Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Malbec

The Soundbyte:  One of Malbec’s earliest claims to fame is the spot it holds as one of the grape varieties approved for making red wines in the Bordeaux region of France.  It seems that Malbec was fairly widely planted in Bordeaux before a “particularly harsh winter” in 1956 wiped out a good majority of the vines, never to be re-planted.  Nevertheless, Malbec is still used in Bordeaux, albeit in small amounts. Malbec  can bring spiciness, very deep color, ample tannin, and a particular plum-like flavor to blended wines. More recently, Malbec has found a new home and a new home in the high-altitude red wines of Argentina.  The best Malbecs can be described as mouth-filling, fruity, and sumptuous.  Worldwide, Malbec is planted in small amounts, but its popularity and acres planted is on the rise.

Typical Attributes of a Malbec-based Wine:

  • Medium to full-bodied.  Malbec-based wines are known for having a high level of dissolved solids, known in the wine world as “extract.”
  • In France the grape is primarily used for blending, although the New World tends to make Malbec into 100% varietals.
  • The tannins tend to be medium-to-full; when young, the tannins are sometimes described as tight or tightly-wound. Wines from warmer regions, or those made  using certain wine making techniques (such as PFM) can have tannins that are described as plush or ripe.
  • Malbec tends to make earthy, “rustic” style wines.
  • Malbec-based wines tend to be very deep red or purple, almost inky, in color.
  • Malbec also makes a delightful rosé wine and…I’m beginning to see some late harvest/sweet wines made using Malbec. 

Typical Aromas of a Malbec-based Wine:

Fruity:  Plum, Dark Cherry, Cooked Berries, Blackberry, Boysenberry, Raspberry, Fig, Black Currant

Spicy:  Anise, Vanilla, Cocoa, Chocolate, Espresso, Tobacco

Sometimes from the Grape, and sometimes from Oak:  Oak, Cedar, Fresh Lumber, Mocha, Toast, Coffee, Tar

Where The Best Malbec is Grown:

  • Argentina…it especially thrives in the province of Mendoza.  Malbec is the major red varietal grape planted in Argentina.
  • In the Bordeaux region of France, where it is blended in small amounts to add spice to the Bordeaux Blend.
  • Cahors, the region in Southwest France known for making Malbec-based  wines sometimes called “The Black Wine of Cahors”.
  • There is small amount grown in the Central Loire Valley of France.
  • There are some plantings in California, Washington State, Oregon and Texas— where it is made into both varietal wines and as a part of the Meritage blend.
  • You may be drinking Malbec but don’t know it; the grape goes by many aliases including “Auxerrois”, “Cot”, and “Pressac”.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

Beef, Lamb, Veal, Venison, Pork, Hard Cheeses

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Garlic, Roasted Garlic, Onions, Mushrooms
  • Walnuts, Pecans
  • Rosemary, Thyme, Mint, Bay Leaf
  • Tomatoes, Roasted Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes
  • Cocoa, Chocolate (easy on the sweetness!)
  • Eggplant, Fennel
  • Blackberries, Currants, Figs
  • Black Pepper, Creole Spices, Chili Spices, Barbeque Flavors

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

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