A few years ago, the red grape variety "Malbec" drew blank expressions from wine consumers. Today it is a rising star and when we see it we immediately think of Argentina. While we may have Argentina to thank for bringing Malbec center stage it is a very old variety, and its origins lie in Southwest France. Today, Malbec wines represent some of the best value on the market. Native to Bordeaux, it is still permitted in all the major Bordeaux appellations. However, it is very much in decline in France and has almost disappeared from the vineyards. This is in part due to the fact that Malbec is very susceptible to rot and other vineyard diseases common in cooler, maritime climates. That said it still constitutes the backbone of the dark, inky wines of Cahors in Southwest France, where it is known as 'Cot'.
But it is really Argentina that has put Malbec on the map. There it thrives in the warmer, drier climate. It was first planted in Argentina in the 1850's and is planted in most of its wine regions.
So what do Malbec wines taste like?
They are deep in color and robust, with plummy, damson and bramble fruit aromas, with notes of tobacco, spice, pepper, leather and sometimes some lifted floral hints. They are usually full-bodied, with lots of tannin and fairly high alcohol. Most have some oak maturation.
Foodwise, Malbec wines are perfect with meat: grilled, roasted or slowly stewed. Full bodied wines for full-bodied foods.
Some great value Malbec wines that I have recently tasted include:
• 2006 Graffigna Centenario Malbec, Mendoza $13 - Smooth and packed with dark bramble fruit, spice and vanilla notes.
• 2008 Don Miguel Gascon Malbec, Mendoza $10 - Lush and dark, full-bodied with lots of ripe fruit, earthy, peppery notes.
• 2007 Yellow and Blue Malbec, $10 (liter tetra Pak) - So environmentally friendly. Easy drinking, full of ripe youthful berry fruit.
• 2007 Alamos Malbec, Mendoza $10 - Big and full-bodied, with lots of forest fruits, cherry and smokey notes.
• 2008 Terra Sparkling Malbec, Viniterra $13 - A refreshing change. Serve chilled. Brimming with blue and red berries with an overlay of spice and pepper.
We are finding that these days we are drinking lots of Malbec, given the great value that they represent, and they go with so many of the hearty dishes we are cooking this winter. So enjoy great value Malbec.
I will be in France, visiting some wine regions for the next two weeks. So until March 19th enjoy some great Malbec.
(Top image: Flickr member Dat Nguyen licensed for use under Creative Commons)