Malbec is a purple grape capable of producing inky dark wines with robust tannins and deep plummy, blackberry flavours. Originally identified as one of the six grapes allowed Bordeaux, it has spent much of its life in blends as a great support to other varietals. Slowly it is evolving around the world, making itself known, and people are now picking up on its qualities. This revolution is being led by Argentina.
Malbec was originally from Northern Burgundy or the Auxerrois. and known as Cot Noir. It is not easy to grow as it buds early, making it a target for frost, and can suffer from many diseases in the vineyard. It needs more warmth and heat than most vines, and will ripen mid-season given the right conditions. Mainly due to its early budding it is declining in Bordeaux as up to 75% of the Malbec vines were destroyed by frost in 1956. It is thin skinned and thrives on hard soils, particularly limestone. But given all that it can make rich plummy wines that are dark and juicy. In warmer climates touches of damson, tobacco, garlic and raisins come through and the tannins are velvety soft. It always has a great acidity and this gives a lasting balance. It was once described in France as “a rustic merlot”.
In France, it has long been a part of the red wine blends of the regions, in particular Bordeaux. Cotes de Bourg, Blaye, and Entre deux Mers are the main areas but it can appear in the Medoc and St Emilion areas as well. Cahors, however, is the champion, as a minimum of their red wines must be 70% Malbec. Their deep colour, intense depth of flavour, and aging potential give an indication of their potential.
In 1868 the vine was taken to Argentina, where it has become the country’s leading red varietal. In the classic regions of Mendoza, St Juan, Salta, and Catamaca, the wine has built up an amazing reputation. The wines of Bodega Septima from Mendoza are a prime example of stunning Malbecs. This clone produces smaller grape bunches and tighter berries that deliver intense colour and fruit and the warmer climate delivers softer riper tannins – here are examples of really juicy wines with velvet characteristics. If you want to try the very best then select from the higher Lujan de Cuyo and Uco Valley districts in the Andes, where some of the world’s top winemakers have been involved.
Argentina is leading the world in Malbec development, and is slowly beginning to be produced in the Central Valley in Chile, in the USA, particularly California and Oregon, New Zealand (though so far in limited quantities), and Australia, mainly the Claire Valley.
Malbec is a wine that goes particularly well with richer red meat dishes like venison, lovely with spicier foods and is great with cheese. It delivers a full mouthful of blackberry fruits and its juicy style makes it a must to try, and enjoy.