One of today’s fastest-growing wines, as anyone who drinks red wine might guess, is Malbec. As well, if you drink it, chances are that most of you that do have only had it from one country- Argentina. Arguably, that’s understandable, as Malbec represents over 30% of the country’s annual wine production. What you might not know is that it’s not a wine that’s native to Argentina, not even to South America and that, for hundreds of years, it wasn’t even made to be had by itself.
Today, I’d like to give you a broader picture of this great red’s origins, all the places it comes from today and where you might see it in the future. The grape is French in origin and today, can still be found in both the Bordeaux region, where it has been a “workhorse” or, blending grape, used in small amounts to “top off” wine from many of the region’s world-famous reds. It’s also grown in the Cahors region in France’s southwest and until recently, was consumed almost entirely within the country.
In the 1850’s, a group of Argentine winemakers came to Europe, looking to increase plantings in the Mendoza region, located in the foothills of the Andes. A local consultant suggested Malbec and it was brought back to the country. The hotter, drier climate, along with the higher elevation, caused the grape to thrive far more than it did in France and for over 100 years, it was the wine of choice for both Argentina and many other South American regions. Then, in the early 2000s, economies around the world began to see trouble, which caused prices to rise, including the price of wine made in Europe and the U.S. Many Americans started seeking an affordable, delicious alternative and thus, it’s time had arrived.
One of the most popular Malbecs in the US market today is Bodega Norton Malbec Reserva, 2018, Argentina, ($14.99), a perennial crowd-pleaser, this particular Malbec shows mesmerizing inky blues and purples in the glass, with loads of dark fruit and cigar box spice on the nose. Ready to roll with red cherry, black plum, and serious spice swirled with earthy, herbal character and well-integrated tannins, this Malbec offers considerable interest for the money. Try it with any roasted or grilled red meat, as well as Lamb or Beef bourguignon.
Another popular and available wine is Kaiken Ultra Malbec, 2017 Argentina, ($18.99). This full-throttle Malbec from the heart of Mendoza’s winemaking epicenter, is made by famous Chilean winemaker Aurelio Montes of Montes Wines. Black fruit, dark chocolate, and espresso aromas all combine on the nose, while blackberry, blueberry, and vanilla notes dance on the palate. Full-bodied, full-throttle and a big, juicy finish make this a Malbec to track down for sipping now or cellaring a few years.
Getting back to France, the Cahors region was given new life in the 1990’s, when many of the top names from Bordeaux bought up many of the region’s vineyards and transformed them. One of the best examples of this “new generation” of Malbec is Chateau Lamartine, Cahors, 2016, ($19.99). Made of 90% Malbec, with a soupçon of Merlot for finesse, this French version is definitely more structured. Deep, rich and bold, its black fruit, tobacco, graphite and earth tones give it a distinctively different nose than the Argentinian variety, while subtle oak notes, soft tannins and suitable grip will hold your interest. ThisFrench-accented Malbec offers a different tone that you’ll surely remember-devilish, more mysterious, and really pleasing to the curious palate.
In Argentina’s Mendoza region, the Cuyo area, though relatively small, produces some of the country’s ripest, most intense wines.
Tikal Patriota, Mendoza, Cuyo, 2012, ($19.99), is the embodiment of all that makes this place special. It’s not only a Wine Spectator “Top 100 Wines” selection; it’s been given 91 points by Robert Parker-no small feat!
It presents a deep reddish purple with aromas of bright berry/cherry fruit and gives the impression of swallowing a whole bowl of mixed ripe berries at once. Big body, yet very balanced, with luscious layers of raspberry, cherry, and cocoa flavors. Just a hint of baking spice at the end brings it all together. This one is a natural with Prime Rib, bone-in, some yorkshire pudding and your favorite roasted vegetables. Enjoy!
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