Red wine grapes on a vine in a vineyard in Mendoza on a sunny day,

Malbec: The Beginners Guide (2021)

Malbec is a red wine from Argentina, known for plump, dark fruit flavors and smoky finish. It is a full-bodied wine, and one of the top 18 noble grapes. Argentina is a major producer of this grape. It is grown in 7 other countries and is slowly gaining a lot of popularity.

What is Malbec?

Malbec is originally from France and is majorly grown in Argentina. It is one of the very common Marbel varietals in the Bordeaux area. It is known for its intense flavor and smoky aftertaste but is unpopular in the rest of France.

The grapes are fussy and difficult to grow, so the farmers grow them in smaller quantities. They need a sunny climate and cold nights to grow well. Malbec can have up to 15% ABV and often have higher alcohol content than Pinot Noir or Merlot. 

A high-quality bottle from Argentina can be heavy on tannins that make the mouth dry, while an affordable bottle from the US might have moderate tannins and are smoother on the palate. It is often blended with Gamay, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon to make Bordeaux blends.

Malbec vs. Cabernet vs. Shiraz vs. Merlot 

The main difference between Malbec vs Cabernet is the taste notes that vary significantly.

Based on the region of the plantation, Malbec tasting notes can vary, but Cabernet has a consistent taste across all the regions. Also, you can pair this wine with most meals while Cabernet goes with only a limited option.

When comparing Malbec vs Shiraz, they are similar but have some differences. Malbec is heavier than Shiraz and usually contains more alcohol. However, some shiraz can be very strong for red wine and can contain up to 16% alcohol. In terms of flavor, Shiraz is more complex than Malbec and has a smokey, pepper-like finish on the palate.

Differentiating the two premium red wines, Malbec vs Merlot is difficult as they are very similar. Malbec is more fruity and tangy in comparison to merlot, therefore, tasting thinner. Malbec is more commonly paired with spicy food & is generally used for blends.

Malbec Characteristics

Argentinian Malbec is famous for its inky dark color. It needs plenty of sunshine and a dark climate to grow. It is very delicate and can easily get spoiled because of the climate.

However, these grapes are influenced by the climate, nutrients, production methods, and dirt making them taste unique on the palate. It is one of the reasons that Argentina’s Malbec characteristics are different from a California-grown malbec.

Another main Malbec Wine characteristic is that it carries notes of spice, plum, black cherry, and blackberries made more with texture, nicely balanced acidity, and rich Malbec color.

Malbec Taste Profile

As previously stated, the taste of Malbec red wine can vary due to various factors. Therefore, Malbec’s taste description also varies from Malbec country to country. 

Malbec from Argentina will have a fruity taste of plum, black cherry, and blackberry. The nuanced flavors offer cocoa powder, leather, milk chocolate, violet flowers, and a sweet tobacco finish depending on the duration of oak aging.

While the wine Malbec from Argentina has a slightly fruity flavor, the Malbec flavor profile from France is quite the opposite. It has a leathery taste with flavors of black plum, tart currant, and savory bitterness often called green at the beginning.

They have higher acidity that adds to the Malbec flavor described as spice & black pepper. They also tend to age longer because of moderate Malbec tannins and acidity.

Malbec Ageability

Some red wine ages better than others, but it is not right with Malbec. Argentina Malbecs are usually aged up to 6 months in oak. If it is left in the barrel for a longer duration, it will have a blueberry aroma. Some expensive Malbec is aged for a long time between 18 to 20 months.

Known Regions for Malbec

Malbec is originally from France & is majorly grown in Argentina. Let us have a look at the areas where these grapes are grown and a list of other countries:

France

The south-western region of Cahors is the real engine room of French Malbec that is used as a minor component in Bordeaux. It has been produced here for centuries, and the wine from Argentina is now widely famous. 

Argentina

Argentina is now widely known for producing Malbec. The vineyards in the high Andes temper the strong sunshine and strengthen the acidity that led to an explosion in quality. Now several denominations are recognized for their unique regional styles, best known is Mendoza. Malbec from here is generally silk-textured with ripe dark fruit Malbec flavors.

New Zealand

Most Malbec here is used as a minor component in Bordeaux-style blends, similar to taking a leaf out of Bordeaux’s book. Hawke’s Bay is known for producing excellent blends, and naturally, some winemakers started experiencing 100% Malbec wines.

