Posts Tagged Malbec

The changing taste of Malbec: from fruit bomb to subtle elegance

First published in The Irish Times, 25th January, 2020

Who doesn’t like Malbec? It seems to be the red equivalent of Sauvignon Blanc, a wine that pleases all and grows in popularity every year

Who doesn’t like Malbec? It seems to be the red equivalent of Sauvignon Blanc, a wine that pleases all and grows in popularity every year. While these two favourites come from opposite sides of the globe, Argentina and New Zealand, they do share something in common; consistently good quality across the various styles and price categories. Both also have a recognisable taste profile that just about everyone enjoys.

When it first arrived on our shores, most of the wines were big, extracted fruit-bombs, the kind favoured by wine drinkers who prefer power over substance. But Malbec from Argentina has changed; there has been a move towards higher-altitude vineyards that produce lighter more elegant wines, and winemakers are seeking to produce wines with a sense of regional diversity. Although you still wouldn’t ever describe them as shrinking violets, there is much more subtlety to the wines now.

Typically, they are medium- to full-bodied with lush ripe fruit and soft tannins. Some have a lovely fragrance and good acidity, giving them a real elegance. Provided they haven’t been overoaked, also less common than it once was, most of the wines have wonderful pure dark fruits. The big wines haven’t gone away completely; done well they can be very welcome on cold winter evenings.

Cahors in France is the other region that majors on Malbec. South-west France could be described as the original home of this variety. In the past many were fiercely tannic and sometimes very earthy. But while Argentina has taken most of the limelight, the wines of Cahors have improved hugely and can be every bit as good as their South American counterparts, although different in style. It is rare to find Malbec in Spain, but the wine featured below is well worth trying.

Happily, for those on a budget, less expensive Malbec can be very good indeed whether from France or Argentina. Dunnes Stores has the French Levalet Malbec for €10 and the Alamos Ridge for €12.50, Aldi has the Exquisite Collection Malbec (€7.99), Spar & Londis has Las Celia, Marks & Spencer has a wide range, and O’Briens the Norton wines. All of these are good well-made wines that don’t cost too much.

At the top end, there is no shortage of great wines; my own favourites include Amalaya, Colomé, Mendel, Catena, Altos Las Hormigos, all widely available, Achaval Ferrer (JNwine), Susana Balbo (Wines Direct). From Cahors, Clos des Gamots (Wicklow Wine), Le Combal (€19.50, Terroirs) and Causse de Théron are worth seeking out in independents, as is Château de Croisille (€19.95, O’Briens).

Both styles of wine are great with food. Steak remains the favourite to accompany Malbec, but the lighter styles are well-suited to other red and white meats, including Mexican food, game and, for vegetarians and vegans, rich bean casseroles.

Ocho y Medio Malbec, La Mancha, Spain, 13%, €12.95

Ocho y Medio Malbec, La Mancha, Spain, 13%, €12.95
Ocho y Medio Malbec, La Mancha, Spain, 13%, €12.95

 An easy, light, juicy Malbec with clean blackcurrant fruits sprinkled with a touch of spice. This would sit nicely alongside pork chops with a tomato sauce.

From: O’Briens,

Pascual Toso Malbec 2017, Mendoza Argentina, 13.5%, €13.95-14.95

Pascual Toso Malbec 2017, Mendoza Argentina, 13.5%, €13.95-14.95
Pascual Toso Malbec 2017, Mendoza Argentina, 13.5%, €13.95-14.95

 A perennial favourite and a perfect example of Argentinian Malbec; rich meaty ripe dark fruits, rounded tannins and good length. Perfect with all kinds of red meat. The Toso Selected Vines (€19.95) is even better.

 From: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock,; Ely 64, Glasthule,; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3,; Drinkstore, D7,; Egans, Portlaoise; Worldwide Wines, Waterford,; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny,; O’Donovan’s, Cork,; McCambridges, Galway,; Dalys, Boyle.

