There are many things in which I am confident: my ability to finish a 500-page book in a day, the skill with which I can apply a liquid lipstick, and my capability of making an awesome cheese ball for holiday celebrations. Still, one thing about which I constantly question myself is wine.
I started exploring the world of wine soon after my twenty-first birthday. Two years in, and I still feel like Bambi among my wiser woodland neighbors. Despite feeling adrift at times, I have accepted that my knowledge of wine will never be complete and aim to tackle each bottle, book, and article as a new way in which to expand that knowledge. So when I was invited down to Rural Society in D.C. for a tasting of Ruca Malen wine, I made the easy decision to say yes; however, I was also nervous about how to hold my own against people I considered more legit than me. Like Rudy Kurniawan, I often feel like a fraud. However, a little bit of fear was an easy thing to overcome when it meant trying some new wines and learning a little bit about what Argentina has to offer.
Founded in 1998 by two Frenchmen, Ruca Malen isn’t just a company that strives to make great wine, it’s one that is passionate about the way wine is meant to be enjoyed with food and friends. The master behind these wines is Pablo Cueno, who joined Ruca Malen in 2006. Meeting him at Rural Society added depth to the whole event. His dedication to the winery was clear as he spoke about the desire to create wine that was meant for food, bottles of quality, and his hope to highlight the way the terroir of Argentina can yield great grapes. You can try a phenomenal wine and read a fact sheet to appreciate a winery, but when you talk to the winemaker and get a feel for what the winery is all about, that relationship between consumer and wine becomes so much deeper.
Luckily, once you get a feel for Ruca Malen and go out to find yourself a bottle, they aren’t asking you to drop hundreds of dollars on them. Each wine was a standout that offered something to discover. The 2015 Yauquen Torrontés was the bottle an acid lover could pick up with confidence when looking for something bright, vibrant, and youthful. Everyone at the table was immediately in love, and it was the perfect way to kick off an incredibly humid August day. It was also one of the most affordable quality bottles I’ve experienced with an SRP of $12.99. Also from their Yaunquen line was the 2014 Yaunquen Malbec, also around $12.99. It wasn’t bright like the white, but it was still invigorating, with an earthy characteristic to it. I even preferred it to their 2014 Ruca Malen Reserva Malbec, which was more elegant, but also fruitier than the first. I preferred the dry, spicy qualities of the Yaunquen Malbec, but the Reserva was still enjoyable. If you tend toward the more floral, fruity wines, pick up the Reserva at $18.99, or you could do what I did and try both to see just what magic Ruca Malen can do with the same type of grape.
While Malbec is well known and even Torrontés has appeared on more restaurant wine lists lately, this winery also has some more unusual options. The star of the tasting was the 2011 Kinien de Don Raul. As this was poured, I could feel the joy around the table rise. Limited edition, unique, and intense, this was the kind of wine any wine lover seeks out. At the tasting, I found dark berries, vanilla, and a dry start with a juicy finish. A blend of 64% Malbec, 15% Petit Verdot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Syrah, this bottle will set you back roughly $75, but as a special occasion bottle, you couldn’t choose much better. If you’re the kind of person who buys wines for a special occasion, you might also be the kind of person who would enjoy the NV Ruca Malen Brut Sparkling Wine. Comprised of 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay, this wine had the tiniest bubbles that came to life with each sip. Dry with a yeasty quality that paired well with caramelly sweets, this was a bottle that I could have finished off on my own with no shame. Any sparkling wine lover should add this one to their queue and get ready to enjoy.
Though we tried five stellar wines, the sixth I would happily hand over the contents of my wallet for. Petit Verdot is my vice. Some people have sex, drugs, and rock and roll; I have this baby. I love the complexity and drool over the black fruits and violets that this intense wine promises. Ruca Malen first planted Petit Verdot in 2006, and while they produce under 40,000 bottles, it was the bottle I could fill a whole wine cellar with. Their 2013 Ruca Malen Reserva Petit Verdot is a steal at $18.99 SRP, especially since it’s one you could explore for hours due to the ripe red and black fruit and touch of rustic flavor in the glass. It was like digging into a bowl of mixed berries in a woodland oasis. Even though any of these bottles are worth more than their SRP, this was the one.
This tasting wasn’t just about the wine, although that was certainly why I signed up, it was also about the ways in which wine can pair with food to create a memorable experience. Rural Society’s chef and Chef Lucas from Ruca Malen paired together to create food that would authentically marry well with the wines, and they kind of knocked it out of the park. Not only did each tapa pair well with the wine that Cueno suggested trying, almost all of the food could be enjoyed with any of the bottles. The vinegary morrone montedito with anchovy and creamy goat cheese had lots of fun zing when paired with the 2015 Yauquen Torrontés, but was mellowed out by the woodsier 2014 Yaunquen Malbec. That held true for the savory, herbaceous morcilla, the earthy mushrooms, and almost every other bite we had that day. I didn’t just leave with a newfound appreciation of Argentinian wine, I also left with a desire to explore more Argentinian food.
As the afternoon came to an end and I found myself a little lightheaded from not wanting to waste any stellar wine, I was ready to hop on a plane to Argentina and gain a few pounds courtesy of Ruca Malen. It’s been a month since the tasting, and I miss these wines, and that, for me, is more of a reason to hunt them down again than any comprehensive fact sheet I’ve read.
For those in the D.C. area, you can find these wines at the retailers listed below:
Grand Cata – A Latin Wine Shop – 1550 7th Street NW Washington, DC
Cordial Craft Wine, Beer & Spirits – Union Market 1309 5th Street NE Washington, DC
S & R Wines & Spirits – 1015 18th Street NW Washington, DC
Dean & Deluca – 3276 M Street NW Washington, DC
Cork & Fork DC – 1522 14th Street NW Washington, DC
Paul’s Wine & Spirits – 5205 Wisconsin Avenue NW Washington, DC
These photos are not mine, but taken courtesy of the Ruca Malen Facebook page. I was invited to this tasting for free, but all opinions are my own.