In the late 1990s, none of my wine drinking friends had heard of Malbec, let alone tasted it. I had discovered this deliciously fruity wine with a wonderful flavor profile, and a price tag that was too low to believe. It tasted as though it should costs much more. But then in 2002 I received a bottle as a birthday present. When my friend handed me the bottle, she said, “This is a wine you’ve never heard of, but I really like it so I thought you should try it.” I exclaimed, “Oh great. A Malbec. Thank you.” And she surprisingly replied, “Oh, you have heard of it?” Fast forward to today. Whether shopping at a wine shop or the grocer, you’ll find several Malbec wines from which to choose.
Malbec is the signature red wine of Argentina. As popular as this big, inky red wine has become to American wine drinkers, many do not realize that the Malbec grape is originally from Cahors in southwest France, near Bordeaux. It is one of the top five blending grapes used in making red Bordeaux wines from the Right Bank.
However, it’s Mendoza that has put Malbec on the wine-drinking radar. Argentina produces far more Malbec than France, with approximately 97 million acres under vine. Malbec accounts for 35% of the country’s red wine production.
Malbec is found in the Luján de Cuyo region. The best Malbec is grown in high-altitude vineyards. The area temperatures range from 84 degrees in the summer, dropping to 55 degrees at night. This diurnal temperature swing results in greater acidity, which helps wines age and increases their food friendliness. The region gets slightly less than eight inches of annual rainfall. Since the country was spared the phylloxera epidemic that ravaged European vines, many Malbec wines are produced using very old vines.
Unlike many grape varieties, Malbec vines can be high yielding, yet produce quality wines. They have high quality vs price value too, especially given the US dollar to Argentinean peso ratio.
In the Glass
Sight and Scent
The color is deep purplish red, hinting of the full-bodied flavor to come. Alcohol levels are typically above 14%, but the better wines do not give off unpleasant heat in the mouth. Malbec smells like blueberries, raspberries, plums and chocolate. Since it is always oak aged, you’ll also smell a hint of vanilla.
Argentinean Malbec expresses bold flavors of black fruits such as plum, blueberry and blackberry. They have medium acidity and mild minerality, along with soft tannins on the finish.
French Malbec has more violet, cherry and black pepper flavors. Since the weather in Bordeaux isn’t as warm as Mendoza, French Malbec has less alcohol levels. In addition, it also ages longer due to higher acidity levels.
Malbec is ideally paired with red meats; however, it is a versatile wine. It’s a good pairing partner with spicy Indian foods. Vegetarians will find Malbec a compatible match with mushrooms, salad greens, beans and lentils.
Malbec Wines to Try
Achaval Ferrer, Mendoza $29
The grapes used to produce this award-winning wine come from vineyards at 3,150 ft. It was aged nine months in French oak barrels, which give it a little vanilla flavor. You’ll also pick up dark fruits. The 2013 is just now reaching its peak so you can drink it now or lie it down until 2021. The newly arrived 2015s are also receiving accolades.
Tapiz, Valle de Uco, Mendoza $13
For the money, this Malbec is a steal. It has violets on the nose, along with chocolate. The flavors are plum, spice and vanilla. The finish is short and mild.
Tarani, Bordeaux $10
This is an easy-drinking approachable wine. It has a cherry aroma. It has a bit of a meaty flavor, with some plum and blueberry.
Leave a comment when you try these or any Malbec and let me know if you enjoy this wine as much as I do.