Malbec Grape Variety and Wine Profile
Malbec is thought to have originated near Burgundy before spreading to other regions of France. Although it’s probably best known as one of the red grapes allowed in Bordeaux blends, it’s equally valued in Cahors in the Southwest. It also thrives in the Loire Valley, where it’s known as Côt and is often used to produce lighter, more quaffable wines.
Malbec is, however, THE grape of Argentina due to Nicolás Catena. He began a wine revolution in Argentina in the 1980s and studied the climate, the soils, the plantings, the farming. Every aspect of the winemaking process drove his passion to put Argentina on the international wine map. He inherently knew Argentina could and would make wine as great as anywhere else and had help from consultants such as Paul Hobbs and Attilio Pagli.
To this day, the Catena family and their Wine Institute continue to be the driving force in the development and propagation on making Argentine Malbec one of the best wines in the world.
IN THIS GUIDE:
According to sommelier Kevin Cornish, Malbec is a lush, ripe wine with dark concentrated flavors. It contains beautiful black fruit flavors and aromatics of spice and some floral notes at times. There are different degrees of complexity in Malbec depending upon the winemaker and the region it is made in.
When from Cahors or Argentina, it can be positively inky, whereas it’s lighter and brighter when it’s from the Loire Valley. New World Malbecs outside of Argentina also tend to be muscular and bold. Expect lots of black fruit notes along with distinctive leather, mushroom, tobacco, smoke, pepper, and cacao. There are also hints of forest floor and clay in Malbec wines.
We’re big believers in matching wine with cuisine from where it’s produced, so try Malbec with grilled Argentine beef and chimichurri sauce – the pairing will pick up those smoky grilled notes along with the brighter herbal notes.
Cassoulet is another hearty pairing for French iterations. That said, since Malbec is so barbecue friendly, pair it with anything on the grill!
Argentina is basically a desert, due to the annual amount of rainfall (or lack thereof). For these high-altitude vineyards, careful study has been done for years to ensure the harvest is of the best quality, year in and year out. Water is in high demand and has been grandfathered in for use over the years. One can only use their allotment.
On the valley floor, there are different methods of harvest, different pruning, and vine training. Vines may be more stressed at higher altitudes, and there are different soils.
Cooler climates, like the Loire Valley, will produce those lighter wines that can be chilled and popped open to sip on an easy Tuesday.
Bolder Cahors and Argentine Malbecs can age quite well. Although it’s not as tannic as Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec has a similar heft to it that breaks down and evolves beautifully with time. Malbec works well with a variety of oak treatments and, because it’s bold, it tends not to be overwhelmed by deep toasting.
- Chateau du Cèdre, Cahors, Southwest, France
- Le rocher des Voilettes, Côt Vieille Vignes, Touraine, Loire, France
- Catena Zapata, Argentino Vineyard, Mendoza, Argentina
- Amalaya, Salta, Argentina
- Brave, Napa Valley, California
- K Vintners, ‘Broncho,’ Washington
Learn About These Other Wine Grape Varieties
Written By Jamie Metzgar
Jamie Elizabeth Metzgar began her career in wine by pouring in a tasting room on the East End of Long Island, NY. After moving to New York City, she landed a position at Chambers Street Wines where she was encouraged to pursue wine education at the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET). She earned Level III certification there and has since earned California Wine Appellation Specialist and Certified Specialist of Wine certifications as well. After way too many moves, she has recently landed in Northern California where she is compiling an unofficial roster of dog-friendly tasting rooms.
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Malbec Wine Profile
Black, Blue and Red
Earth & Mineral Flavors
Limestone, Clay, Forest Floor, Underbrush
Smoke, Tobacco, Mushroom, Leather Saddle, Cracked Black & Red Pepper, Cacao
Structure & Body
Alcohol High (13.0%-14.5% ABV)
Beef & Pork
Malbec goes incredibly well with pork loin or lechon, as well as with flank steak and beef stew. The spice, leather and smoky flavor backed by berry notes allows for a wide array of food pairings.
Indian & Mexican