Zorzal Terroir Unico Malbec 2018, Uco Valley, Argentina, 13.5%, €18.50

Zorzal Terroir Unico Malbec 2018, Uco Valley, Argentina, 13.5%, €18.50
Zorzal Terroir Unico Malbec 2018, Uco Valley, Argentina, 13.5%, €18.50

  A medium-bodied wine with lovely pure sweet ripe plum and loganberry fruits, a meaty concentration mid-palate and a clean lightly tannic finish. Very good value for money. With steak, roast shoulder of lamb or pork chops with chimichurri.

From: La Touche, Greystones,; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; Sweeneys D3, 

Causse de Théron “Terrasse” 2015, Cahors, 13% €22.99

Causse de Théron “Terrasse” 2015, Cahors, 13% €22.99
Causse de Théron “Terrasse” 2015, Cahors, 13% €22.99

Lively lifted aromas, silky smooth red and black fruits – raspberries and blackberries – with a soft, lightly tannic finish. Perfect with roast duck or pork, lamb shanks, or baked mushrooms.

From: Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock,; The Malt House, Trim; Lucey’s – The Good Food Shop, Mallow,;

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de Martino Las Cruces Old Vine Malbec Carmenère 2014, Valle de Cachapoal

de Martino Las Cruces Old Vine Malbec Carmenère 2014, Valle de Cachapoal

Las Cruces 2014



Wonderful wine. An explosion of tight ripe savoury dark fruits with real concentration and backbone. Lovely balance and great length – 13.5% alcohol. A world away from most alcoholic, oaky luxury Chilean wines, this really is worth trying, despite the price tag.


This would go nicely with most grilled or roast red meats. Lightly spicy barbecued lamb or a gourmet burger.


Expensive, but this one is worth it. I tasted this as part of an article on wines from Itata, the first vineyards planted by the Spanish conquistadores. This is made from the granitic Las Cruces vineyard, planted in 1956 It is a field blend of 75% Malbec and 25% Carmenère.

€40 from O’Briens Wines.


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Best of the taste tests: the top wines from three Irish importers

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 3rd June, 2017

Four very different importers held press tastings over the last few weeks. O’Briens will be well-known to all; they now have 32 shops around the country, mainly concentrated in the Leinster region, and form a very useful bridge between the multiples and the independent retailer, borrowing a little from each. Certainly they make quality wines accessible to many parts of the country and always have a good range of inexpensive wines available. The staff are invariably well-trained with good wine knowledge. I have featured the Domaine Begude wines before: the 2015 Etoile, a Chardonnay fermented in large oak barrels, would cost twice as much if came from Burgundy. I love it.

Marks & Spencer can claim to lead the multiples when to comes to quality. In general, you will pay a little more compared to the other supermarkets, but usually the wine will be that bit better. I like the way it is not afraid to offer quirky wines that you won’t see on the shelves of its rivals. At times, the M&S range approaches that of a good independent wine shop. In recent years, it has championed wines from all around the Mediterranean and eastern Europe. Among many interesting wines, including some great inexpensive summer whites that I will feature shortly, the Lirac below stood out as a very attractive medium- to full-bodied red wine.

Artisan wines

Le Caveau is a leading independent wine importer that concentrates on organic, biodynamic and “natural” wines. Set up by Burgundian and former sommelier Pascal Rossignol 18 years ago, they list a huge range of really interesting artisan wines, including a very fine selection of Burgundy. They have a small retail/mail-order shop (see tucked away a car park in Kilkenny, and also distribute their wines widely through independent wine shops around the country. Proprietor Pascal Verhaeghe of Ch. du Cèdre was at the Le Caveau tasting, despite having lost his entire crop of grapes to frost the previous week. (“Everything!” he told me. “One hundred per cent.”) His Héritage below is a classic mix of traditional and modern. It is also very reasonably priced.

Quintessential Wines is run by Seamus Daly. Seamus worked in the restaurant business and for another wine importer before setting up his own business in 2006. He has a small retail shop in Drogheda and offers a nationwide online service, although most of his business is to hotels and restaurants. The range is full of interesting wines, of the kind that would not be of interest to many bigger importers. There are plenty of good well-made Albariño available between €10-15; the Zarate below is a real step up in quality, although if you have the money, the creamy rich single-vineyard Zarate Tras da Vina (€29.95) is even more delicious.

