Malbec Wine Guide: An Argentinian Success Story
9 MIN READ
There’s nothing wrong with being a late bloomer. Just ask Malbec.
This incredibly popular French grape only came into the public consciousness in recent decades. For much of its history, it featured exclusively as a blending grape, struggling with countless issues in the vineyard and nearly fading into obscurity.
Today, it’s one of the most beloved full-bodied wines there is. What changed? And should you seek out a glass of Malbec for your red wine repertoire?
Learn all about this French grape and why it could only feel comfortable in its skin once it found a new home in the sunny hills of Argentina.
The History of Malbec
Malbec is a thick-skinned red grape originating from southwestern France. While it’s now one of the most popular red varietals on grocery store shelves, its rise to fame is quite recent.
Throughout its early history, French winemakers believed Malbec would only ever find success as a blending grape in Bordeaux blends. In its European homeland, the grape struggled with poor yields, disease, and rot for centuries.
So, French winemakers substituted many of their Malbec plots for stronger varietals that would boost their profit margins like Merlot and Cabernet. While Malbec was respected as a blending grape, it never gained the status of a top, single-varietal grape due to its unreliability in the vineyard.
That all changed in the mid-1800s.
During this time, provincial governor Domingo Faustino Sarmiento requested that French agronomist Miguel Pouget make a trip down south and bring a souvenir with him — French grapevine cuttings.
Pouget brought many different French varietals with him, including Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, though the standout was Malbec. He planted Malbec vines across Argentina’s Mendoza region, and the grapes soon displayed their true colors.
Rather than rotting and decaying as they did in France, the Malbec vines thrived.
Why? Due to the radical change in altitude and temperature.
An Argentinian Success Story
Argentina has a much hotter climate and more mountainous terrain than southern France. In the lower elevations of Bordeaux, Malbec grapes are unable to fatten up with the acidity required to become a truly top-shelf red wine. It’s only in the high altitudes of Argentina (and other New World regions) that Malbec finds the hot days and cool nights that it needs.
However, despite its success in Argentina, very few other nationalities sought out the thriving vine for nearly 150 years. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that Malbec debuted on the global stage.
As the world economy struggled with inflation and widespread price increases, many Americans and Europeans began seeking out a budget alternative to their favorite red varietals. Malbec found its way into cellars and wine fridges across the globe. The rest, as they say, is history.
In many ways, Malbec’s story is relatively unique in the wine world. Budget-minded consumers, not wine critics, granted it the recognition that it always deserved.
Today, Malbec reigns supreme as Argentina’s most famous grape. In fact, the South American country is home to over 75% of all Malbec vines in the world!
Across Argentinian borders, the grape has also experienced something of a resurgence in France, as French winemakers seek to illustrate the cool-climate potential of this once-ignored grape.
Malbec Taste and Flavor
Malbec strikes a perfect balance in the world of red wine with medium acidity, medium tannins, and a complex, rewarding flavor profile.
Like other full-bodied reds, Malbec’s nose displays deep, layered aromas of black fruit. Try to parse out flavors of cherry plum, blueberry, raisin, and pomegranate.
On the palate, you’ll find secondary notes of molasses and bell pepper that create a verdant, herbaceous dimension. If your Malbec is aged with oak, look for rustic, wooden flavors like toasted mocha, dark chocolate, tobacco, and black pepper.
For the best sipping experience, serve Malbec at its ideal serving temperature of around 60-65° Fahrenheit. Of course, you’ll also want to aerate the wine before serving to open up its complex bouquet. If you opt for a decanter, you should pop open the bottle and allow it to breathe for 1-2 hours before serving.
If you forget this important step, your Malbec will be prevented from showing its true potential. Fortunately, there are simpler options.
At the press of a button, the Wine Connoisseur personal sommelier system effortlessly cools and aerates every varietal to its optimal conditions. You’ll never sip on a sub-par wine again.
Malbec Food Pairing
While a deep-red Cabernet brims with a long finish and firm tannins, Malbec’s flavor profile is relatively mild. This means it pairs better with dark poultry meat and lighter red meats like roast turkey leg or sirloin steak.
Of course, Malbec is still a full-bodied red, so feel free to serve it alongside gamey cuts like buffalo burgers or venison. If you’re on the hunt for a vegetarian option, Malbec complements a rich portabello mushroom or truffle dish with earthy herbs such as garlic, green onion, and paprika.
Malbec also elevates many kinds of cheese like melted Swiss and Monterey Jack. Due to the wine’s relatively short finish, look for cheese with an aftertaste that doesn’t linger.
Regarding dishes you should avoid with your next glass of Malbec, we recommend steering away from balsamic salads, bitter greens, and white fish. Each of these dishes threatens to overwhelm the complex flavors of a full-bodied red and make the wine taste muted and overly alcoholic in comparison.
Argentinian Malbec vs French Malbec
No two Malbecs taste alike, especially when separated by thousands of miles of ocean.
Argentina's hotter days and higher altitudes produce a Malbec that tastes entirely distinct from those bottled in the southwest of France.
The nose of an Argentinian Malbec displays powerful fruit flavors of black cherry, blueberries, and pomegranate. The sweet, juicy fruit is balanced by medium acidity on the palate, further layered with sweet tobacco and leather notes from oak aging.
Due to their lower sugar counts, French Malbec grapes contain less alcohol and fewer fruit flavors. In fact, enthusiasts often describe the wines as savory and bitter with distinct notes of acidic plum and black currant. While these bottles might be more challenging for budding enthusiasts, they contain tremendous aging potential.
Meet Your Next Glass Of Malbec
If you ever needed a redemption story in the world of wine, look no further than the history of Malbec.
While this French grape found a niche in Bordeaux blends, it truly came into its own once it settled in South America. Brimming with a fruit-forward nose and firm tannins, this full-bodied red makes a pairing delight with meaty entreés and savory veggie dishes.
Like all complex red wines, Malbec needs proper aeration to reach its full flavorful potential. Make sure you’re getting the most of Malbec with the Wine Connoisseur personal sommelier system. Your wine deserves to be sipped at its optimal conditions. With the Wine Connoisseur, you never have to worry.
To taste the benefits of proper chilling and aeration for yourself, explore our 400 Club Malbec, cultivated in the high-altitude vineyards of Argentina for medium acidity and maximum flavor.
While you’re waiting for your red to arrive, read through our comprehensive list of wine guides to learn even more about your favorite varietals like Chardonnay and Merlot.