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. 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
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, obrienswine.ie.
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, jusdevine.ie; Ely 64, Glasthule, Ely64.com; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; Drinkstore, D7, drinkstore.ie; Egans, Portlaoise; Worldwide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny, Thewinecentre.ie; O’Donovan’s, Cork, Odonovansofflicence.com; McCambridges, Galway, Mccambridges.com; Dalys, Boyle.
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, Latouchewines4u.ie; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3 clontarfwines.ie; Sweeneys D3, sweeneysd3.ie.
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, blackrockcellar.com; The Malt House, Trim; Lucey’s – The Good Food Shop, Mallow, luceysgoodfood.com; Wineonline.ie.
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