Malbec is a grape that produces red wines of dark, inky colour and rich, bold flavour. The variety originated in France. Popular folklore claims that Malbec is named after a Hungarian peasant who was responsible for the grape varieties spread throughout France. However Pierre Galet, a respected French ampelographer and viticulturalist suggests that Côt was the variety's original name and that it probably originated in northern Burgundy.
Malbec quickly became common as a blending grape in Bordeaux’s top 5 varieties. However, because of the grapes’ poor resistance to the weather and pests of the region, it was never regarded as a top French variety. Today the majority of France’s Malbec is found in Cahors, a small region located to the south of Bordeaux.
Malbec has found a new home in Mendoza, Argentina where today, Argentina leads production of the grape with over 75% of all the Malbec in the world planted here. You could argue that Argentina reinvigorated Malbec as one of the top noble grape varieties and now it grows in many countries and continues to grow in popularity.
In Australia, one could argue that Malbec’s spiritual home is in Langhorne Creek, South Australia as it was the first dry red variety ever planted in Langhorne Creek by The Potts Family of Bleasdale in the late 1800s, although now, the largest plantings of Malbec are in the Clare Valley.
In the vineyard, Malbec is a mid-season ripener and tends to produce better flavour profiles when planted on limestone soils and at either a high altitude or in a region with a large diurnal temperature range –to extend the ripening period which allows the grape to achieve tannin or physiological ripeness, while still retaining all important natural acidity. This is why it works so well in the Clare Valley.
The Styles of Malbec
French Malbec tends to be softer, more luxurious with spice and black pepper where Malbec from Argentina is big, bold and chocolaty. Malbec in Australia tends to be somewhere in between. Wine lovers can expect the primary flavours of plum, blackberry and some red berries. The structure is firm with well, developed, ripe tannins – a great sign to indicate that Malbec wine will age well.
Often, people tasting Malbec for the first time mistakenly believe the bold, rich flavours are from the winemakers’ heavy-handed use of oak. But often this is not the case! It’s the natural tannin profile of the grape – grown in the right region – that produces such richness!
World Malbec Day
The special day to celebrate the Marvellous Malbec is April 17. This auspicious date commemorates the day when president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento of Argentina officially made it his mission to transform Argentina's wine industry. On that day, back in 1853, he tasked Michel Aimé Pouget, a French soil expert, to bring over new vines. Amongst his selection, was Malbec. Pouget continued experimenting with the adaptation of French varietals to Argentina's diverse terroirs.
Pairing Malbec with Food
Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec doesn’t have a super long finish. Because of this, Malbec is great with leaner red meats – particularly game. The wine does extremely well with funky flavours like blue cheese and earthy or umami flavours like mushroom. When in doubt, think grilled meat (or even vegetable!) dishes with smoky flavours or spice rubs – these will always work well with this wine.