Guide to Malbec

Argentina’s premier grape varietal, malbec grapes produce a medium to full bodied red wine with intense fruit flavours and spice characteristics.

Though historically used primarily as a blending grape in the wine-producing regions of France, the grape is now increasingly being bottled as a single-varietal wine made to be enjoyed alongside a hearty meal.

See below for a quick overview of the flavour profile and pertinent food pairing options with bottles of malbec.

Malbec Quick Guide

Why is it Called Malbec?

Malbec is believed to have derived its name from a Hungarian peasant who might have brought the grape varietal to France several hundred years ago, though this story has never been proven.

In any case, the grape has never seen much prominence in France, where it has mostly been used almost entirely as a blending grape thanks to the varietals susceptibility to diseases.

During the 19th century, however, the grape made its way to the South American country of Argentina thanks to a French agriculturalist hired by the country’s president to embolden the local wine industry.

In the higher altitudes and warmer climates of Argentina’s mountainous areas, vintners there found that the diseases that commonly afflicted the varietal in Europe did not readily occur in these climes.

Thanks to the success of the grape in Argentina, the country now accounts for around 75% of all global production.

How do Malbec Wines Taste?

Malbec Flavour Wheel

Malbec wines are characterised by their medium to full bodied style, moderate amounts of acidity, and moderate to sometimes high levels of tannin, making them a full-flavoured dry red wine drinking experience.

In the more moderate climates of the wine-producing regions of France, malbec grapes produce a decidedly more medium-bodied wine with softer amounts of fruit flavour, with blackberry, spicy plum, and dark cherry notes mixing with stronger flavours of tobacco smoke, pepper, and even hints of leather or dark chocolate.

In Argentina, however, where the weather is warmer and sunnier than in France for the most part, the grapes ripen more thoroughly, allowing for the production of wines with stronger fruit flavours of dark cherry, plum, and blackcurrant, alongside moderately intense flavours of pepper, tobacco smoke, and sometimes dark chocolate.

Due to their rich and intense flavour profile, these wines are not recommended for those just starting out on their wine tasting journey, unless, however, you’re seeking to pair a wine with a hearty red meat dish, which is where these wines really come into their own element.

Malbec in Argentina

Argentina’s wine industry is now intrinsically linked to the malbec grape varietal, which the country has now essentially adopted as its own.

This level of affiliation with the grape varietal is best represented in the Mendoza wine-producing region, located in the central-western area of the country, where a large proportion of Argentina’s malbec wines originate.

Outside of the Mendoza region, however, there is a pervasive pioneering spirit that endures amongst winemakers in other regions also, particularly in those areas of the north and the south in both the mountains and in the arid and dry plains areas.

To look further into the regions other than Mendoza in Argentina, visit this site, which details them in greater depth.

That being said, most bottles of Argentinian malbec found outside of South America are likely to originate from the Mendoza wine-producing region, meaning the area must be considered in anyone's wine tasting journey.

Mendoza Malbec

The Mendoza region in Argentina is by far the country’s most important wine-producing area, with around 75% of all Argentinian vineyards being concentrated into it.

The Andes mountain range, which includes the tallest mountain in all of America, cuts through the area to its west, meaning the grapes cultivated by the wineries in the Mendoza region are sheltered from the hot and humid air of the Pacific, greatly impacting the area's climate.

Due to its protection from the hot and humid air arriving from the Pacific, the Mendoza region receives little in the way of annual rainfall, resulting in the area being known for its hot and dry summers and dry and cold winters.

Add to this the fact that the region sits a couple of thousand miles above sea level, which allows for the greater exposure to and intensity of sunlight, and you have the perfect conditions to produce exceptional bottles of malbec.

The region is split into five distinct subregions, with each one being able to be further broken down into separate departments. The main subregions are North Mendoza, East Mendoza, Primera Zone, Uco Valley, and finally, South Mendoza.

Mendoza Wine Region Map

Whilst other red and white grape types are cultivated in the region, including chardonnay, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and tempranillo, malbec takes up by far the most amount of vineyard space.

The examples of malbec produced in the Mendoza region are fruit-forward styles of wine, with dark, plush fruit flavours clearly emanating throughout each bottle’s flavour profile.

You should expect to find pronounced flavours of dark cherry, spicy plum, and blackberry coming through alongside medium to high amounts of tannin, moderate levels of acidity, and supporting flavours of chocolate, tobacco smoke, as well as vanilla and leather, if it has been aged.

Malbec in Australia

Malbec grapes in Australia, just like in other parts of the world, have had a checkered history, with the varietal not really receiving much attention as an individual style until recently.

The grape performs best at higher altitudes and in areas where it can gain maximum exposure to sunlight, making it perfectly suited to regions such as Mendoza in Argentina.

That being said, the grape has found a home in some of Australia’s more moderate climate regions, particularly in Langhorne Creek and the Clare Valley.

In these two regions in South Australia the grape is able to make red wines that are known for their complex flavour profile that often contains slightly softer amounts of tannin than their South American counterparts.

Langhorne Creek Malbec

The Langhorne Creek region in South Australia is situated just outside the state’s capital city of Adelaide, near Lake Alexandrina.

Though it’s considered a warm climate region, the area receives cooling winds that come from the nearby lake and ocean, meaning the nights in the area are somewhat milder than in some other regions, producing wines with added cooler climate complexity.

South Australian Wine Regions Map

The examples of malbec coming from this region are considered to be fruit-forward and moderately tannic and acidic, displaying heightened amounts of spice and earth flavours alongside that of the fruity notes.

They’re also typically more medium-bodied than those coming from Argentina, although both are distinctly dry in their taste. For more on Australian malbecs, consider this article, which goes into the history of the grape in that country in further depth.

Pairing Food with Malbec

Malbecs are made to be had with the richest of foods, particularly heavy red meats, due to their generous amounts of tannin and typically full-bodied nature.

Though variations in the exact flavour profile can occur between warmer and more moderate climate examples, it is often best to match all bottles of malbec with these types of dishes.

Pairing Food with Malbec

That being said, look to local cuisines when considering matching a bottle with food. Those from the higher altitudes of Argentina tend to match best with spicy chorizo sausage or cuts of beef or lamb that feature local spices.

Australian malbecs, on the other hand, can be paired with steak sandwiches, roast legs of lamb or even smoked trout.

There's a bottle of malbec out there for everyone. Here are some of the brands and bottles that we recommend you look out for the next time you're browsing online or in-store.

The Ethereal One 2019 Malbec Tasting Notes
This wine is intensely tannic & moderately acidic, giving it flavours of juicy sweet blackberry & plum as well as subtle peppery spice.

The Ethereal One

2019 Fleurieu Peninsula Malbec
Mil Historias 2018 Malbec Tasting Notes
With a grainy peppery spice after-taste, this is a full-bodied Spanish wine with a juicy blackberry flavour & drying tannins.

Mil Historias

2018 Manchuela Malbec
Taylor Made American Oak Malbec 2018 Tasting Notes
With a distinctly juicy flavour profile of dark plum & dry peppery spice, this Australian Malbec is both bold & smooth.

Taylor Made American Oak

2018 Clare Valley Malbec

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