Lirac Les Closiers 2015, Ogier

14%, €15
Gently warming, with oodles of ripe dark fruits, and an attractive grippy quality.
Stockists: Marks & Spencer

Cahors 2014 Héritage du Cèdre

13%, €15.50
Light savoury blackcurrants and dark fruits with a clean, lightly tannic finish.
Stockists: Listons; Donnybrook Fair; McGuinness Wines; Green Man; Redmonds; 64 Wine; Avoca; Blackrock Cellar; Corkscrew; Fallon & Byrne; Le Caveau.

Domaine Begude Etoile Chardonnay 2015, Limoux

13.5%, €19.95
Impeccably balanced wine with lightly textured green apples and pears,

a hint of toasted brioche, all held together by a seam of refreshing acidity.
Stockists: O’Briens

Zarate Albariño 2015, Val do Salnes, Rías Baixas, Spain

12.5%, €21.15
A fine complex wine, with concentrated pure pear fruits and a wonderful mineral streak.
Stockists: Quintessential Wines, Drogheda; Clontarf Wines; Wicklow Wine; Hole in the Wall.


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Wines from €8.50 to €22: Can you tell the difference?

First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 20th May, 2017

Do expensive wines taste any better? It is a question I am often asked. My answer is: yes and no. Obviously, a pricier wine should offer more; more complexity, more elegance, more fruit and more intensity than a cheaper model. But quite often it doesn’t.  A wine producer is no different to any other business and will try to maximise profits. Simply by being based in a well-known region, some can charge a premium over their neighbours. Others dress their wines up in heavy bottles and fancy labels in an effort to persuade us to part with a little more money. Then there is the importer and retailer margin; some take more than others.

So price is certainly not a guarantee of quality. Against this, if a producer receives a better price, they can afford to make a much better wine. I find that generally, if you pay more, you get more – to a certain price ceiling, when the law of diminishing returns set in. Given our very high excise duties, most of the cost of any wine under €10 goes straight to the government, so cheap wine is never really good value.

Sweet spot

For me, the sweet spot in wine is between €12-25, where you should notice a big step up in quality. If you don’t then you should stick to the cheap stuff. For a treat, I am happy to pay up to €50 and sometimes more for a really great wine, having convinced myself that the same price would get me an average bottle in most restaurants.

Not everybody likes expensive wine however; studies have shown that many consumers prefer cheaper wines that tend to have more residual sugar, adding richness and texture, as well as lighter tannins or acidity (in white wines).

I sometimes find myself preferring the less expensive wines because they have not been given lavish oak treatment, and I don’t generally like the taste of oak. It is all a matter of personal taste, and as with anything else in life, you should never let anyone else tell you what you should or shouldn’t like.

This week, you can conduct your own experiment. I have chosen four Malbecs from Argentina, all widely available. The complete set will cost you about €55, but you could share the burden with a few friends and do a tasting together – blind if you feel like really testing yourself.

For me, the Barrel Select was the winner, clearly superior to the two less expensive wines and great value for money at €12.95. For a posh dinner with beef or lamb, I would certainly be happy to pay an extra €10 for the Clos de la Siete, made (and part owned) by renowned French wine consultant Michel Rolland.

Wines to try

Aldi Exquisite Collection Malbec, Uco Valley Argentina 2015, 13.5%, €8.49.

Decent, well-made wine with slightly astringent dark fruits. Stockists: Aldi.

Norton Colección Malbec 2016, Mendoza, Argentina, 13%, €11.95.

Easy ripe red fruits, with a rounded finish. Stockists: O’Briens.

Norton Barrel Select  Malbec 2015, Mendoza, Argentina, 13%, €14.95 (€12.95 for May).

A perennial favourite with medium-bodied warm savoury dark fruits and a soft harmonious finish. Stockists: O’Briens.

