbec; even well-made versions are usually too soft and fruity for me. This wine, somehow, is varietally correct, but plummier, darker,  and deeper, and the well-constructed tannins add interest. There is more to this than just cola and blueberry aromas.

Don Nicanor Estate Malbec 2011 ($20, sample, 14.5%): This red takes the previous malbec to the next level, with more berry flavor and some black pepper without the alcohol getting in the way. Much more complex than I thought a malbec at this price could be.

A tip o’ the WC fedora to Eli Cohn at Veritas in Dallas, who helped out with the tasting and told me how good the bonardo would be.

Wine of the week: Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2011

wineofweek

Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc This is not the current vintage of South Africa’s Mulderbosch chenin blanc ($12, purchased, 13.5%). In fact, it’s two vintages old; the current is the 2013. But it’s the best I could do in Dallas, where we view chenin blanc as the spawn of the devil and a wine to be ignored at all costs.

Nevertheless, it’s worth reviewing for three reasons: First, because it’s a quality white wine, as almost all Mulderbosch wines are. Second, because there is still a lot of it around, given the way South African wine is viewed by retailers and consumers in this country. Third, because the oh so haute wine bar where I bought it needs to be called out for selling a past vintage at suggested retail when the wine bar almost certainly bought it at a tremendous discount.

The Wine Curmudgeon is a big fan of Mulderbosch, which avoids many of the pitfalls — chasing trends, celebrity wine — that plague other South African producers. Its rose has been in and out of the $10 Hall of Fame (mostly because the price fluctuates), and the chenin is equally as impressive. If nothing else, that a three-year-old wine aged this well speaks volumes about the effort that went into making it.

The Mulderbosch is not fruity, like a California chenin, and it doesn’t have the slate finish that the best French chenins have. Rather, it’s a little rich and leans toward chardonnay, with subtle apple and pear fruit, qualities that almost certainly come from age. It also has an interesting spiciness, as well as a little oak. Given that oak is usually superfluous in this kind of wine, it’s quite well done and adds some heft.

This is real wine — serve it with roasted and grilled chicken, or even main course salads. It deserves more attention and respect than it gets, and especially from a retailer who treats it as a cash cow and not as real wine.

Second annual five-day $3 wine challenge: The results

$3 wine challenge
$3 wine

“The horror, the horror. …”

In one respect, this year’s five-day, $3 wine challenge was no different than last year’s: I made it through unscathed. But the results were also depressing in a way they weren’t last year.

I wanted to find a wine among the six — five $3 merlots and a $4 red blend — that I could enjoy without reservation and use as another example in my campaign to help wine drinkers understand that price is not the most important thing about wine quality. One was OK, one was undrinkable, and the rest were as brainless as bottled ice tea. With so much quality cheap wine in the world, and sometimes for just a dollar or two more, why do so many people buy these, often making a special trip to do so?

When that analysis comes from someone who has spent 20 years trying to say nice things about cheap wine, it means there’s very little reason to drink them. The sad details are after the jump:

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