Learn About the Malbec Grape Variety

What does Malbec wine taste like?

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.

What’s the difference between French and Argentinian Malbec?

French Malbec is mainly grown as a single varietal in Cahors, and is also known as Côt in regions of the Loire Valley. Argentina has adopted Malbec as its national grape whereas the popularity and total plantings of Malbec in France has declined over the past century.  French Malbec can tend to make wine with a less fruit forward taste and move towards a green component, yet still retaining the black fruit found in the wines of Argentina.

How did Malbec come to be so famous in Argentina?

One man, Nicolás Catena.  He began a wine revolution in Argentina in the 1980s.  He 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.  He 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.

Why is Malbec such a heavy red wine?

I don’t believe it to be such a ‘heavy red wine’.  There are great winemakers studying and allowing the terrior (land) to help dictate how the final wine drinks.  The dark fruit is there, but the tannins need not be overwhelming.  I believe you can find a varied range, all having similar characteristics in fruit and aroma, but some more elegant than others. Some may be very robust and masculine, with others slightly softer and feminine.

Are there any other regions within Argentina producing Malbec you recommend our readers sample?

Yes, apart from Mendoza, the southern Uco Valley has great wines made by O. Fournier.  Salta, where the pace of life may be slightly slower has great Malbec made by wineries such as Torrontés.

What’s the difference between Malbec grown at a higher altitude versus that grown near the valley floor?

Being in Argentina for a week, I was really able to grasp how magnificent it was for the Malbec that was being made there.  Argentina is basically a desert, due to the annual amount of rainfall (or lack thereof). For these high altitude vineyards, careful study has been being 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 different vine training.  Vines may be more stressed at higher altitudes, and there are different soils.  I have tasted fantastic wines from both higher and lower elevations, and I might say there are less secondary characteristics in the valley wines, but that doesn’t always hold true.

Are there any new, or traditional Malbec wine making practices that you feel are most conducive to the best expression of this varietal?

I believe the work being done in the Catena Wine Institute is vital to the continued success of Argentine Malbec.  The study and research they put into learning just what makes Malbec so unique for Argentine is unparalleled.  They have found that there are bacteria present in the soils unique to each and every vineyard that have a symbiotic relationship with the root system of the vines.  These bacteria can impact different flavors, aromas and other aspects to wines made specifically from those blocks. Amazing! I feel that movement of the greater winemakers to allow their Malbec wine to become the ultimate expression of Argentine soil and culture is well on its way.

Learn About These Other Wine Grape Varieties

Chenin Blanc
Cabernet Sauvignon
Petit Verdot
Pinot Grigio
Pinot Meunier

Written By Greig Santos-Buch

Greig Santos-Buch is a Co-Founder at Winetraveler.com and a WSET 2 Merit wine writer. He works with several brands focusing on experiential and immersive-style travel. In his spare time, you can find him hiking with a bottle of Cabernet Franc in his backpack or scuba diving trying to talk a reef shark into trying Swiss wine.

Get Articles Like These Directly in Your Inbox!

Subscribe to Winetraveler and receive notifications when new articles are published.

Malbec Wine Profile


Black, Blue and Red

Earth & Mineral Flavors

Limestone, Clay, Forest Floor, Underbrush

Additional Complexities

Smoke, Tobacco, Mushroom, Leather Saddle, Cracked Black & Red Pepper, Cacao

Structure & Body

Body Medium-Full

Sugar Dry

Tannins High

Acid Medium

Alcohol High (13.0%-14.5% ABV)

Finish Long

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.

Spicy Food

Indian & Mexican

Leave a Comment, Ask a Question or Share a Review

Send this to a friend