Exploring Malbec, a Grape with a Bright Future

The world of wine is just as trendy as anything else. Wines become the hottest thing then all of the sudden they’re not. Over the years things like Blue Nun led the rise of Riesling from Germany, California introduced their version of barrel aged Chardonnay as well as the White Zinfandel craze, and more recently Shiraz from Australia had it’s time in the sun. Only the quality of the wine and pedigree of the grape dictate whether it sticks around after it’s hot streak. The current hot trendy wine currently belongs to the Malbec grape from Argentina but the grapes origins come from the old world.

Malbec’s birthplace is in the French region of Cahors. The wine was grown there for several hundred years enjoying great notoriety from the middle ages until the 19th century. The grape, known locally as Cot, had a great reputation for quality and was shipped all over the world. “The black wine” of Cahors rivaled Bordeaux to the Northwest but the region had two devastating events. The first was phylloxera, an insect that attacks grape vines and kills them. Whenever they hit, the vines need to be grafted to American root stock which the insets won’t go after. The second event was a frost that decimated 75% of the regions vines in 1956, effectively wiping them out. It takes years, even decades, to recover from something like that. After that the grape went dormant. The grape is one of the six red grapes allowed in Bordeaux wines but it was never a major player there. It wasn’t until Argentina came along and made the grape it’s own that Malbec became a major player again.

It’s easy to see why Malbec has become so popular over the last 6-7 years. The wines are typically fruit forward, easy drinking and aren’t as heavy or tannic as a Cabernet Sauvignon. Most importantly, the quality is high but the wines are inexpensive which has really fueled it’s popularity. Steak houses can serve it by the glass cheap, offering a tasty compliment to a juicy steak. Argentina has been the epicenter of this movement and it’s the most widely planted grape in the country.They have done some great things with it, including some high altitude vineyards that are some of the highest elevations for vineyards in the world.

With the popularity of Malbec comes other regions trying there hand with the grape. Versions have surfaced from Bordeaux, California, Chile, Washington and of course Cahors trying to get back in the game. I thought it would be fun to pick out three and taste them against each other. Here are the results.

  • 2009 Ch√Ęteau de Chambert Cahors – France, Southwest France, Cahors
    Nose gravitates more towards the old world with notes of blackberry, kirsch liquor, smoke and violets. Trends more towards the black fruits than the red fruits. Very dark color, almost black with a magenta rim. More blackberry and kirsch liquor on the palate of this along with an earthy note and touch of iron. Finish lasts maybe 20 seconds. Wine will definitely peak your interest in Cahors if your a fan of the grape. (90 pts.)

  • 2010 Waterbrook Malbec Reserve – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    Nose is more fruit forward than the Chambert and you can tell it’s new world. Color on this is very similar to the first wine being almost black. Trends more towards the red fruits with cherry and plum but still get violets and kirsch liquor like the Cahors. Palate is also fruit forward. Really get smacked with it in the beginning with flavors of cherry, plum, kirsch liquor and a earthy note on the finish. Finish lasts about 20 seconds as well on this. (90 pts.)

  • 2011 Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec – Argentina, Mendoza
    Amazing how different the 3 noses on the 3 wines are. The Catena is the most forward of the 3 wines. Aromas of dark cherry, kirsch liquor, plum and smoke jump out of the glass. Again a very dark wine, almost black in color. The palate is again very forward with flavors of dark cherry, plum, kirsch liquor and a mineral note on the finish. This had the longest finish of the 3 wines as well, going on for about 25-30 seconds. Outstanding quality for the money. (92 pts.)

I have to say this was fun. It was interesting to compare and contrast the three wines plus I love to see diversity in wine. It’s good to see Cahors trying to establish itself back in the quality circle. That wine really opened my eyes to the region. Washington seems like it can do interesting things with the grape although they need to try and keep prices in check to compete. Argentina is certainly doing great things with the grape and I firmly believe that the wines will have some longevity because the quality is clearly there.

Comments are closed.