You can typically find Malbec listed in the "interesting" or "other" category of reds on wine lists. But this lesser-known varietal has been making more frequent appearances on shelves and in restaurants—and with good reason: It's often delicious. 

When I get hooked on a certain grape, I try to explore it as much as possible—different regions, different styles—to see which I like best. After trying a few Malbecs that fell short of my expectations, I found a well-priced favorite in a California version—Red Rock Winery's 2009 Reserve Malbec, which is full of fruit flavors and balanced by a light acidity. Made from grapes from multiple California appellations and coming in under $10 a bottle, it's worth stocking up on.

Historically used in French Bordeaux, Malbec can stand on its own quite nicely when done right. Many of the Argentinian versions I've tried lately are a bit heavy on spice and tang. Red Rock's offering is mellower, starting with hints of cherry on the nose but opening into more intricate, lush berries on the palate. The flavors develop, especially when given time to breathe, adding subtle molasses tinges and a touch of cocoa while finishing smooth. I noted a good amount of sediment left after having a glass (or four), which some folks find off-putting. For me, this wine was tasty enough to try to lick these final remnants.

A wine with a lot of character is great on its own, which is how I served this bottle to friends. But I plan to try the additional bottles with hearty mealsómaybe something smoky off the barbecue or a spicy pasta dish. Something with complexity and herbs and spices would complement the fruit-forward wine. 

Another signature of Malbec is its deep purple hue, and this one is no different; make sure you check for red-wine lips after you enjoy it. And even if you finish with violet teeth, it's worth enjoying the layers of this decadent wine at an affordable price. 

Write to jenv@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Jen_VT.

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