If you enjoy a glass of red wine, then chances are you’ve come across Malbec. This rich and flavourful grape has certainly become a firm favourite in recent years and is now a staple of many barbecues and restaurant wine lists.
The ripe, juicy examples from South America have proved particularly popular, but did you know that the grape actually originated in France?
Malbec was once grown widely across France and is even one of the six permitted varieties allowed in the wines of the Bordeaux region (full marks if you can name the others!), however it has fallen out of favour since the 50s when a widespread frost killed off a significant proportion of Malbec vines.
It’s a tricky grape to grow and is susceptible to a range of vine diseases, which has no doubt contributed to its decline in popularity. Now France just accounts for 15% of world plantings, with the only stronghold remaining in the Cahors region in the South West of France.
The classic French style of Malbec from Cahors is rich and robust, typically dark in colour, with an inky, purple hue and aromas of tobacco and damsons. In the warmer climate of the New World, the grapes become riper, with lots of juicy plum and blackberry flavours, but the tannins are softer than their French counterparts.
The wines of Cahors must be composed of at least 70% Malbec, with Merlot and Tannat used in the blend to soften the often tannic Malbec.
Here, it is also often called Auxerrois or Côt, a legacy of when Malbec was grown across France and many different regional names were used. Nowadays, outside of the South West, there are tiny amounts grown in the Loire and Bordeaux, but its influence remains small.
Pair with: A classic French cassoulet or duck confit.
While Malbec may have struggled to gain a foothold in France, it’s really found its home in South America, particularly Argentina where it has become its signature variety and 75% of all Malbec planted can be found. Malbec has thick skins and so needs lots of warmth and sunlight to ripen fully, and the Argentinian climate has proven to be perfect for this.
Also, the fact that the majority of vineyards in Argentina are at significant altitude, means that the grapes are allowed to ripen slowly in the cooler temperatures and retain their freshness. Regions such as Lujon de Cuyo and the Uco Valley in Mendoza have vineyards between 800 and 1500 metres in the foothills of the Andes.
Pair with: Obviously the best match is an Argentinian asado (or barbecue to you and me) as Malbec goes really well with smoky flavours.
The rest of the world
Alongside Argentina, Chile has also had notable success with plantings of Malbec, particularly in the Central Valley where it is often used in blends. Malbec is also found in California, Australia and South Africa.
Once thought of as a grape to be used in blending or bulk wine, its success in Argentina has no doubt encouraged other producers around the world to experiment with the grape.
How to serve Malbec depends on the style. Whether you’re enjoying a rich, tannic French version, or the softer, riper South American style, both will benefit from decanting which allows the wine to soften and helps to release more aromas. At least an hour is good, just remember that the younger and more tannic the wine, the longer it will need.
A rich wine like Malbec is best drunk out of a large wine glass where you can really get the flavours opened up.
If this has got your mouth watering and you’re wondering what to eat with your Malbec, the classic match has got to be a juicy rare steak, which is a great fit for the bold flavours and softens the tannins, so is especially good with young wines.
Fruitier styles of Malbec are also great with a bit of spice, so are good with chilli or medium hot curries. They are also good with aromatic dishes, such as a chickpea tagine. Surprisingly, they are also great with dishes containing beetroot, which can sometimes be a tricky food match.
The more rustic French style of Malbec needs a hearty food match to cut through the tannins and stand up to the richness. A classic beef or lamb stew would be just perfect, while it is also a great partner for mellow blue cheeses such as Stilton.
If this has piqued your interest and you’d like to try some different styles, we have a range of over 300 Malbec wines waiting for you to explore.
P.s if you were wondering, the other permitted Bordeaux grapes are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Carmenere.