Australia

Mostly known as a blending component, 100% pure wines are becoming available these days. The best wines come from Langhorne Creek, Margaret River, and Clare Valley. 

United States

Malbec is having slow and steady growth in the US. Winemakers grew interested in Malbec when they started using it in Meritage wines (Bordeaux red blends). Here, the major Malbec regions are Sonoma valley and Napa valley. 

Popular Blends of Malbec

Malbec is majorly used as a blend. Following is a list of the most popular Malbec blend that you must try:

Malbec and Petit Verdot

The combination of this creates a complex and lovely floral fragrance with a subtle hint of spices, toasty aromas, pink pepper, lavender, and spices. They feel fresh and lively in the palate with a bright and concentrated, fruity expression. 

Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon

This blend has a nice aroma of vanilla, fruit cake, cacao, and stunning cassis. It is intense on the palate, which leaves a spice and fruity taste. 

Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon

This blend makes a dense and tannic wine with a lot of black and red fruit characters. Its character is mostly dominated by Malbec having a violet aroma and gamey, dark plump notes on the palate. There are no officially designated propositions, but Malbec is usually in a higher amount as it provides depth and body to the wine.

How to Enjoy Malbec?

There are certain criteria to enjoy Malbec in the best way. Though these criteria are not rules that you must follow, they do make wine more interesting. It includes pairing with the right food, serving at the right temperature, and stemware. Let us have a look at the details.

Food Pairings

Pairing food with Malbec is really easy. Full-bodied Malbec goes well with rich and strong-flavored foods. However, you should avoid pairing it with subtle or delicate flavors as that would kill the taste of the food.

Malbec is a great match for lamb, steak, port, and poultry with dark meat or fattier fish like salmon. You can also try them with venison, ostrich, and bison. Additionally, it also goes with a lot of richer sauces and vibrant flavors but you must avoid vinegar dressing or bitter vegetables as they will create metallic or bitter notes in the wine.

Some excellent wine and food pairings are:

  1. Sauces and spices- Sauces like barbecue, rustic, hearty, and Asian spices go really well with Malbec.
  2. Spice and Herbs- You can try them with green herbs like rosemary, vanilla bean, shallots, garlic, juniper berry, sage, and mint. 
  3. Vegetables- Food surrounded by mushrooms, chard, onion, tempeh, beet, and Potatoes are also a nice combination with Malbec.
  4. Cheese- If you want to try some cheeses with Malbec, then you can pair it with goat cheese, gorgonzola, gouda, blue cheese, manchego, and stilton.

Temperature

You might have heard that big red should be served at 70 degrees Fahrenheit, as they allow the wine to dominate the flavor. But, it is probably a misconception and just like walking a fine line. When served at 60–65 degrees Fahrenheit, they reflect a well-balanced acidity, lustful mouthfeel, and rounded tannins. 

If the wine is too cold then the acidity and tannins are stronger and if served warm, the wine tastes bitter. Therefore, if you are storing your wine in a warmer area like the kitchen, then you must put it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before serving.

Stemware

Bold, big wines are best served in wide-bowled glasses that have greater surface area. It gives wine-rich fruit, high acidity, and oak characteristics. A larger surface also gives wine more air contact that breaks down the tannins, making the wine softer and easier to drink.

Luigi Bormioli is a Malbec wine glass that sommeliers recommend. They have excellent quality and look more elegant than what they cost. They are clear, resistant to breaking, dishwasher safe, and come with a warranty. Being lightweight and thin earns them extra marks. They can also be used for serving other red wines like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

How is Malbec Made?

Malbec is made similar to any other big red wine. Once the grapes are ready, they are manually harvested during the early hours of the day.

They use a case of 12 to 15 kilos to collect the harvest, and when the case is full, a quality check is done at the vineyard. Any unwanted things like twigs or leaves are discarded, and the fruits are transported to the winery.

Then the best grapes are selected and transported through special tubes to casks where fermentation takes place. These containers are usually made of materials like stainless steel, concrete, or oak. 

Then, the Malbec grape goes through a cold maceration before the fermentation. In this process, the grapes are kept at a lower temperature to avoid fermentation. Then they are sent to fermentation that takes place for approximately two weeks.

In this stage, the liquid and solids are separated. Solids like seeds and skin are squeezed without crushing the seeds. Once this is completed, the polishing stage begins in which the liquid spends some time in oak barrels to improve the roundness and complexity. 

