Author: Ágnes Herczeg, Kristian Kielmayer
A French grape variety which owes its fame mainly to Bordeaux. However, it was not born here, nor was it made into monovarietal wine in this region. Nowadays, the most serious Malbec wines are produced to the northeast of Bordeaux in Cahors as well as in Argentina. In many parts of France, it is known as Côt or Cot, especially along the Loire, where it is also found, although only plays a minor role. In cooler climates, it displays similar varietal characteristics to Merlot, which is perhaps why it was confused with Merlot vineyards in Argentina at the time. It only appeared in the Bordeaux wine region towards the middle of the 18th century, mainly in the Gironde, and has never been produced there as a monovarietal wine.
A vigorous variety that is highly susceptible to certain diseases (coulure), although this trait can be modified by appropriate clonal selection. Young vines are particularly susceptible to spring frosts. It ripens mid-season, has medium-sized clusters and plenty of tannin.
The popularity of this wine is due to its widespread plantings in the southern hemisphere, particularly in Argentina. Of course, this was partly due to many producers not replanting the variety following the frosts that partially decimated Bordeaux in the winter of 1956. It is also often blended with Cabernet and Gamay in the central Loire. It is found in Anjou, Coteaux du Loire, Touraine and even in sparkling Saumur, but here it is largely replaced by Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc.
In Argentina, however, it is clearly the most widely grown grape variety. The wines it produces here have a distinctly Bordeaux character, often with high tannins. The wines here are generally much riper and more velvety than their French counterparts, although the longer growing season has changed this style somewhat.
It is only found in a very small area of Hungary, and few produce it as a monovarietal wine. In Szekszard, Pál Mészaros was the first to begin working with the variety, and he now uses a minimal amount in his Bikavér blends. Also in Szekszárd, Csaba Vesztergombi has bottled some Malbec as a monovarietal; his wines represent a youthful style with plenty of fruit. Climate change may lead to new opportunities for Malbec vineyards in Hungary.
Malbec wines are very deeply coloured, almost black, when young. The wines mature slowly, with the finest Malbecs, or even blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, from the best Argentinean terroirs not reaching their peak until around ten years old. Their aromatics are characterised by a slightly cool, vegetal tone, which gives the wines a pronounced lush spiciness. It generally boasts lively acidity and plentiful tannins. The tannic sensation is usually most pronounced on the middle and back of the palate.
Quality tannins, even if there are plenty of them, will pleasantly caress your palate, leaving a trace of astringency at most. If the wine’s tannins are not totally ripe, then a spicier, slightly acidic finish can help in this case. Tannin precipitates the protein in the mucous membrane, and its effect is felt on the palate as astringency. This is often the case, for example, when drinking tea that has been badly made or left to stew or eating cocoa or chocolate with a high cocoa content made with very little cocoa butter.
The easiest way to decide whether the tannin in your wine is good quality or not is to focus on the fruitiness and acidity. If the wine tightens your mucous membranes when you first taste it, but this sensation dissipates quite quickly and the acidity and fruitiness come back, then this is good. At most, the wine is still young, but the tannins are most likely ripe. However, if you don’t feel the presence of the grapes and the fruit, rather just a drying, unpleasant sensation in the wine, well don’t experiment further with this wine.
It can be found either on its own or in a blend and is usually dense and tannic, thus its place and role on the table are similar to those of full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines.
When choosing a food to pair with such a wine, it’s always worth considering its acidity and the ripeness of the tannins. If the wine still feels too closed, it’s worth letting it breathe for a few hours before drinking. It makes a great pair for hard, aged cheeses, game and steak and, unsurprisingly, it is also a wonderful accompaniment to Argentinian beef.