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Malbec, the black wine

Wayne Wine
Like zinfandel, malbec’s success in North America began with origins in Europe. Photo by Wayne Crawford.

Wayne on Wine
By Wayne Crawford

wayne crawford
Wayne Crawford

While searching for quality red wines at reasonable prices, don’t overlook “the black wine of Lot,” malbec (mal.bek). Named in Cahors, France, this wine is better known, since 50 B.C., as Auxerrois or Côt Noir.

Like zinfandel, malbec’s success in North America began with origins in Europe. And, as with zinfandel, malbec is meeting with greater success in the altitudes of Argentina. In fact, Malbec World Day is celebrated April 17 to commemorate malbec’s reaching Argentina in 1853.

Born in Bordeaux, malbec remains one of the five wines approved in Bordeaux red wine blends. It is used less, however, after the devastating frosts in 1956, when malbec vines were heavily damaged and not replanted. Looking for wider sources of malbec can be fun; over 17,000 cases are produced in Washington state. Malbec also is grown and produced in Georgia at Frogtown Cellars, Tiger Mountain, Stonewall Creek and Wolf Mountain Vineyards.

 vineyards
The center of malbec growth in Argentina is Mendoza, which also makes 70 percent of the wine produced in Argentina.

Malbec is a thin-skinned grape with a purple color, taking on a deep violet or inky (black) hue in the glass – thus, “the black wine.” Aromas include blackberry, plum, damson and floral violet, but these change across regions and countries. On the palate, malbec gives a rich fruit and dark berry flavor with soft tannins, particularly in Argentine malbecs.

The center of malbec growth in Argentina is Mendoza, which also makes 70 percent of the wine produced in Argentina. Mendoza is at the southern end of the Inca empire in the foothills of the Andean mountains. In 1853, the national wine nursery was established in Mendoza and among the many newly established grapes was malbec. Mendoza is now one of the major wine cities of the world, along with Napa and Bordeaux.

Immigration to Argentina during this period and later included both Italian and Spanish families with strong wine-growing traditions. Argentine malbec took on greater worldwide recognition in 2002, with extensive foreign investment in Mendoza as the quality of the wine continued to improve.

Nicolas Catena, whose family had a long history of winemaking in Argentina, was instrumental in the malbec renaissance. His family winery is a significant producer today and is one of the wines selected in the malbec blind-tasting for this article. Catena inspired generations of Argentine winemakers to focus on quality. The greater Mendoza region is also home to significant wineries producing quality malbec, including Norton, Terrazas, Cobas, Bodegas Renacer (Punto Final Label) and Achával-Ferrer.

winebook
“Vino Argentino: An Insider’s Guide to Wines and Wine Country of Argentina,” by Laura Catena.

A delightful book on Argentine wine is “Vino Argentino: An Insider’s Guide to Wines and Wine Country of Argentina,” by Laura Catena. The daughter of Nicolas Catena, she carries on the winemaking traditions of the family. This guide quickly updates the reader on Argentine wine history and then carefully and leisurely showcases where to go and what to enjoy in all the wine regions.

The soft tannins in malbec complement the dining experience. Pair with roasted, braised, grilled or barbecued beef. It also goes well with braised lamb and grilled steak. Spicy meat dishes and pizza benefit when eaten with malbec.

‘Wines Drinking Well Now’
Bodega Catena 2002 Zapata Malbec Lot 3, Adrianna Vineyard, $38: This is a selection of the best plants from Lots 3 and 9 from the sandy soil of Adrianna Vineyard, located at an elevation of 5,000 feet in the Gualtallary district of the ltallary district of Tupungato. The wine is red in color with violet hints; on the nose, red berry and floral aromas; and sweet tannins on the palate. Zapata malbecs are some of the best produced in Argentina.

Bodega Benegas 2009 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, $20: This wine is a 100 percent malbec. It is bright, violet-red in color; on the nose, it has cherries and blackberry aromas; and on the palate, soft tannins. The wine is balanced and concentrated with a nice finish. Best Buy.

La Posta 2008 Malbec, Mendoza, $17.98: This wine is 60 percent malbec, 20 percent bonarda and 20 percent syrah. It is purple in color with a bouquet of red berries and violet florals. On the palate, it offers fresh berry in a medium-bodied, nicely structured wine. The winemaker suggests pairing with hamburgers and chicken, pasta and mild cheeses. Best Buy.

Other malbecs drinking well now include: Achával-Ferrer 2011, Malbec Mendoza, $25; Angulo Innocenti 2011, Malbec La Consulta, $20; Jean Bousquet 2011, Malbec Tupungato Valley Reserve, $18; Bodega Noemía de Patagonia 2011, A Lisa Río Negro Valley, $21; and Dominio del Plata 2011, Malbec Mendoza Susana Balbo Signature, $25.

Look for pinot noir to take center stage in my next wine update.

Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.

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