Oct. 17, 2012 - Issue #887: Dedfest
Crazy for Malbec
The wine du jourThe Malbec craze started in the early 21st century and is still going strong today. Though originally a French grape variety, Argentina has claimed Malbec as its flagship wine and made its name (not to mention its fortune) with this grape. The reason for its huge popularity is simple: Argentinean Malbec is cheap and tasty.
A true crowd-pleaser wine, I've yet to run into a Malbec that was undrinkable. Granted, many are completely indistinguishable from others, and indeed homogeneity is always a problem when you're dealing with mass production (just look at what happened with Australian Shiraz). But overall, Malbec is usually full-bodied, with intense plum and black currant flavours and often a solid dose of toasty vanilla oak influence. Malbec has firm but usually not overwhelmingly dry tannins, as well as medium acidity.
Malbec originally hails from France's Bordeaux region, where it is still one of the six permitted varieties in red Bordeaux—but Malbec was almost completely wiped out of this region after the winter of 1956, when frost destroyed 75 percent of Malbec plantings (this variety is particularly susceptible to frost). Hardly any Bordeaux producers still use it in their wines, and never in any great amount.
However, there is a region in France that is planted almost exclusively with Malbec: Cahors. Located in warm southwest France, Cahors produces Malbec in much more of a rustic style than its easygoing Argentinean counterpart—in previous decades the English referred to Cahors as "the black wine," so named for its inky dark colour and teeth-staining tannins. However, wineries in Cahors have recently taken to making their wines in a style that's a little more approachable and doesn't require extended bottle aging, in keeping with the market trend towards wines that are ready to drink immediately.
French versions aside, for most wine drinkers Malbec is synonymous with Argentina, which has tens of thousands of hectares planted with this variety. The key region is Mendoza, which is located at a very high altitude and has a very long growing season, something that Malbec needs to ripen completely—this is the reason why it isn't grown as readily in many other regions. Argentinean Malbec is almost always ripe to the point of being syrupy, with some herbal spice tones and occasionally a streak of minerality in particularly fine examples.
In an attempt to cash in on the Malbec craze, producers around the world have begun to try their hand at growing the grape. The results are mixed; while Malbec has cropped up in California, Canada, Chile, and even New Zealand, none of these versions have captured that same degree of instant gratification that makes Argentinean Malbec so desirable.
While Malbec is great to sip on its own (especially on cool evenings), it's also a natural partner to red meat. Argentineans love their barbecued beef, and indeed grilled steak or roast beef make excellent pairings with Malbec. Lamb, venison and other types of game also pair very well.
While it is probably only a matter of time before Malbec is replaced with the next new wine trend, rest assured that for the foreseeable future there won't be any shortages. V vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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