Clos de los Siete 2013, Uco Valley, Argentina, 14.5%, €21.95.

Full-bodied and smooth with elegant sultry dark fruits, plenty of spice and a dry finish. Stockists: O’Briens.

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Gloire de mon Père 2014, Tour des Gendres, Bergerac

Gloire de mon Père 2014, Tour des Gendres, Bergerac

gloryGloire de mon Père 2014, Tour des Gendres, Bergerac

€22 from Le Caveau, Kilkenny, Green Man Wines, Terenure, 64wine, Glasthule and other leading independent wine shops.

Smooth elegant wine with ripe blackcurrant fruits, a touch of spice and a long dry finish. Serve it with roast red meats.

Luc de Conti has long been a shining beacon in Bergerac, an underrated region next door to Bordeaux. I am a big fan of the Tour de Gendres ‘classique’ (see above) his entryish level red that sells for around €15. However for €7 more, you can buy the Gloire de mon Père, and glorious it is too. A blend of 50% Cabernet sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 20% Malbec, this is a Bordeaux lookalike of the very highest quality; except if it came from Bordeaux it would cost a lot more.

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Oak free wines

Oak free wines

IMG_4680I tried out the wines of two very different producers last week, Philip Vincens of Ch. Vincens in Cahors and Antonio Diez Martín of Bodegas Martín Berdugo in Ribera del Duero. In both tastings I preferred the cheapest wine. Why? In each case, the wine was unoaked and possibly a little less smooth than the wines that followed. But I loved the bright pure fruits, accompanied by a light refreshing acidity; wines that give a simple pleasure. It makes you wonder how good the wines could be if they used the best quality fruit for their unoaked wines.

I have known Antonio for many years, and worked for the company that imported the wines. In 2013 tragedy struck when the family winery burnt down, destroying much of his stock. He says the local community were fantastic, giving him wine to sell to help tide him over. The new winery is now up and running, and fitted with the best modern equipment insurance money can buy. Although the unoaked joven (we used to call it ‘spotty youth’ – see the label above) was my favourite, all of the wines have a lovely clean purity of fruit and an elegance not always found in Ribera del Duero. They are all very reasonably priced too.


Philip Vincens has caused quite a stir with his wines; they have been very well-received by many critics and competition judges. His first wine was a more classic style of Cahors, with cool dark fruits, good acidity and light tannins on the finish. It was a very well made wine and really well priced at €14-14.50. As you went up the scale the wines became more oaky, riper, more extracted and more alcoholic – 15.5% for several. I can see why they are so successful, but they were not really my style of wine. The next wine up in price, Ch. Vincens Origine 2013 (€17-18) is also pretty good in most vintages; this according to the importer, is the best-selling wine of the range.


Malbec 2012 Cahors, Ch. Vincens
€13.99-14.99 from The Vintry Rathgar; Hollands Bray; Fresh Stores Dublin; McGuinness Dundalk.

Ribera del Duero Joven 2014, Martín Berdugo

€18-19 from Mitchell & Son; Morton’s, Ranelagh; Martin’s, Fairview; Sheridan’s Cheese Shops.

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Porteno Malbec 2015, Bodegas Norton, Mendoza

Porteno Malbec 2015, Bodegas Norton, Mendoza

IMG_1604Porteno Malbec 2015, Bodegas Norton, Mendoza

Available from O’Briens for €10.95 for the month of February

This is a really tasty wine, relatively powerful, and rippling with layers of dark fruit. No oak and no tannins; just a big mouthful of pure supple fruit. At less than €11 for the month of February, this is a real bargain.

Argentina is famous for it’s Malbec. Fragrant, rich and powerful, the wines provide a perfect match for all of these barbequed ribs, steaks and other pieces of smoky charred protein. Cheapskate that I am, I often prefer the less oaky, less extracted mid-priced versions. There is some good inexpensive Malbec around too. The Aldi Exquisite Collection Malbec is worth checking out. It isn’t as good as the Porteño though. This is made by Norton, one of my favourite producers in Argentina.

