It may be a traditional French variety, but it is Argentina that has really put Malbec wine on the shopping list of red wine lovers in recent years. Malbec has come into its own in the warm climate of Argentina, where it can ripen fully, making richly comforting, fruity red wines that pair well with a whole range of foods, from barbecued beef through to cheesy vegetarian bakes. Malbec’s other stronghold is Cahors in South-West France. Meanwhile Chile, inspired by its neighbour’s success, has also begun to produce some excellent examples. So what is Malbec wine all about?
The colour can range from moderate ruby through to deep, inky purple. In fact, its full-on purple hue is one of the ways to tell it apart from other red wines, like Merlot.
Ripe Malbec naturally tends to be very fruity, with aromas covering the whole berry spectrum from red fruit like raspberries, through blueberries to rich black fruit, like blackberries, black cherries, currants, raisins and plums. Rich, ripe plum is one of the most common descriptors for Malbec from Argentina. The fruit can be almost jammy if it is from an area with a very warm climate and ripens just that tiny bit too long. From cooler plots, such as those at a higher altitude, or when the grapes are harvested at a lower ripeness level, the aromas will tend to be more of fresh, ripe fruit.
Its fruitiness can, however, be modified by the use of oak. The more traditional styles of Malbec in Argentina tend to use lots and lots of oak. Using oak gives a Malbec wine complexity, smooth, rich body and soft, velvety tannins. Oak barrels that have already been used one or more times add fewer or even no aromas and flavours. But when the oak is new, it also gives the wine aromas like toast, vanilla, baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg and even smoke or dark chocolate. Sometimes these oak-derived aromas and flavours can dominate over the natural fruitiness of the grapes. This depends very much on the style the winemaker is looking for and you can now find a whole spectrum of Malbec wine styles – from the fruity explosion of wines that have seen little or no oak, through delightfully complex examples where the fruit and oak are nicely balanced right through to those where all you can discern is the oak.
Where the Malbec grapes have been grown at higher altitude, they can have a more floral, delicate fruitiness, which is very elegant. Many argue that Malbec is also good at expressing terroir, and so the aromas and flavours will differ according to the soil. In my upcoming post about the Matervini winery, I’ll be looking at just how Malbec can vary from one place to another.
Malbec is generally a dry wine with medium to medium+ tannins that are ripe and velvety. The acidity is also normally in the medium to medium+ region; rarely higher and this, together with the tannin levels, makes this a softer, easier-drinking wine than many Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Alcohol, however, can range from medium+ to high. The wine can be quite full-bodied and, if it has seen a lot of oak, it may have that cigarbox texture that makes your mouth feel completely dry. The finish can be medium to long.
In short, Malbec wine is a lovely, easy-to-drink, fruity and aromatic wine that is food-friendly and comforting. I’ve tasted a range of Malbec wines from Argentina and Chile to bring you a range of tasting notes.
Argentine Malbec wine tasting notes
Mendel Malbec 2015, Luján de Cuyo in Mendoza, 14.5% ABV
From 87-year old vines at a site at an altitude of 980 metres in the Mayor Drummond area of Luján de Cuyo. Fermentation in stainless steel tanks with daily punch-downs, followed by 12 months’ ageing in oak barrels – 33% of them new, 33% second use and 33% third use.
This wine was a deep purple colour. The nose was very pleasant and complex. The first layer of aromas are from all that oak: notes of toast, vanilla, cloves, smoke and leather. Next came the fruit: very ripe black plums, black cherries and blueberries. This was a dry wine with medium+ acidity, medium+, fine, ripe and well-integrated tannins and high alcohol. In the mouth, it was full-bodied with that cigarbox drying sensation and flavours of spices like cinnamon, together with all those fruity flavours of plums, black cherries and blueberries. Medium + finish. A very pleasant, well-balanced Malbec, worthy of some further ageing.
Catena La Consulta Malbec 2015, La Consulta in the Uco Valley, Mendoza, 13% ABV
This wine comes from a vineyard at an altitude of 1095m. After fermentation, the wine was aged for 12 months in oak barrels, 35% of them new.
This wine was deep purple in colour. It had a pronounced nose of plums, with some floral notes (violets), together with some cinnamon and nutmeg from the oak-ageing. The wine was dry, with medium, fine tannins, medium acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, and medium flavour intensity, revealing flavours of black plums and blackcurrants. The finish was medium +. This was a softer, less intense wine than the Mendel, but had a delicious floral and fruity elegance.
Kondor Malbec 2013, La Consulta in the Uco Valley, Mendoza, 15.3% ABV
There is little information available about this wine and I was unable to find a website for it. The label revealed that the grapes were grown at 1200 metres above sea level.
This wine was a deep ruby colour. The nose was very fruity and delicious, with very ripe plums, blueberries, raspberries and cherries together with that subtle violet aroma. There was also a hint of spice (cinnamon and nutmeg) indicating oak-ageing. The wine was dry and full-bodied, with fairly pronounced tannins, medium+ acidity and high alcohol with medium+ flavours of rich, ripe fruit, dark chocolate and coffee. The finish was medium+. A very delicious, fruit-forward Malbec wine.
Luigi Bosca La Linda Private Selection Old Vines, Malbec 2014, 13.7% ABV
This is a blend made from grapes from different plots at an average altitude of 960 metres in Luján de Cuyo and Maipú, Mendoza. The vines are an average of 30 years old. The fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks, then 50% of the wine was aged for 8 months in second-use American oak barrels.
This wine was a medium+ ruby in colour with some earthy, terracotta hues. The nose was medium and revealed the fruit first: black plums, black cherries and blueberries. Then came a more subtle layer of aromas from the oak-ageing: toast, vanilla, cinnamon and leather. This wine was dry with medium+, grippy tannins, medium acidity and medium body. The mouth was moderate in intensity with black fruit flavours again apparent (plums, blueberries, blackberries). The finish was medium. This was an easy-drinking but less concentrated style of Malbec wine.
Chilean Malbec wine tasting notes
Koyle Royale Malbec 2011, Alto Colchagua, 14.5% ABV
Deep purple color. Pronounced, fruit-forward wine with plums, blueberries, black cherries. Subtle spicy note (cinnamon and leather). This was a dry wine with medium+ ripe, fine tannins and medium+ acidity. Full-bodied, with high alcohol and good flavour intensity. Lots of dark fruit flavours, a cigarbox texture some of those oaky flavours of cinnamon and leather. A very rich, comforting wine, great for accompanying a hearty, full-flavoured meal – red meat or vegetable bake au gratin.
Loma Larga Malbec 2011, Casablanca Valley, 14% ABV
This wine was a deep purple colour. The medium+ nose revealed a whole basket full of delicious ripe fruit aromas – black plums, blueberries, raspberries, even a touch of prune and a subtle hint of olive. There was a faint floral hint and some herbal notes of liquorice and mint. The oak aromas were slightly more in the background: vanilla, cinnamon, smoke, cedar and tobacco. This was a dry wine with medium+, ripe tannins, medium+ acidity and high alcohol. This full-bodied wine had lots of juicy fruit flavours in the mouth and a medium finish. A very pleasant, concentrated wine that achieved good balance between the fruit and the oak. Versatile for pairing with a range of flavourful dishes.
More information about Argentina and Argentine wines: