Malbec

rustic Merlot from South America conquers the world

The Malbec, a fragrant, deep-colored red varietal wine, is one of the best wines in the world. Actually, this is the red grape responsible for the character of one of the most popular wines in the world: Bordeaux. It was first discovered in France, it grows in the western part of the country around Bordeaux and sometimes called Côt and Auxxerois in French. The most accepted and popular theory is that the grape variety Malbec was named after a Hungarian peasant who first spread the grape variety throughout France. According to wine expert Jancis Robinson, the French style of Malbec is actually a rustic Merlot. And if you’ve tasted both, you can probably agree with him.

Malbec is classified as a wine grape in the same group as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and it is typically used as a blending grape due to its higher acid levels and the highest quality of the wine. Across the Loire Valley, the grape is blended with Cabernet Franc and Gamay. In 1956, the vineyards in Bordeaux were hit with frost that killed 75% of the Malbec grapes. The affected area of the frost was so extensive, that the frost killed the majority of the grapes on the vines. This disaster led to a drastic shift in Bordeaux wine production with less Malbec being produced, and more other grapes such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon became more popular.

French grape with a South American reputation

The first interesting thing about Malbec is that it was initially grown in France but is better known for being grown in South America. The grape that is most closely associated with Argentina is the Malbec grape. The rich wine made from it is responsible for Argentina’s most high-quality wine.

Malbec is the most planted grape in Argentina, and this country is home to the largest number of estates that specialize in this grape. These estates take pride in producing high-quality wines, which they achieve by using old vineyards and a focus on natural processes.

The Uco Valley wine region is located in the northeast of the province of Mendoza and it has a very dry climate. The vineyards are protected by mountains on one side and the Argentinian plains on the other. The combination of these two geographical features is what makes the Uco Valley perfect for growing grapes, which is the main product of the wine region. Malbec grapes that grow in Uco Valley (or in the other famous Merlot wine region there: Luján de Cuyo) have a very strong taste, which is perfect for making red wine.

Argentine wine industry produces about 75% of the world’s Malbec. The rest of it is planted in Chile, Uruguay, South Africa, and New Zealand. Malbecs do grow in other wine regions but Argentina and France are the two countries where you’re going to find the majority of them. For this reason, Malbec can be called an Argentine wine.

Malbec Wine Regions

Photo credit: Mauro Lima

According to international wine statistics more than 100,000 acres of Malbec planted worldwide:

  • Argentina (Mendoza, San Juan, Salta): 75,000+ acres
  • France (Sud-Ouest, Bordeaux, Loire Valley): about 15,000 acres
  • United States (California, Oregon, Washington State): about 3,500 acres
  • Chile (Colchagua, Curicó, Cachapoal): about 2,500 acres
  • South Africa: 1,000+ acres
  • Australia (Victoria, South Australia): 1,000+ acres
  • New Zealand (Gisborne, Hawkes Bay): 200-250 acres

Hot days, cool nights

They were brought to Argentina in the mid-1800s and it is clear that this grape variety does very well in Argentina. Since a lot of the vineyards, where the Malbec was planted, are located at very high altitudes. It is important to note that Malbecs are best when they have hot days and cool nights. And this high altitude in Argentina gives them hot days to ripen and cool nights to form a lot of acidities. Higher temperatures help to maintain the acid in grapes and the finished wines, and also at high altitudes it comes greater swings between daytime high temperatures and nighttime low temperatures. Nevertheless, these very low nighttime temperatures also help to slow down a process called respiration. This happens at night and consumes organic compounds in the grapes. Slowing down respiration results in grapes with greater aroma, color, and flavor intensity. The high altitude also exposes grapes to more solar radiation causes the grape skins to thicken. Overall these thicken skins lead to greater tannic structure in the wine.

In Mendoza, the ‘capital’ of Argentine Malbec, it is true that the higher the altitude of the vineyards, the better the wines, according to certain wine experts. The Argentine flagship grape prefers sunny and dry regions where it can fully ripen, and has been cultivated to produce grapes in a variety of soil types.

