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Beginner’s Guide to Malbec

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We know most of you are already Malbec experts, but it is always good to go back to the basics once in a while. Brimming with ripe dark fruit character and inky black pigments, Malbec is a versatile, food-friendly red wine with significant roots in Mendoza’s Uco Valley. Malbec claims southwest France, specifically Cahors, as its original homeland where it is known simply as “Côt.” Included as a blending grape in Bordeaux for hundreds of years, this spicy black grape has found firm footing and considerable fame in the arid, high-elevation vineyards surrounding Mendoza. Today, Argentina is the lively home to 75% of the Malbec vines grown worldwide.

Originally planted in Argentina in the 1850s side by side with other beloved Bordeaux varieties, Malbec functioned first as a blending grape to bring balance and harmony to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. As time and taste marched on, Malbec has taken centerstage as a single-variety offering that showcases a range of styles ranging from powerful to elegant and medium to fuller-bodied with black fruit character, generous color pigmentation and a savory spice that consistently kicks the innate palate pep up a notch. Mendoza has courted the Malbec grape with considerable intention, promising dry, high elevations with numerous microclimates, which happily give rise to virtually pest and fungus-free growing conditions, along with a generous and ultra-clean source of fresh irrigation water courtesy of the Andes’ snowmelt. Thick-skinned Malbec delivers considerable tannins to the bottle and the dramatic change in day to night time temperatures that permeate the Uco Valley, both slow the ripening process down helpfully preventing over ripened grapes while promising to keep the fresh-faced, food-friendly acidity vibrant.

Flavor Profile: Malbec is an extrovert. Dry, full-bodied, leaning higher in alcohol, with robust tannins, and decidedly forward fruit – this grape is hard to miss in the glass. Plenty of Mendoza sunshine at altitude gives the grapes a chance to carry considerable sugar levels, which converts to elevated alcohol levels in the bottle, with higher levels of innate acidity as well. Malbec grapes tend to sport thicker skins that give way to firmer tannins in the wine, thankfully this tighter structure is well balanced by engaging aromatics and rich dark fruit character. In terms of aromas and flavors, expect a Malbec berry medley to take the spotlight with plenty of blackberry, black cherry, blueberry and plum to dominate initial impressions. Delicious, warm vanilla spice, pepper, dark chocolate, exotic mocha notes along with the earthier aspects of leather, smoke and tobacco may all make their way into the heady palate profile of this versatile grape. While tannins may be considerable, the textures tend to round themselves out to a rich, velvety touch. 

Pairing Picks: Malbec is a meat-lover’s wine. Perfectly happy with all sorts of red meat, and a natural with burgers, brats, wild game, sausage, ribs, braised lamb and roasted pork, Malbec’s innate tannins and bright acidity slice through the fat and protein structure with considerable ease. Versatile with veggies too, Malbec can find its way around vegetarian cuisine without a hitch, the earthy side of the grape welcomes the complementary character of root vegetables, wild mushrooms, and pungent (often blue) cheese. Given the higher alcohol levels and firmer structure, Malbec typically shows best when served at around 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Malbec’s Place: Mendoza is home to more than 70% of Argentina’s vineyards and is the regional host to many of the most well-known Argentinean producers. The most important and familiar growing region around Mendoza is the Valle de Uco (Uco Valley).  A combination of well-drained soil, consistent sun and significant altitude give the growing zones surrounding Mendoza a significant edge on the viticultural front. Most vineyards capture close to 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, and average around 3,000 feet in elevation, while showcasing the classic alluvial soil structure - a combination of sand and clay. Tucked into the distinguished Valle de Uco, The Vines of Mendoza cultivates over 1,500 acres offering wine lovers the exclusive experience of vineyard ownership and hands-on winemaking for the ultimate introduction to Malbec from grape to glass. 

5 Popular Malbec Bottles to Try (all under $20) – Delve into the delicious array of Argentinean Malbec with a range of styles at stellar values with prices ranging from $10-20.

·         Catena Malbec 2016

·         Kaiken Ultra Malbec 2016

·        Trapiche Broquel Malbec 2016

·         Alamos Malbec 2016

·        Tierra de Dioses Malbec 2012

 

Urge to Splurge? Try the Luca Malbec 2015 ($28) with fruit sourced from old vines out of two different growing zones, Gualtallary and La Consulta, of the the Uco Valley.  

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