A Malbec is a Cot is a Malbec

No two wines are the same-even if they are from the same grape
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No two wines are the same-even if they are from the same grape
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photo by Kathleen Conklin“A rose is a rose is a rose,” said Gertrude Stein in a poem. She is perhaps most famous for this quote, but I’ve always found it aggravating. Not merely because I dislike roses, poetry and Gertrude Stein, but also because it’s untrue. At least, it is untrue when it comes to wine.

In the wine world, names are misleading. Although two bottles may appear to be made with the same grape, one of them may not smell as sweet. As a case in point, let me tell you a story about the Malbec grape. Last week, I was having dinner with Cristian Naretto, the export director of the superb Chilean winery, Vina Perez Cruz. Earlier in the day, he had been meeting with officials at the LCBO to discuss the sales of his wine in Ontario.

One of these is a lovely bottle called the Perez Cruz 2009 “Limited Edition” Cot ($24.95 [Ed. Note: No longer available], Vintages #670547). I love the wines of Perez Cruz because they use the traditional grapes of France but imbue them with a distinctively Chilean flare. Cot is one of these — a red grape that is usually used in a supporting role in the great wines of Bordeaux. Perez Cruz’s version is outstanding. It is silky and complex with an undercurrent of lavender, mint and white pepper that enlivens the sweet fruit.

This is a wine that should sell itself, but one of the limits on its marketability in Ontario is that no one knows what Cot is. This is mainly because Cot is generally known by another name: Malbec. Argentinian winemakers have made Malbec their signature grape — they generally use it to create an inexpensive wine with distinctive notes of tar, smoke and plum. Such value wines are wildly popular in Canada. The LCBO wanted Cristian to re-label his Cot as Malbec so that it can ride this jet stream.

Cristian is far too diplomatic to express any frustration at this, but it drives me bananas. The Cot of Chile may be genetically identical to the Malbec of Argentina, but they are not the same thing. And if you buy one expecting the other, you’ll be disappointed. Malbec is inky, animalistic and often smells like road work. This Cot is fresh, floral and elegant.

Although every other market will receive Perez Cruz’s wine labeled as Cot, in Ontario I strongly suspect it is going to be re-christened Malbec. This tells you two things: First, Ontario wine drinkers are unadventurous and hestitate before buying a grape that they don’t know. Second, a Malbec is not always a Malbec.


Matthew Sullivan is a civil litigator in Toronto. He blogs weekly here on lawandstyle.ca. The Short Cellar column also appears in the print edition of Precedent. Matthew can be reached at matthew@lawandstyle.beta-site.ca. Follow along on Twitter: @shortcellar.

Photo by Kathleen Conklin