All About Malbec

A history of the well-known wine, from the vineyards of France to the Andes Foothills

You’ve heard about it, seen it on wine lists, agreed that “it’s totally one of my favorite wines”—but what do you really know about Malbec other than that it is fermented grape juice? Well, it’s time to open a few bottles and educate yourself.

UN_Haut-Monplaisir_JR0217The Malbec grape is indigenous to France and has been used traditionally as one of the minor grape varietals allowed in the blending of Bordeaux wines. One characteristic of the grape is that although thin-skinned, it lends a deep, inky color to wine, a substantial amount of tannins and floral and dark fruit notes. Because of its thin skin, it is also extremely susceptible to frost damage, which has limited its successful production to a warmer section of Cahors, more to the south and west of Bordeaux. And Cahors, where Malbec is allowed to be the protagonist rather than play a supporting role, brings us to the Chateau Haut-Monplaisir 2014 Cahors Malbec. This wine greets you with the inky color one would expect of a Malbec, but the aromas wafting from the glass will be the first thing to capture your attention, with hints of spices and ripe black currants and berries. The medium body and moderate tannins and acidity make this wine a great companion to many foods. In fact, I would prefer to have this wine with food, such as roast pork or chicken.

My tasting companions and I enjoyed all three of these wines accompanying a dinner of duck liver and onions on bruschetta with Balsamico Tradizionale, roast duck marinated in smoked paprika, garlic and sage, and grilled white asparagus, Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes. It turned out to be a perfect match with these wines.

The Zolo Malbec 2015 is also a wine best served with food, but more than that, it is an introduction to the Malbec grape in its current popular style. Introduced to Argentina in 1868, the Malbec grape thrived and produced a notably less tannic wine, softer and with more fruit and floral characteristics. This Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina, is all of those things—bright fruit, plenty of tannins, and big flowers. In fact, the exact type of flower inspired quite a debate among my dining companions. It was decided by reading the back of the Zolo bottle: violets. And violets are a signature floral characteristic of Malbec, and one that once recognized could be singled out in all three of the wines, although in widely varying degrees. Mendoza, in the eastern foothills of the Andes, is recognized as one of the most important wine-producing areas in the country. The name Zolo refers to the owner of the winery spending much of the week in Mendoza, leaving her husband alone— solo—in Buenos Aires on the opposite side of the country.

UN_Altocedro_JR0217And speaking of alone, what a wonderful way to enjoy the 2013 Altocedro Malbec Reserva. Although delicious with food and friends—and they certainly don’t detract from it—this wine needs neither accompaniment to be fully experienced. Altocedro or “tall cedar” refers to both the heritage of the Lebanese-Argentine winemaker, and a cedar that towers over the vineyard, also located in Mendoza. It’s big and rich, with jammy plum and currants, chocolate and spice. The tannins are mellow enough so that it doesn’t really need rich food for balance. And like the other two, this wine can be consumed now or could certainly spend more time in the bottle, achieving even more nuance. In my experience, this is a great expression of what a Malbec from Mendoza—or anywhere, for that matter—can be, especially at this price.

Now that you have a starting point, discover and experience Malbec for yourself. You and your friends will appreciate the flavors and aromas of this delicious grape.

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