Malbec provides quality and affordability

Malbec to be featured at the April wine tasting. Photo by Wayne Crawford

Wayne On Wine
By Wayne Crawford

Wayne Crawford

Malbec offers wine lovers a quality, affordable red wine, which the Argentine wine growers have celebrated on April 17 the last several years.

When I think Malbec, my first thought is “black wine” from Cahors in southwest France, immediately followed by the great Malbec produced in Argentina.

In Cahors, the Malbec grape, known as Cót, has an ancient home in Burgundy. This inky-red wine is intense in color, thin-skinned, with aromas of black fruit, herb, spice, mineral and earth. On the palate, it exhibits black cherry, plum, raspberry, blackberry and blueberry flavors. With its medium acidity and tannins, it has been used historically as a blending grape in Bordeaux wines. Malbec is one of the six red grapes authorized in Bordeaux wines.

Romans planted the Cahors’ Malbec grapes more than 2,000 years ago on limestone with high calcium content, which supports acidity late in the growing season. This is important to ensure firm or high tannins, tartness, the fruity flavor and inky color, which give the wine its name. These grapes, however, often are not as fruit-forward and smooth-textured as the Argentine Malbec, which now accounts for 70 percent of the grape grown in the world.

  Phil Yeakel, left, Gordon Harnesberger, Ed O'Donnell and Ham Gadd sample Malbecs. Photo by Wayne Crawford

There is an ongoing effort in Cahors to produce Malbec wine at three levels. Tradition is tender and fruity with 70-80 percent Malbec in the blend; Prestige is powerful with 85 percent Malbec in the blend, so it can be labeled Malbec; and Speciale is a more intense and complex wine with 100 percent Malbec.

These voluntary, innovative approaches by wine growers in Cahors seem designed to showcase distinct styles of Malbec and, perhaps, recapture some of the success Argentina is making with its exceptional Malbec.

The grape also is seeing wider production in the United States, with the Meritage wine growers in their Bordeaux style wine blends. Significant growers are in Napa, Alexander, Sonoma Valley and Paso Robles. Chile, north Italy, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa have added Malbec grapes to the acreage.

Consider spaghetti and meatballs, burgers, chili con carne and fajitas as pairings for lighter, young, fruit-forward Malbec wines. With bolder, richer, more tannic Malbec, pair with sausages, lamb shanks, blue cheese, roast beef, venison and steak. Given the prices for good Malbec wine, the food pairings seem endless and worth trying.

‘Wines drinking well now’
El Porvenir de Cafayate 2002 “Laborum” Malbec, Argentina, $38: This outstanding winery is in the far north of Mendoza, Cafayate Valley. The Malbec vines are planted at 5,700 feet altitude, one of the highest elevations in the world for red wine. Bearing a red color with violet hues, it has aromas of red raspberry and cherry, with floral notes of violets, roses and spice. Laborum is a well-balanced full-bodied, complex wine. This was the Big Canoe Wine Group’s (BCWG) first choice in its February blind tasting. The winemaker believes recent vintages will age for 10 years. Limited production. Highly Recommended.

Chateau Haut-Monplaisir 2011 Cahors Malbec, France, $17: The typical Cahors wine is a darkly colored “Black Wine,” with herb, black cherry and spice aromas. The fruit is ripe with firm tannins and an acidity to support aging, full-body flavor and a long finish. This one scored well in the BCWG blind tasting. Best Buy.

Leo Premium 2011 Malbec, Doña Elsa Estate, Ram Caída, San Rafael and Mendoza, Argentina, $16: At 2,500 feet above sea level, Rama Caída is among the coolest areas of San Rafael, with sandy calcareous soil of alluvial origins. The grapes are handpicked and produce a dark-red color with a deep saturation of plum and cherry aromas, followed by hints of vanilla. On the palate, the aromas are expressed along with spice, smooth tannins, full body and a lingering finish. Best Buy.

Altamira 2009 Reserve Malbec de los Andes, Mendoza, Argentina, $29: This wine was made from grapes grown in Uco Valley; all the grapes are handpicked and sorted. The wine, aged 18 months in French oak, bears a ruby-red color with blackberry and floral aromas on the nose. The blackberry is complimented by blueberry, mineral and spice. The tannins are smooth and complement a full-bodied wine with a long finish. The high alcohol, 15.2 percent, is not overpowering. Highly Recommended.

Bressia Monteagrelo 2011 Malbec, Argentina, $29: Aged in French oak barrels, this wine uses no filtration or fining. It is blended with grapes from five parcels. Deep-red color with red and black fruit aromas and vanilla and chocolate flavors on the palate, the wine is full-bodied with a nice structure, smooth tannins and a long finish. Recommended.

Other Malbec wines to consider: Fincas Patagonicas Malbec Mendoza Zolo Reserve 2012, $19, a Wine Spectator (WS) top 100; Tikal Patriota Mendoza 2012, $19, also a WS top 100; Trivento Malbec Luján de Cuyo Golden Reserve 2012, $21; and Château la Caminade 2008 La Commandery Malbec (Cahors), $22.

‘Drink what you like’

In the next article, I will focus on Oregon Pinot Noir wines now on the market, having just experienced an exceptional 2012 growing season. I recently enjoyed a Shay Pinot that reinforces the high praise for this vintage.

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


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