A wine importer’s guide to Malbec
With its distinctive taste and velvety texture, Malbec is undoubtedly the most famous of all Argentinian grapes and accounts for a substantial amount of Britain’s Argentinian imported wine.
A Bordeaux grape, Malbec originated in France, finding its way to Argentina in the mid 19th century. In contrast to Bordeaux, where fungal disease has caused the grape to all but die out, Malbec seems to have found its home on the Andean foothills of Argentina. As with the Bonarda, the Malbec enjoys the Argentinian climate, flourishing in its sunny days, cool nights, and dry, desert conditions.
Also, not unlike Chardonnay, the quality and character of this South American wine is affected by the region in which it is grown. With a Malbec from the northern region of Salta, for example, the grapes will probably have been grown somewhere above 6,000 feet. At such a height, the grape receives far more UV light, which tends to thicken the skins, causing them to form a protective layer to shield the grape from the direct sunlight. As a result of this, the skins give the final product more depth of colour, aroma and flavour, leading to the creation of a quality boutique wine.
With its spicy, rich, robust and fruity taste, it is really no wonder that Malbec is so popular worldwide. Very different from the gamey Malbec of Cahors in France, in Argentina it makes gloriously velvety, quality wines, high in alcohol and fruit extract. A balance of red and black berry fruits, medium tannins and good acidity give the ageing potential for some long-lived classic red wines.
Although there are many different styles of Malbec, both oaked and unoaked, classic flavours to expect include fruits such as blackberry, black cherry and plum.
Malbec is great with stew, pasta and hard cheese, but it is most famous for going extremely well with red meat. In particular, I highly recommend trying it with a good steak or a barbeque.
What to look for
The key thing when choosing a Malbec is, once again, to read the label and be aware of what you’re buying. Don’t just assume that all Malbec is going to be exactly the same. Although classic flavours include blackberry and plum, flavours can also include red fruits, such as raspberry and red plum.
Further, as any good wine merchant will tell you, it is especially important with Malbec to consider the region and height at which the grapes were grown. As mentioned earlier, a higher altitude often indicates a better wine and most bottles will print this information, so be sure to check. In terms of geography, I would highly recommend choosing a Malbec grown in either the Mendoza or Salta regions as these are well known across the country for their fantastic wines. However, there are some very fine examples from every one of Argentina’s wine regions.