To anyone looking to experience a new wine, I would recommend Malbec tannins. Made from grapes that have a higher skin contact time, the wine provides a woodsy, earthy scent and taste. Its tannin has a medium dryness that pairs with higher acidity, which is excellent for those who enjoy a lighter, fruitier wine. The drink pairs well with meat so it would be great to sip on when cooking or eating steak.

Relationships and characteristics

Malbec is a cross between a little-known grape called Magdeleine Noire de Charentes and another little-known grape called Prunelard. An interesting fact that Magdeleine Noire de Charentes is also a parent of Merlot Cabernet Franc making Malbeck and Merlot half-siblings. So Cabernet Franc is the step-parent of Malbec. Could you follow it?Malbec is perfectly deep black, perfectly intense, and perfectly full-bodied. It has a moderate alcohol content and has a strong suit of flavors that are usually a dark fruit flavor with notes of vanilla and tobacco.The natural conditions, unimaginable in Europe, and the plantations in the foothills of the Andes, often at an altitude of 1,000 meters above sea level, are reciprocated by the fruity, spicy, pepper and chocolatey flavors of Malbec.

Argentinian wine literature recommends drinking Malbecs aged in tanks when they are young. For wines aged in barrels for a few months, they talk about the potential of 2-3 years, but this period can extend to a decade for the more serious Malbecs.

Malbec in the United States

Recently, Malbec has been a topic of interest for many wine lovers in the United States. This interest has grown as Argentine wine producers have created wines that are affordable and are increasingly delicious! Malbec has been a popular red wine for many years now, but why is it becoming so popular in America? Malbec wine is popular in the U.S. because of its “complex aromas, flavors, and tannins” as well as its “remarkable aging qualities.” Malbec is said to be the “best choice” for “serious wine enthusiasts” because of its “complex and elegant” profile.

Malbec is a relatively new grape to North America and in recent years it has been increasingly explored by wineries in the United States. Many American winemakers are now producing varietal Malbec in an effort to capture the complexity and richness found in France. The climate in which Malbec is grown can affect the location where it is grown in the US. Malbec plantations are mostly found in California, Oregon, and Washington State. In California, the largest Malbec plantations are found in Napa Valley, Alexander Valley, Paso Robles, and Sonoma Valley. With the rise in popularity, it is now possible to find Malbecs at a variety of stores and restaurants, to the delight of all American wine lovers.

Malbec vs Merlot: the differences

Merlot is a much drier wine than Malbec and while the former has medium tannins, the latter has slightly higher tannins and has a deeper color. In acidity, the order is reversed, with Malbec generally having lower acidity. Malbec is a more complex wine, so we recommend merlot for beginners, as we believe that much more experience is needed to enjoy Malbec to the full.

But whichever of the two wines you choose to taste, there is no doubt that you will have a unique experience.

Food pairing tips with Malbec

What is best paired with Malbec? It has a velvety texture and taste that pairs well with food. You will need a great meal to pair your Malbec with, so think about which type of cuisine you prefer and which types of spices and seasonings you like. No doubt, its fruity flavors are well suited for pairing with many different foods. One example of a popular pairing is grilled steaks with a red wine sauce. Foods like sirloin steak, chicken, or sushi are popular go-to dishes that go well with it. And don’t forget your favorite seasonings and spices: maybe a garlic and rosemary rub on your chicken, or a cilantro pesto on your steak.

In addition to all these, it pairs well with many types of cheese. This fine wine goes especially for hard cheeses, but it also goes for softer cheeses as well. Certain cheeses that a Malbec wine would go well with are aged cheddar, brie, blue cheese, and many more. And back to the meat, you can also pair this fantastic wine with beef, seafood, or pork. The type of dish depends on what you want for dinner. For example, grilled shrimp and Malbec is a perfect summertime meal.

As a deep red wine, it’s well fit for a wine glass that is narrower at the top and wider at the bottom to concentrate the aromas and maximize flavor.

Malbec World Day

April 17th is Malbec World Day and it’s celebrated in many countries around the world. It’s the perfect day to celebrate the world of Malbec wine. On this day, many wineries will offer tastings and promotions making it a great day to explore the wine world and come together in a feast of the senses. The wines range in price, color, and flavor.

Celebrate Malbec World Day by enjoying a glass of Malbec and join the Malbec World Day festivities.