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Malbec has seen a spike in popularity over the past decade. Once relatively unknown in the U.S., this purple-hued grape is now frequently found on by-the-glass lists at bars and restaurants and often has its own section in wine retail shops as well.
Malbec’s rise in consumer appreciation isn’t hard to understand. The grape often creates medium- to full-bodied wines that are loaded with floral, earthy and fruit-driven flavors in equal parts. However, depending on where the grape is grown, you can expect to encounter differing flavor profiles in the resulting wines.
Malbec is a purple-skinned grape variety that’s cultivated worldwide. Although malbec-based wines can fall all over the flavor profile spectrum, these wines are generally inky, dark-hued and marked by robust tannins. These strong colors and equally hearty tannins come from the grape’s rather thick skins, which actually need more sunlight and heat than do those of cabernet sauvignon to achieve optimal ripeness.
Despite the fact that malbec has recently become synonymous with Argentinian wine, the grape actually finds its roots in southwestern France. (Note that in France, malbec is referred to as côt.)
Malbec is vinified in a variety of styles, and its final flavor profile depends on vinification choices made by winemakers. Although steel-vinified expressions of the grape certainly exist, most winemakers use some form of wood (new or neutral) on malbec to soften its hearty flavors and tannins.
Although cultivated worldwide, malbec is most commonly grown in Argentina, southwest France, the Bordeaux region of France, and California. In the vineyard, malbec is highly susceptible to frost, mildew and rot, which can pose great stress for the winemakers who grow it. However, when these threats aren’t present, malbec can often produce extremely high yields, which generally leads to lower-quality fruit. The key to cultivating great malbec? A good dose of tender loving care.
When vinified on its own, malbec generally shows jammy flavors of ripe plums, dark berries, crushed violets and earth. In the Loire Valley, malbec (côt) is often vinified with gamay, grolleau and other native varieties and shows a much lighter and fresher flavor profile.
Because of its bright acid fruit-driven flavors and robust tannins, malbec pairs extremely well with red meats and hearty vegetables, especially grilled or roasted. Dark poultry, charcuterie, empanadas and tacos or other Mexican favorites are also excellent pairings. For a quicker snack that makes an equally good pairing, simply slice some sharp cheddar or gouda and serve with seasoned crackers.
Catena Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina)
This affordable and easy-drinking malbec is loaded with flavors of ripe red and black fruits, crushed flowers, blueberries and baking spice. Catena is one of the biggest pioneers of malbec in Argentina. For cream-of-the-crop OG juice in one of its finest forms, look no further than this bottle.
Clos La Coutale Malbec (Cahors, France)
This meaty dark-fruited malbec bursts with flavors of dark fruits, blackberry jam, violets, tobacco and freshly cut herbs. The wine’s gritty tannins and hearty structure make this bottle perfect for serving with roasted red meats and a variety of crockpot stews.
La Grange Tiphaine Côt Vieilles Vignes (Touraine, Loire, France)
This old-vine malbec shows a fresher, more fruit-driven side of this hearty grape. Notes of blackberries, cracked pepper and fresh herbs ooze from the wine’s mouth-coating palate. Natural wine lovers looking to add some malbec to your lives, this one’s for you.
Seven Hills Malbec (Walla Walla, Washington)
This silky and well-integrated malbec bursts with flavors of black fruits, licorice, pepper, used leather, prunes, toasty oak and exotic spice. Serve this chilled to contrast with one of the Argentinian bottles for a thought-provoking New World tasting.