The Grape Variety Series: Malbec
Malbec is the darling of global wine lists, and for good reason. A reliable choice, it’s easy to enjoy due to its seductive, silky chocolate and raspberry notes. From its original home in southwest France to the high altitudes in Salta, Argentina, here’s what you need to know about the grape that has taken the wine world by storm...
Malbec has shot to fame in recent years thanks to the silky, chocolaty styles coming out of Argentina, where it is the country’s flagship grape. However, the grape is originally French. Hailing from southwest France, most notably in a small appellation called Cahors, the grape was originally known as Auxerrois or Côt among other variations before it was taken to Bordeaux and planted by a man called Malbec. While Cahors still stays loyal to the grape, Malbec never truly flourished in Bordeaux and was almost wiped out by frost during the 1950s. When cuttings were brought over to Argentina by immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century, however, the grape had found its spiritual home.
A distinctive style
In its original home of Cahors, Malbec is inky black with brooding, mulberry spice. In Argentina, it’s more open, with flavors of blueberry, raspberry, leather, and chocolate in warmer parts. The higher the altitude, the more concentrated the grape gets, its thicker skin acting as a sunscreen, giving the wine impressive structure and color. For a picture of how good Argentinian Malbec can be, try Cheval de Andes, the "grand cru" of Argentina. This is the joint venture between the great Château Cheval Blanc in Bordeaux and Terrazas de los Andes in Argentina.
How to drink it
A lot of Malbec can be drunk immediately, with no need for decanting or special treatment. Ideal serving temperatures are around 15–18°C, though in Argentina it is typical to chill it ever so slightly. A top-end, concentrated version like the Cheval des Andes, however, will benefit from a touch of air before serving to open it up.
Here's a tasting tour of some of the best places on Earth for great Malbec:
Cahors, southwest France, is the birthplace of Malbec. Some 70% of vineyards here are Malbec, though the grape still has many synonyms.
Mendoza, Argentina – Now boasting myriad subregions, each with its own terroir and style, Mendoza remains the home of classic Argentinian Malbec. Also try them from all the different micro-regions for comparison, from Gualtallary to Altimira.
Salta, northern Argentina – The incredibly high altitudes and purity of sunlight in Salta give Malbec skins here extra thickness, thus creating dark chocolate flavors with a savory salinity and high acidity. They need a few years in the bottle before drinking.
Around the world – You can now find Malbec in regions all over the world, though none have yet marked it as their key grape. Try versions from New Zealand, South Africa, and Chile, if you can find them.