It’s not just an inexpensive wine from Argentina.
When most people hear of Malbec, they think of an inexpensive wine from Argentina, however, Malbecs origins can be traced back to France’s Bordeaux and Cahors regions.
During the late 1800s, Malbec vines were planted in Argentina, where this thin-skinned grape thrives due to the moderate climate. Argentinean Malbecs are typically jammy, full-bodied wines with a touch of pepper on the finish, but with the resurgence of French malbecs and modern farming and winemaking techniques, it can be much more than that.
In France Malbec is still grown in Bordeaux and Cahors. In Bordeaux, it is grown in small amounts and used as a blending grape for Bordeaux blends. Malbec adds a deep color and tannins to the world famous Bordeaux’s. In Cahors, Malbec is the main grape with a minimum of 70 percent required in the blend due to strict laws. Malbecs from Cahors are a deep red or violet in color, with dark fruit flavors like plum and blackberry. They have ample tannins and earthy flavors on the finish and can age for a long time, making them elegant and well-structured wines, much more complex than their Argentinean counterparts.
Malbec grapes are also grown in the United States, mainly in California’s Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Sonoma Valley, and Anderson Valley. Here the grape is used for blending just like in Bordeaux. The grape is used in Claret and Meritage blends to add a deep red color, darker fruit flavors, and robust tannins. Malbec is also planted in Oregon, Washington, and New York, mainly for blending purposes, but there has been experimentation to try and create a pure Malbec wine.
In Argentina, Malbec is considered the national variety and most widely planted varietal. Malbec was introduced to Argentina during the late 1800s by French agriculturists trying to preserve the grape from the phylloxera epidemic. Malbec grapes thrived in the Mendoza region of Argentina, creating wines that are fruitier with softer tannins and slightly less structure than the Malbecs of France.
As Argentinean Malbecs became more popular, the farmers began to experiment with growing the grape at higher elevations in their Mendoza farms. This led to winemakers creating Malbec wines with more structure and tannins with darker fruit flavors, more similar to their French counterparts.
If you enjoy your typical Malbec from Argentina, I recommend Altos Las Hormigas. This wine has nice jammy fruit up front with light tannins and pepper on the finish. If something sweeter is your thing, I recommend Dos Minas. Jammy red fruit is featured with very light tannins and a touch of pepper on the finish.
If you want to try a more complex Malbec from Argentina, I recommend Taymente. This wine features concentrated blackberry and violet flavors with robust tannins and spice on the finish. For a special occasion, I would recommend Altos Appellation Altamira, a full-bodied wine with violet and dark fruit, strong tannins, spice and great structure with a long complex finish.
I highly recommend trying Chateau la Coustarelle Cahors, this 9 percent Malbec 10 percent Tannat blend is exceptional. It features plum and blackberry on the palate with robust tannins and great structure throughout, the finish is elegant and long.
For some great blends with a touch of Malbec, I recommend Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington or Ramey Claret from Napa Valley California. Both wines benefit from the robust tannins and deep color that Malbec adds to them.
Enjoy what suits your palate and, as always, if you have any questions ask your local wine professional to help you find what you might like best.