By Bruce Collier
“Malbec” is only one of some 22 different names for the same grape (and its clones). References to it can be found back to the 1700s, in the former Quercy region (now called Lot and Tarn-et-Garonne) in the southwest of France. Its French name is Côt, and Côt it still is in France, though the French are starting to use “Malbec” on their product. This is due in part to its spectacular success in Argentina (it’s Malbec there), which produces some of the highest-rated Malbec and Malbec-based wines in the world. The French know the value of name recognition.
Malbec World Day will be observed on April 17. It honors the day in 1853 when President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento of Argentina reportedly asked a French soil expert to bring some vines from France to jump-start the wine industry in Argentina. The Malbec (Côt,) was among the varietals brought over, and it turns out that Argentine soil was what it needed all along.
In addition to France and Argentina, Malbec is grown in Chile, Italy, Turkey, Israel, the Republic of Moldova, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, and the United States. In some countries, fewer than 50 acres are under cultivation; in Argentina it’s around 66,000. In many places, it’s used for blending; in others, like Cahors (France) and the Mendoza province of Argentina, Malbec is a primary grape.
Malbec is a red wine grape, its berries almost black in color. Their juice yields a near-opaque wine that is called “black wine” in Cahors.
With Malbec World Day approaching, you might want to do some shopping for yourself or a friend. Here are four examples, three reds and a sparkling rosé blend, all purchased locally.
Catena Malbec La Consulta, High Mountain Vines, Mendoza, Argentina (2016)
13.0 percent ABV
Color: dense, purple/black in the glass, with just a rim of dark red on the edge of the horizon. Nose: herbal, bell or sweet pepper, hint of wood, dried fig; takes a little time to develop in the glass. Taste: dark fruit, black plum and cherry—both pulp and peel. Velvety, dried prune and blackberry jam finish, smooth, substantial mouth feel. I drank this with beef ravioli, meatballs, tomato/basil sauce and Parmesan cheese.
Chateau De Haute Serre Grand Vin Seigneur Malbec, France, Cahors (2015)
13.5 percent ABV
Color: “black wine” of Cahors, nearly opaque. Nose: strong blackberry, black currant, slightly musty. Taste: at first, tart strawberry, with a tannic pull, deepens into more blackberry. Prune, red licorice, plum and nectarine. Long, warm finish, coats the palate. Heady and fruity. I drank it with pork tenderloin cooked with soy, sesame and ginger.
Shannon Ridge Reserve Home Ranch, Lake County, California (2014)
14.9 percent ABV
Color: Blackberry black, dense, all but opaque. Nose: if purple has a smell, here it is; heady, from a depth down in the bottom, vanilla, floral, pruny and musty. Taste: more of the pruny and musty, straight off that same nose; smoked fruit, tobacco, dried dark unsweetened fruit, plum, raisin, nectarine. Dense and chewy, cranberry, dark cherries, black fruit and peel. Blood orange. Slight unsweetened cocoa finish. Plush, almost sweet, lots of fruit. I drank it with burgers, with asparagus, carrots and potatoes roasted in olive oil with rosemary, salt and pepper.
Alma Negra Sparkling Malbec/Pinot Noir Misterio Rose, Argentina (NV)
13 percent ABV
“Alma Negra” means “black soul,” the winemaker’s impression of the wine’s foundational grapes. Served chilled. Fresh and yeasty scent when the bottle is opened. Pale salmon pink, peach-blush, “eye-of-the-partridge” color, clear and unclouded, small to medium bubbles. Nose: very light, mild, when served cold. Yeasty, soda-like, merest hint of fruit. Taste: bubbles on the tongue, flowery, hint of peach, slightly briny, very dry. As the wine becomes less cold, the nose and taste become more fruity, more peach and peach peel, nectarine, strawberry. Then other summer berries, which linger on the finish.
I would not serve this too cold, you’ll miss out on the subtle fruits. I made a Kir Royale: Alma Negra and Lejay Creme de Cassis, 4-to-1 wine to cassis. The liqueur’s sweetness was balanced by the wine’s dryness and fizz. A great before-dinner drink, with a touch of vanilla and ripe pear. Drank the Alma Negra (by itself) with herb-crusted pork.
I enjoyed all these wines—even the Alma Negra, though I’m not a fan of sparking wine. My favorite was the Shannon Ridge. I think it’s because it was the oldest vintage. Malbec wines benefit from aging.
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