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The Malbec Grape


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About Malbec

(Synonyms: Agreste, Auxerrois, Bouyssales, Cagors, Cahors, Coq Rouge, Cor, Cors, Cos, Côt, Cots, Estrangey, Étranger, Lutkens, Malbeck, Malbech, Mancin, Noir de Pressac, Nuar de Presac, Pied De Perdrix, Pressac, Prunelat, Pressac, Quercy)

Background

Map showing the Bordeaux region of France

Malbec is a red-wine grape associated with the Bordeaux region of France, but now also widely grown world-wide, most especially in Argentina, where it is considered that nation’s “signature” varietal, now also much grown in Chile. In France itself, Malbec, while present throughout Bordeaux (where it is a permitted ingredient in all Bordeaux red blends), is mainly grown in the Cahors region. Ironically, the evidence suggests that the grape, under the still-common synonym of Côt, originated in Burgundy, not Bordeaux. It is today surging in popularity (and runs the risk of being a “fad” wine, like Grüner Veltliner for whites); indeed, Malbec is today widely considered one of the dozen and a half or so “Noble wine grapes” of the world.

The wines of Malbec are not drastically dissimilar to the other Bordeaux reds (especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, though also Merlot for younger Malbecs). In Bordeaux blends, Malbec adds darkness of color, tannins, and a distinctive plummy flavor. When bottled as a monovarietal, it produces very inky-dark wines of an intense nose and flavor, rich and fruity in nature. They are characterized by the typical dark-red fruit flavors, ranging down to plum, damson, and even raisin. There are overtones of other sorts, from leather and tobacco to herbs (even, some say, garlic). Malbec, however, can usually be picked out from the other Bordeaux by its sharpness, though poorer specimens, typically from warmer areas, can be a bit feeble and flabby.

Of the French renditions, those from Cahors are much preferred, the more generic Bordeaux renditions being somewhat softer and, as Jancis Robinson put it, “rustic” (a Cahors red must by law be at least 70% Malbec). Argentine Malbecs can be quite good but, despite their eminent reputation, if grown in warmer regions, somewhat pallid and weak shadows of good Malbec; good Argentine Malbecs tend to be less aggressively tannic and powerful—more “plush”, as some say—than Cahors renditions (it is considered possible that Argentine Malbec vines are of different clones than French). The best Argentine Malbec is said to be that from high-altitude plantings, notably those in Mendoza (the Luján de Cuyo and Uco Valley districts). Malbec is also successful in other cool-climate growing regions, such as Washington State. Chilean Malbec from Chile’s Central Valley wine region are less like Argentine wines and more like Cahors styling, generally being more tannic than their Argentine counterparts.

If you only became aware of Malbec from the skyrocketing popularity of Argentine bottlings, you need to be aware that there is now a major renaissance going on in Cahors, the historical home of Malbec (where till recently it was known as Auxerrois, and once as Côt). Centuries ago one finds frequent references to “the black wines of Cahors”, and today’s marketing slogan—a catchy one indeed—is The black is back! Cahors will never come remotely close to the production levels of the larger South American wineries, whose output is on a level with the Gallo Brothers, but they have a product and a message.

Modern Cahors is, however, experiencing an identity problem. They want to ride the wave of popularity for Malbec that Argentina has generated, but the vintners seem unsure which way to jump: make Malbecs that emulate the popular Argentine types, meaning softer, fruitier, and above all more immediately accessible (lower tannins); or emphasize the traditional and rather different old Cahors style of huge, powerful, tannic monsters that need some years of bottle age to get round the rough edges. Nowadays, one can find not a few examples of both kinds out there, so do not assume that a Cahors red is necessarily much different from an Argentine one; it may be much the same, or it may be wildly different. You need to know which kind you’re seeking and which kind a given wine is if you are to avoid disappointment (not to say actual shock). Note: Cahors reds almost invariably want a lot of aeration prior to serving: decanting some hours ahead of time is frequently recommended.

Factoid: “Auxerrois” and “Côt” as synonyms are nothing: Malbec has had, in its time, over a thousand different synonym names.

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Some Descriptions of Malbec Wines

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Some Malbecs to Try

(About this list.)
New-World (Argentine) Malbecs
Bodega Aleanna “El Enemigo” Malbec

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Bodega Norton “Privada” Malbec

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Abremundos “Octava Bassa” Malbec

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Vaglio “Aggie” Malbec
(They have several Malkbec bottlings: this is the “Aggie”.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Tapiz “Alta Collection” Malbec

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks

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Old-World (Cahors) Malbecs
Domaine de Cause “La Lande Cavagnac” Cahors
(Do not confues this with their “Tradition” Cahors Malbec.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
  (CellarTracker has two separate listings for this wine.)
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Lionel Osmin & Cie Malbec Cahors
(This is their plain, not their “Reserve” Malbec.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Mas des Etoiles “Petite Etoile” Cahors
(Have a care: they may—their web site is unclear—also bottle a white blend labelled “Petite Etoile”.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Chateau de Chambert Cahors Malbec
(Thye have numerous “Cahors” bottlings: this appears to be the only one that actually includes “Malbec” on the label, but use caution.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Chateau Combel-la-Serre Cahors
(They have numerous Cahors bottlings: this is their basic, with no further names attached.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks

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For a Splurge

Our nomination for an Argentine Malbec splurge is the Terrazas de los Andes “Single Parcel Los Castanos” Malbec.

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks

We did not find any Cahors Malbecs better enough than what is listed above to justify a “splurge” price.

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This page was last modified on Monday, 23 March 2020, at 3:52 pm Pacific Time.