Red Wine Basics: Malbec

A glass of Malbec wine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Malbec (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
French Origins
Malbec is a purple grape variety that originated in France. It is one of the six grapes allowed to make up a Bordeaux blend, though its presence in Bordeaux is declining. After a frost in 1956 killed off 75% of the Malbec crop in France, popularity of the grape has fallen there. The grape is delicate and thin-skinned. Very susceptible to frost and several grape diseases, the variety must often be grafted onto non-native rootstocks in France, making it ever less popular there.

Argentina's Main Squeeze
In Argentina, however, the grape has found a home. Argentinian Malbec wines are becoming increasingly popular, and the grape has become the most widely planted grape variety in the country. The grape benefits from the warm climate, and grafting is not often necessary so the grape can grow from its own roots to preserve the natural integrity of the grape. There is even a Malbec World Day celebrated on April 17th to help Argentina broadcast its Malbec wines to the world. Events and tastings are held around the globe in celebration of Argentinian Malbec and its increasing share in the global wine marketplace.

Flavor Profile and Pairings
Malbec wines are a deep red color and medium to full bodied. The wine boasts a strong tannic structure, high acidity and high alcohol content. Dominant flavors include plum, black cherry, blackberry and  a host of spicy aromas and flavors including pepper, smoke, earth, leather, wild game and tobacco. The strong flavor of Malbec pairs well with red meats, red sauces, sausage and spicy dishes. Many Malbec wines can be successfully aged to a decade or more.

My Taste of Malbec
I was lucky enough to locate a bottle of Malbec this past weekend for a little extra-curricular research. I found a bottle of 2011 Bodega Belgrano Malbec made in Mendoza, Argentina. As I have admitted in the past, I have no wine tasting experience and I tend to dislike red wines. I must say, however, that the Malbec was the best red wine I have tried. My palette is still extremely unrefined, and I struggle with describing why I like it better than the others. It wasn’t as harsh as some of the other wines I have tasted, such as the Cabernet Sauvignon or the Meritage. It smelled deliciously of leather and spices, and tasted very spicy, especially the longer it was allowed to breathe and open up. I would suggest trying it for those of you who find typical red wines too strong.

This completes my exploration of Malbec. Join me next time for a discussion about Merlot, one of the best known and most widely planted red grape varieties in the world.

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Louise Bryant

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