According to a popular legend, Malbec was named after a Hungarian peasant who is known to have spread the variety in France. It is one of the 6 types of grapes allowed in the Bordeaux blend, and it’s mostly grown in Cahors region (South West of France).
Called Malbec in Bordeaux, Auxerrois or Côt Noir in Cahors, which is likely its original name, the grape became less popular in Bordeaux after 1956 when frost killed off 75% of the crop. Despite Cahors being hit by the same frost, which devastated the vineyards, Malbec was replanted and continued to be popular in that area where it was mixed with Merlot and Tannat to make dark, full-bodied wines, and more recently has been made into 100% Malbec varietal wines.
Malbec is a grape with thin skin giving a lot of dark juice, used to make full-bodied and ample wines with tannins. Often mixed with Merlot, it is grown in the hottest parts of the French South-West, farther from the Ocean than classic Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet-Sauvignon.
If we find notes of black cherry and raspberry in French Malbec, the Argentinian version is even stronger with tastes of black fruits and plum. Relatively close from Syrah, it never became a dominant variety in France, being too sensitive to frost and pests. However, it found a new home in Argentina, planted from 1868 in the Mendoza region, and today the country owns 75% of worldwide Malbec production.
To produce sufficient acidity, the grape needs altitude and a greater diurnal temperature shift. Of course you won’t be looking for acidic red wines, however only wines with a certain level of acidity will age well, and this is a quality specific to this kind of wine that greatly benefits from aging. Remote and colder regions like Patagonia also use this variety with success.
Recent popular success
Malbec had never been a sommelier’s choice until very recently, It was discovered progressively in the 2000’s by wine lovers who found great value in these unknown Argentinian wines. Until today it was not a first pick in restaurants despite growing popularity, which makes it a great choice for home or gifts.
Malbec wine pairing
A cut of lean red meat is the first thing that should come to mind when you open a bottle of Malbec. Deep and soft but relatively discrete on the finish, with soft tannins, it is an ideal companion for pork or meats in creamy sauces, with a special mention to blue cheese sauce.