What is Malbec Wine?
The grape originates from the southwest of France but has found international success, primarily in Argentina. Though there is growing consideration for Malbec in Australia.
Cabernet Malbec, a blend common in Bordeaux, has seen a decline in fortune in recent years in France. Once one of the top blends in Bordeaux, Malbec’s susceptibility to environmental conditions and disease has seen it fade in favour of other varietals. After a particularly bad frost in 1956 killed off much of the Bordeaux Malbec crop, Merlot and Cabernet Franc began to take over in popularity. These days the majority of French Malbec is produced in the Cahors region.
When it comes to Australian Malbec, some excellent examples are produced. Wine produced with Malbec has been a staple of South Australian winemaking for some time. However, more winemakers are producing straight Malbec wines with increasing success and recognition. South Australia is perhaps unsurprisingly the region in which most of the success has been seen by winemakers.
Common Malbec Wine characteristics
French Malbec tends to be softer, more luxurious with spice and black pepper where Malbec from Argentina is big, bold and chocolaty. Malbec in Australia tends to be somewhere in between. Wine lovers can expect the primary flavours of plum, blackberry and some red berries. The structure is firm with tannins – a tell tale sign that the Malbec wine will age well.
Pairing food with Malbec Wine
It is often said of French wines and regional foods that ‘what grows together goes together.’ However, this saying has been taken to the New World and is never been more accurate than in Argentina. When it comes to wine and food, Argentina is most famous for Malbec and beef. Pairing red wine and red meat is hardly revolutionary but when the pairing is right, it’s right.
Barossa Valley big reds demand the same fight from food as a mighty Malbec. Slight and delicate foods tend to get trampled and Malbec needs a pairing that is up for the tussle. Other rich dishes like ragout or a tagine will do well with a glass of Malbec. If a savoury dish isn’t on the menu a quality chocolate, especially dark varieties, will tease out the berry and cocoa-powder notes in the Malbec.
As with food, choosing cheese to match a Malbec will lead to the more muscular end of the spectrum. Mouldy, oozy cheeses tend to be too much, kicking off a brawl with Malbec. Crumblier blue cheese varieties are a great accompaniment to Malbec like a cow’s milk Cashel or even sheep’s milk Crosier Blue. Cheeses without mould pair well with Malbec also like a Gruyere or crumbly red cheddar.
Notable Malbec Wine regions
The most exciting region in the world for Malbec is Mendoza in Argentina. The region accounts for three-quarters of the global acreage of Malbec. First planted in 1868, the growing conditions in the Mendoza plains at the foot of the Andes mountain range were perfect for growing the Malbec. While French Malbec tends to be more peppery, Mendoza Malbec is jammier, full of blackberries with notes of chocolate. El Bar is a popular example of Mendoza Malbec in Australia as is Santa Julia.
Notable Malbec brands in Australia include Mitolo of McLaren Vale and the award-winning Bleasdale of Langhorne Creek as well as Stonyfell, Peter Lehmann, Mockingbird Hill, Zonte’s Footstep. For Shiraz Malbec blends look no further than the legendary Wendouree winery.
The future of Malbec Wine
The success and popularity of Argentine Malbec has made Australian winemakers sit up and take note. Australia’s international success with blockbuster reds means there is a growing interest in adding Malbec to the portfolio with Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Australian Malbec wine, those particular to the Barossa Valley and Langhorne Creek, are bolder in the mid palate making it an interesting match for the local Cabernet Sauvignons; characteristically weak in the mid palate.
The future is positive for Australian Malbec. Volumetrically, Argentina will continue to dominate but in terms of quality, Australian wines can compete and win on the international stage. The diligence and devotion of Australian winemakers to the varietal means that as the fashion carousel turns in the direction of Malbec, wineries are already responding with mature, elegant wines full of fruit, character and history.