The wine is lastly bottled and is put on sale.

History of Malbec

Malbec was not a common wine, until the late 1990s when Argentina introduced it to the world. They started making affordable Malbec wines and started selling in the North American and European markets. Malbec soon became famous and started creating a huge impact on the wine market. 

The first record of Malbec history is dated back to the 16th century, and it was called Auxerrois during this time. In the 1780s the name was changed to Malbec, as Monsieur Malbeck planted it in Bordeaux.

On April 17th, 1853, Malbec reached Argentina for the first time, so they have marked this day as Malbec Day, or Malbec World Day.

Alternatives for Malbec

Every wine has alternatives in the market. However, they might not have the same characteristics completely. But, if they are unavailable in your country or are higher than your budget, you can try these alternatives. Some amazing Malbec alternatives are Syrah, Dolcetto and Bonarda. Here are the details of the wines similar to Malbec.

Syrah

Both Malbec and Syrah are indigenous to France and share many fruit flavor characteristics. Syrah gained popularity in Australia and was renamed Shiraz, while Malbec became famous in Argentina. Syrah is similar to Old World Malbec sharing summon Malbec notes of black pepper spice, olive, smoke, and even bacon fat. 

Dolcetto

Dolcetto is yet another medium-bodied alternative. It has dark cherry and blackberry flavors that please Malbec lovers. Dolcetto usually has a rich texture because of its high levels of tannins. It is a great alternative for anyone who likes the taste of almonds. It goes well with Italian dishes like grilled chicken, cheesy pasta, and antipasto.

Bonarda

This wine is the perfect alternative for people who like fruity and fresh New World style Malbec. It is slowly gaining popularity, but still not as famous as Malbec. It is also known as Douce Noir and is the second most widely planted in Argentina.

People who love the taste of Chinese five-spice and the smell of violets love Bonarda. It has fruity notes of plum, blueberry, and black cherry but has fewer tannins. It is mostly unsoaked but when aged in oak, it can have sweet notes of figs and chocolates.

FAQ

Is Malbec a good wine?

Malbec is a globally loved wine but not as much as Pinot Noir or Merlot. It is perfect for those who love strong flavors with plenty of body.

How does Malbec wine taste?

It is a full-bodied, dry wine having rich, dark fruit aromas. The Malbec wine taste is mostly red plum, and blackberry with notes of dark chocolates, tobacco, vanilla, and oak.

What is the difference between Malbec and Merlot?

Merlot is dryer, while Malbec has a medium level of dryness. Merlot is also comparatively cheaper and has more body. It has a leathery and smoky flavor, unlike Malbec.

Is Malbec a cheap wine?

Malbec is an affordable and easy-to-drink wine, making it very popular. It makes a great affordable alternative to the usual Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Why is Malbec so popular?

Malbec is grown in 7 different countries, making it easy to distribute. Also, it is generally sold at an affordable price, making it easier for people to buy.

Is Malbec stronger than Cabernet Sauvignon?

Malbec can contain up to 15% ABV, while Cabernet Sauvignon usually has over 13.5% to 15%, making both equally stronger in most cases.

Is Malbec high in acidity?

Malbec is a fairly low-acidity red wine. They are generally considered typically high in tannin but low in acidity.

Do you drink Malbec warm or cold?

Ideally, it should be kept in the fridge for 30 to 60 minutes before serving. It should be slightly below the room temperature.

What does Malbec pair well with?

Malbec pairs well with steak, lamb, pork, fish, poultry. Some of the vegetables, spices, and sauces, herbs, and cheese also make Malbec interesting.

Should you age Malbec?

Yes, Malbec should be aged well. Quality Malbec is generally released after fermenting for 15-24 months irrespective of the aging method used.

Which country makes the best Malbec?

The original of Malbec is France, but Argentina produces the best Malbec. Over 75% of these grapes are grown in Argentina.

How to serve Malbec?

The best way to serve Malbec is to chill them in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes before serving. It should be served in a wide-bowled glass.

What type of wine is Malbec?

Malbec is a red wine known for its plump, dark fruit flavors and smoky finish. It is right behind Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Merlot in popularity.

Where is Malbec wine from?

Malbec wine origin is from France and has grown widely in Argentina. It is also grown in other countries like New Zealand, Australia, and the United States.

What does Malbec mean?

Malbec is a noun used for a black grape originally grown in the Bordeaux region of France and now in Argentina and Chile.

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