And then there is the elusive La Boca Malbec from Argentina (pick a vintage - doesn't matter) that beg the reason to be talked about. Why? Because up until about two months ago it was READILY available at Trader Joes nationwide (yes, even in Washington DC area) for the lovely, easy-on-the-wallet price of...$2.99.
Ok, this is not, let me repeat NOT, your friend's Charles Shaw crap all mixed together and bottled and sold for the same price (although I wish I had been part of the inception of Chuck Shaw, because damn those guys have to laughing all the way to the bank). This happens, or should I say "happened", to be one of the most drinkable, food friendly, bar friendly, back yard friendly, party friendly (did I mention wallet friendly??) wines I had ever had. Until that fateful day that I found out La Boca's fate from the general manager at TJ's. But, we must start at the beginning.
A few years back, a best friend had a few people over and decided to open a bottle of La Boca Chardonnay. Now I had never heard of this winery, and she knew this. I remember her pouring me a glass and asking how much I thought the wine cost. I said I had no clue, and with that she informed me it was $2.99. I was like, what? It was so drinkable! Well, that bottle went down very easily, with my friend continuing on about how she found it at TJ's, etc., etc., and then said I had to try the Malbec. So, onto bottle #2 (we don't mess around) we went - and dove straight into the Malbec. It was smooth, drinkable, with definite blackberry jammy-ness but also that earthy, woodiness that you expect from a Malbec. When she told me again it was $2.99 I almost leapt from my chair (needless to say, there may have been exaggeration b/c of my wine consumption up to this point).
The night went on and on, but I was hooked. I mean seriously, I could buy a case for $36, a price that I do spend on a single bottle.
It's only now that I look back at how many glasses (and bottles) I have bought over the years. Beyond the fact its price point was great, it was just a fantastic, easy wine. I have braised short ribs with it, and of course had a few (ok, more than a few) glasses while waiting for the ribs to cook. I have served it to guests who reply, "Whoa, that's great, what is that?" La Boca Malbec; take that Screaming Eagle.
So fast forward: same aforementioned best friend's birthday this past April. She calls me to say she can't find it in the Pasadena, CA, area. I said I would look for it here in San Francisco. I go to my local TJ's and see they they too are out of La Boca Malbec! WTF? Upon asking the manager what was the deal, I found out that La Boca had been in talks with TJ's about renegotiating their contract, and wanted TJ's to raise their price since Rite-Aid was able to sell it for $6.99. TJ's said nope; instead the answer was that TJ's would not renegotiate at the higher price and they would phase out the Malbec. My jaw dropped. The manager said I was not the first person who had come into the store asking for it, bewildered that this was going on, and then to utter, "Damn, I should have bought a case recently!"
So I posted on Facebook as my status,
"Trader Joe's may be "phasing out" La Boca wines? Say it ain't so...what am I going to replace my $2.99 a bottle "splurge" with..."to which many friends, far and wide, all chimed in with their shock, all in disbelief. One girlfriend started calling around to TJ's down in San Diego to see if she could find a case or two and bought what were probably the last 3 in the county.
It was a period of mourning knowing I was going to have to move on. I mean, with all of the decently priced wines at TJ's you really need to just start tasting and navigating through them...by buying and tasting them. I have been on a mission to try to find something that I like, that is similar to my missed Malbec (sniff), and at the same price range. I believe I have found a contender.
Panilonco Merlot/Malbec blend from Chile. $3.99 a bottle.
This was me enjoying it with my grass-fed top sirloin, brown rice, and garlicky spinach (blog entry and recipe to come) the other night.
My heart (and liver) are slightly empty from the void that La Boca Malbec left, but I have a feeling that Panilonco is going to be the "cure".