Everything you need to know about Malbec
Malbec, which is as well-known as Côt or “Auxxerois”, comes from the Southwest of France. The thick-skinned grape was a natural crossing of two obscure grape varieties, Prunelard de Gaillac and Magdeleine des Charentes (the mother of Merlot!). Malbec is an important blending grape variety in Bordeaux, but due to its low resistance to fungal diseases and pests it has never been grown there as a first-rate grape variety. This wine is beloved for its rich black fruit flavor and sweet chocolate finish.
Red plum, mulberry, vanilla, sweet tobacco, and cocoa.
Medium-low acidity 13.5 to 15% VBA
60 to 68°F / 15 to 20°C
Usually about 30 minutes before serving
Usually 5 to 10 years
Food & wine pairings:
Did you know? Unlike Cabernet, Malbec doesn’t have a lengthy finish, making it a great selection with leaner red meats. It also works wonders with melted blue cheese.
Fun facts about Malbec Grapes:
- Malbec loves the sun. The sun helps Malbec produce thick skin and high-colored pigments (anthocyanins).
- Argentina “saved” Malbec. Before Argentina tackled Malbec, it was only a minor grape variety from Southwest France. Today, Malbec accounts for three-quarters of Argentina’s vineyards and is consumed all over the world.
- One of the classic characteristics of Malbec is its bright magenta edge and opaque purple color.
- The higher the better. Malbec has a hard time maintaining acidity in low altitudes, but does so fabulously in places of higher altitudes where there is a big change in daytime temperature (cold nights and sunny days).
- Malbec is a team player. Malbec wines are tasty, but be sure to try a blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Malbec is a blending grape in red Bordeaux.
- Less oak than you think. Malbec is so fruity and sweet that it often does not require oak aging. Affordable Malbec wines only need 4 to 6 months in oak, while high-end Malbec wines may have spent between 18 and 20 months in oak.
Mark your calendars!
World Malbec Day takes place on April 17th.
How much should I spend?
There are basically three unofficial quality levels of Argentina’s Malbec depending on price. Here’s what we observed:
$12 – $20: Good introductory wines. These are entry-level wines that are usually produced in large quantities and tend to focus on the smooth, juicy, and fruity style of Malbec without much oak (oak costs money!).
$20 to $50: Super. This is what you would anticipate spending on a high-end reserva or for the knowledge that your wine has come from reserve a high-value vineyard of all ranges. Prolonged aging (in vats or oak) brings out a rich chocolate flavor and velvety texture.
$50 – $250: Exceptional. Iconic winemakers in Agrelo and Uco Valley charge well over $100 a bottle, but you can find premium Malbec for around $50 from less-established producers. When you compare that to Burgundy’s iconic wines — which start at $250 — Malbec offers incredible value for money.
Looking for quality? Here’s what to look for when looking for a high-quality Malbec wine:
Malbec grows particularly well in sunny climates with cool night temperatures.
Manual harvesting: Great wines are almost always harvested by hand. As mechanized harvesters continue to improve, they are still no real substitute to a delicate hand and demanding eyes.
Prolonged aging: A good Malbec was aged in a cellar. As a rule, the more time a wine spends in the cellar, the greater the cellar’s investment in the product. It’s not uncommon to see Malbec quality wines aged for 15 to 24 months before they’re released (whether they are aged in wood or neutral oak/aged in vats).
Technical notes: The acidity is usually between 5 and 7 g/L and the pH varies from 3.65 to 3.75 in the best-rated wines. In addition, there is little to no residual sugar (less than 1 g/L).
Specific to the region: The Uco Valley and Luján de Cuyo in Mendoza regularly produce top-notch Malbec wines. Outside Argentina, look at Cahors, France and Walla Walla on the Oregon/Washington border.
The Wine Profile Series: Chardonnay
THIS DAY IN WINE HISTORY
1780s: The name Malbec was introduced likely because a man named, Malbeck planted it in Bordeaux.
1868: The grape really didn’t become famous until it was introduced to Mendoza, Argentina. It was first established by a sentimental French botanist in 1868 who hoped to enhance the value of wine in the area. Today, it is the most significant grape variety in Argentina.
April 17: April 17th is Malbec World Day.
1956: Approximately 75% of the Malbec crop in Bordeaux was killed by frost.
1962: Malbec vineyards reached over 58,600 hectares in Argentina.
Want to read more? Try these books!
- Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. Jancis Robinson 2012
- Wine. Years. People. Events. Massandra Wine Collection 2010
- The World Atlas of Wine: 8th Edition. Johnson, H & Robinson, J. 2019