Even though Malbec is currently most associated with Medoza, Argentina, the grape’s origins are French. Experts have traced Malbec to Auxerrois, a small region in Northern Burgundy, and to Southwest France. The grape currently thrives in several French regions. It is perhaps most associated with Bordeaux (where it is one of the five allowed varieties, playing fourth-fiddle to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc), and in the Loire Valley (where the grape is called “Côt”).
Unlike varietals such as Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, which are planted in many countries around the world, Malbec is predominantly found in Argentina and France. Historically, Malbec grew all over France. The grape’s acreage decreased dramatically after phylloxera, the American root louse, devastated Europe’s vineyards in the late 19th century. Today, Malbec plantings in France are on the decline, but the grape still stars in Cahors (pronounced kah-HOOR), a small appellation southwest of Bordeaux. In Cahors, Malbec must comprise at least 70% of any wine that prints the appellation name on the label. Malbec thrives in Cahors because of the hilly limestone vineyards, which give depth and minerality to the wines, and the warm climate, which ripens the grape and enhances the sweet black and blue fruits, like dark plum and blackberry.
• Piatelli Vineyards “Grand Reserve Limited Malbec” 2007 – $20/bottle
• Renacer “Punto Final Riserva” 2007 – $50/bottle
• Bodega Catena Zapat “Catena Alta” 2007 – $47/bottle
• Belasco de Baquedano’s Llama Old Vine Malbec 2008 – $15/bottle
• Dona Paula Seleccion de Bodega Malbec 2007 – $50/bottle
• Famiglia Zuccardi Q Malbec 2008 – $20/bottle
Try: Malbecs from Cahors, in France. The wines tend to be even darker in color than those from Mendoza, and the tannins are generally even more firm and pronounced. Red wines from Cahors are ideal pairings with a juicy steak or a burger.
Also try: Merlot, from Bordeaux. Malbec has a similar fruit and structural profiles to Merlots. Both grapes produce wines that are redolent of dark fruits, with slight coffee and herbaceous undertones. Additionally, many Merlots from Bordeaux are often aged in new French oak barriques. (Barriques are a type of barrel used in Bordeaux with a capacity of 225 liters — the size is important because 225l is relatively small, and the smaller the barrel, the more flavor the oak gives the wine because of wood/wine surface area ratio.) Barrique-aged wines develop a textural softness, because of the wine’s development in an oxygen-exposed environment, and they also absorb the sweet vanilla and baking spice flavors from the new oak. Argentinean Malbecs are also aged in barrique and share these charming characteristics.
For more information on the episode featuring Mendoza Malbec, click: Episode Guide: Mulling Malbecs from Argentina.
Photo of Malbec vine by Carlos Calise, courtesy of Wines of Argentina.