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Take two Malbecs: France v Argentina

From the Irish Times, Saturday 17th October, 2015

The two wineries are some 11,000km apart, and the wines could not be more different, but they have one thing in common; Malbec, currently one of the most fashionable grapes.

Cahors in France has just over 4,000 hectares of Malbec; Argentina has 31,000. By coincidence, winemakers from both places recently visited Ireland in the same week.

Cahors is a very pleasant city, an hour’s drive north of Toulouse, famous for the magnificent Valentré bridge. It is surrounded on three sides by the river Lot. The river meanders westwards to the wine region, where the steep serpentine slopes offer a myriad of soils and meso-climates. The lower sandier slopes are said to produce softer, fruitier wines, the limestone plateau at the top makes wine with a firmer more tannic structure.

Martine Jouffreau and Yves Hermann of Clos de Gamot have been together for 38 years and look the typical contented rural French couple with a keen interest in food and rugby. Their daughter, a nurse, lives in Dublin. The estate belonged to Martine’s grandfather who planted vines a 100 years ago that go into a special wine, Cuvée Centenaires, produced only in the best years.

I am very fond of the Clos de Gamot, a wine that represents everything that is great about Cahors. There are other wines too.

Hermann works with 100 per cent Malbec (although he did admit to growing a tiny amount of Sauvignon and Chardonnay). “Our wines are very different to Argentina,” says Hermann. “We don’t like marketing and we make Cahors, not Malbec. In fact, we call it Côt or Auxerrois. For a good wine you need acidity. Our terroir always gives a freshness. It stays with the wine, even at 50-years-old.”

People often talk of the black wine of Cahors; this actually refers to an old method of concentrating the wine before blending it with those of other regions, notably Bordeaux.

Basic Cahors can be a little thin and rustic, but there have been huge improvements in recent years. These days Cahors is more likely to be nicely aromatic, peppery and dry, with savoury plum fruits. It is not a big gutsy wine, but very satisfying. It needs to be drunk with food.

If Cahors has an aesthetic austerity, Argentinian Malbec is perfumed and vibrant, with rich succulent softly-textured dark fruits, backed up with plenty of power. It is hardly surprising this style of Malbec has become popular the world over, and in the US in particular. It is a great partner for another Argentine speciality, barbecued steak.

The Chakana estate was founded in 2002 by the Pelizzatti family, who originally came from Valtelina in Italy. I met up with the very affable Gabriel Bloise, head of operations at Chakana.

“Our style of wine is changing; we are using less new oak, and less oak overall. We trying to produce more elegant wines,” he says.

Chakana is based in Luján de Cuyo just south of Mendoza where it has 150 hectares of vines. A few years ago, it expanded into the Uco Valley further south. The Uco is one of the most talked-about regions of Argentina, partly as a tourist destination, but also for producing wines with intense colour and aroma, higher acidity and more succulent fruits.

Chakana is putting together an origin–based series of wines that will reflect the different regions where it owns vines. It has also made decisive moves towards organic viticulture. “There is no other way to produce wine,” says Bloise. “Within a year, we saw a huge change in the quality of our grapes. We were very scared at first – weeds and oidium were supposed to be a problem, but they weren’t. Now we don’t have a plan or solution for every disease; we have a super master plan!”

DSCF6128Clos des Gamots 2008, Cahors

Lifted aromas, soft maturing ripe plums with good acidity and a solid savoury tannic core. Lovely wine.

Stockists: The Wicklow Wine Company, Wicklow

Dona Paul EstateDoña Paula Estate Malbec 2014, Uco Valley, Mendoza

Very nicely balanced Malbec with perfumed floral aromas and plump ripe dark fruits.

Stockists: widely available including Tesco, SuperValu and O’Briens.

DSCF6135Chakana Estate Selection 2013, Mendoza

Rich meaty dark fruits with a nice fresh character and good length. With beef.

Stockists: Donnybrook Fair; Gibneys; Hole in the Wall; The Corkscrew; No 21, Cork; Thomas Woodberry.

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