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What Is Malbec? Check It Out For World Malbec Day

Glass Of Malbec In Riedel Malbec Glass
[1] A glass of Malbec in the specially designed Riedel Malbec glass. Photo courtesy Riedel.


[2] Malbec often has notes of blackberries, blueberries and plums (photo © Alex 9500 | Panther Media).

Los Altos Malbecs
[3] Look for Altos Las Hormigas Malbecs, a favorite of our wine editor (photo © Altos Las Hormigas).

Malbec Label
[4] The quirky label of another favorite Malbec, Tinto Negro (photo © Tinto Negro).


[5] Go casual, with a burger, pizza or sandwich (photo © Michael Mina).


[6] Go fancy, with a rack of lamb or a good steak (photo © DeLallo).

 

Celebrated on April 17th, Malbec World Day (not World Malbec Day) is the perfect opportunity to open up a bottle of the wine that is Argentina’s claim to varietal fame.

Malbec is a purple grape that produces red wine that’s a deep purple-red in color and nearly opaque, similar to Syrah and Mourvedre.

The original Malbec rootstock came from France, where it was widely planted in the Cahors region in the Midi-Pyrénées region of south-central France.

The first records of the varietal date to the 16th century. when it was known as Auxerrois. The name Malbec was introduced at some point in the 1780s, likely because a Monsieur Malbeck planted it in Bordeaux [source].

It was also planted in the Loire Valley of central France, and in California. But Argentina now has 75% of the world’s Malbec acreage.

Here’s more on the history of Malbec.
 
 
ARGENTINE MALBEC

Argentine Malbec is very different from its French parent. As is true among all wine grapes (and some other crops), planting the same vines in different terroirs* yield different results.

  • Argentine Malbec is fruit forward, with notes of black cherry, black plum and currant. They have lower acidity, more tannins, and fuller body than French Malbec.
  • French Malbec has moderate tannin, higher acidity and flavor notes of black pepper and spice. Because of their moderate tannin and acidity with lower alcohol, French Malbec wines tend to age longer.
  •  
    Malbec World Day commemorates April 17, 1853, when President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento of Argentina launched a mission to transform Argentina’s wine industry. To start that endeavor, a French soil expert bought grape varietals from France, one of which was Malbec.

    During the experiment period, which planted different wines in different terroirs*, Malbec proved to be a star. It flourished in the Mendoza region of Argentina, in the northwest part of the country at the foothills of the Andes Mountains.
     
     
    MALBEC IS A WELL-PRICED RED WINE

    As a result of the volume produced and the economics of wine production in Argentina, Malbec also proved to be a bargain. It’s a well-priced alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon. You can find many good Malbecs for $10 a bottle or less.

    You can also find bottles at twice that price, and even pricier—for example, $95 for a bottle of Cheval des Andes, a joint venture between Bordeaux’s great Chateau Cheval Blanc and Argentina’s Terrazas de los Andes.

  • Some Argentine Malbecs, like the latter, are blended with some Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and/or Petit Verdot—classic grapes of Bordeaux, to give some Bordeaux style to the wines.
  • But there’s a fifth Bordeaux grape: Malbec is also grown there as a blending grape. Because the varietal has poor resistance bad weather and pests, it never became a top French varietal like Merlot and Caber.
  • Some vintners blend in a bit of Petit Syrah instead. Petit Syrah, now grown largely in Australia and California, is a cross that originated in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of France.
  •  
    Three Favorite Malbecs From Argentina

    Our wine editor, Kris Prasad, has a fondness for Altos Las Hormigas and Alamos (photo #3—one of the wines can have some Syrah added, depending on the vintage).

    Both can be found for $10 or less, although special bottlings (e.g., certain vineyards) cost more.

    He also likes Tinto Negro “Limestock Block,” pricier at around $15. He calls it an “interesting wine”; it is two-thirds Malbec.

    We haven’t had it, but we do love the label, with part of the name spelled backwards (photo #4).

    And $10? Can’t beat that for a good wine.
     
     
    PAIRING MALBEC WITH FOOD

    Steak—of which Argentina has a bounty—is a classic pairing (give us a T-bone, please!).

    But Malbec is much more flexible than a pairing with beef. Try it with:

  • Any grilled red meat or pork (serve with some Argentine chimichurri sauce—photo #6).
  • Duck and other dark-meat poultry like game birds.
  • Full-flavored fish such as salmon and tuna.
  • Braised short ribs.
  • Burgers and barbecue (photo #5).
  • Pasta and pizza.
  • Blue cheese, washed rind and other strong cheeses.
  • Mushrooms.
  • Dishes with earthy or smoky flavors.
  • Dishes spiced with clove, cumin, garlic, juniper berry, smoked paprika or sumac.
  •  
    Serve it instead of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Syrah and other full-bodied reds.

    For an even bigger celebration, put on some tango music—which developed in Argentina—and dance!
     
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    *ABOUT TERROIR: The same rootstock that is grown in different locations produces different flavors; for example, depending on where it is grown, Sauvignon Blanc can have grass or grapefruit notes—or neither. Terroir, pronounced tur-WAH, is a French agricultural term referring to the unique set of environmental factors in a specific habitat that affect a crop’s qualities. It includes climate, elevation, proximity to a body of water, slant of the land, soil type and amount of sun. These environmental characteristics gives the wine its character. Terroir is the basis of the French A.O.C. (appellation d’origine contrôlée) system.

     

     
      

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