Malbec

mal-bek

Origin: Cahors
Grape: Malbec (purple grape variety with thin skin)
Flavors: Red Plum, Blackberry, Vanilla, Sweet Tobacco, Cocoa
Notable Regions: Cahors, Argentina, Chile
Sweetness: Dry
Body: Full
Tannins: Medium
Acidity: Medium-Low
ABV: 13.5-15%

The History of Malbec

Malbec is a grape variety that originated in France, where it was primarily used as a blending grape to make Bordeaux for many years. While the grape had excellent potential to be made into the pure Malbec wine we know and love today, only one region, Cahors, historically did so.

Malbec is now considered one of the most popular red wines on the market. However, it was not until fairly recently that the wine became a regular export outside of France. This was due, in part, to the grape’s vulnerability to disease and rot. Malbec did not respond well to the climate in France, and winemakers subsequently began planting less of the grape, for fear of giving up land to crops that could easily die. Instead, they planted just enough to add to a red blend if the grape did end up surviving the growing season.

Fortunately, Malbec found a new life in Argentina. The grape was first introduced to the region in the mid-19th century, when provincial governor Domingo Faustino Sarmiento asked French agronomist Miguel Pouget to bring grapevine cuttings from France to Argentina. Among the vines that Pouget brought were the very first Malbec vines to be planted in the country, primarily in the region of Mendoza. Because of the region’s hot weather and high altitude, the Malbec vines thrived, exhibiting none of the weakness they had died from in France. This is why Argentinian Malbec and French Malbec have distinctly different tastes, still to this day.

For almost 100 years after being planted, Malbec remained a wine consumed inside Argentina, with very little being exported. Then, in the early 2000s, the state of the world economy caused prices to rise, including the price of wine made in Europe and the United States. Many Americans started looking for an affordable and delicious alternative, and thus, the time for Malbec had arrived. In this way, Malbec was not discovered by wine experts, but by regular wine drinkers. Because of this populist appeal, Malbec is now considered Argentina’s most important grape variety, and the country is now home to nearly 70 percent of all Malbec vineyards in the world. As of 2003, there were over 50,000 acres of Malbec in Argentina.

Malbec Taste and Flavor

The key to the popularity of Malbec lies in how easy it is to drink, and how well it goes with or without food. Malbec is often referred to as the working man’s Merlot, as the wine has many of the same characteristics that make Merlot easy to drink, with an added spice and acidity that makes it seem less polished.

There is a dramatic difference in taste between Argentinian Malbec and French Malbec, which goes to show the extent to which terroir can influence a wine. Terroir encompasses all of the regional factors that define the taste of a wine grape, including sun, soil, climate, weather, altitude, and proximity to water.

Argentinian Malbec

The main fruit flavors of Argentinian Malbec are blackberry, plum, and black cherry. The nuanced flavors offer milk chocolate, cocoa powder, violet flowers, leather, and, depending on the amount of oak aging, a sweet tobacco finish.

French Malbec

While Argentinian Malbec is fruit forward, French Malbec is quite the opposite. Produced in Cahors, the wine is leathery, with flavors of tart, black plum, and savory bitterness. French Malbec has higher acidity, which attributes to flavors described as black pepper and spice. Because of its moderate tannin and acidity with lower alcohol, French Malbec tends to age longer.

Fun fact: During blind taste tests, one of the classic “tells” of Malbec is the wine’s bright magenta rim and opaque purple color.

Malbec Food Pairings

Because Malbec is a full-bodied red wine, it pairs well with full-flavored foods. However, unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine does not have a long finish or as aggressive tannins. Therefore, it will pair very nicely with leaner red meat, and even lighter cuts like dark meat turkey or roasted pork. It also pairs deliciously with pepper, sage, creamy mushroom sauces, and melted cheese.

The Best Malbec Food Pairings

  • Meat: Malbec holds up well with dark meat poultry, roasted pork, and leaner cuts of red meat, such as sirloin, flap, hanger, filet, and skirt steak. If you like more interesting meats, you’ll be surprised by how well the fruit flavors of Malbec can complement more gamey and earthy meat cuts, such as buffalo burgers, ostrich burgers, or even venison.
  • Cheese: Malbec is one of the few bold red wines that consistently pairs well with blue cheese and other pungent, soft cheeses. That said, you will also be delighted with Monterey Jack, provolone, and even melted Swiss cheese. When pairing Malbec with cheese, the key is to recognize that the wine’s finish is not extremely long, so a cheese also without a long, lingering taste is generally a good match.
  • Spices and Herbs: Look for spices that have earthy or smoky flavors such as parsley, sumac, thyme, rosemary, smoked paprika, black pepper, cumin, clove, garlic, shallot, green onion, and barbeque sauce.
  • Vegetables: Mushrooms, roasted vegetables, green and red bell peppers, potatoes, arugula, kale, grilled endive, onions, beets, lentils, black beans, and forbidden rice all pair well with Malbec.

Food Pairings to Avoid with Malbec

As with most full-bodied red wines, it might be a good idea to avoid bitter greens, fish, and vinaigrette salads. This is because bitter greens will make the wine taste more bitter, fish will linger on your palate and upset the taste of the wine, and acidic salads will make the wine taste more flat.

Our Selection of Malbec

  • France: 2016 Château Leret Malbec - This award-winning wine has red berries and mixed spices on the nose. The palate is fruity, with fine tannins that will age well.
  • Argentina: 2018 Tasca Reserve Malbec - In Argentina, a tasca is a tavern, where warmth is shared alongside hearty food and satisfying drink. In the spirit of these beloved gathering places, this wine is made to bring joy to those who drink it, with complex aromas of plum, cherry, and raisins, and a well-balanced palate where bold plums are followed by ripe berries.
  • Argentina: 2017 Bernard Magrez Aries Malbec - Indulge in this supple and elegant red wine from Mendoza with a smooth, juicy, and fruity feel that is guaranteed to delight.
  • France: 2017 Georges Vigouroux Hommage Malbec - With hints of purple that demonstrate its youth, this wine has a nose of intense red fruits and violet with a hint of mint that meets black fruits and deep tannings on the palate.

Malbec in a Nutshell

Malbec is a full-bodied red wine that originated in France but grows mostly in Argentina. While French Malbec is more savory and tart, with firm tannins and flavors of plum and leather, Argentinian Malbec is more fruit forward, with a velvet texture and flavors of cocoa and plum. Overall, this wine is both affordable and delicious, pairing well with lean meats and soft, pungent cheeses. If you’re serving red wine to a diverse group, Malbec is always a safe, crowd-pleasing bet.