January 2008

Knock the Chill Off with a Malbec

Author: Krissy Cantelupe

With January upon us, the chill in the air brings thoughts of big red wines along with a roaring fireplace and a hearty meal. Winter is the perfect time to try a Malbec from Argentina.

Malbec was once one of the more popular grape varieties in Bordeaux, and is still widely planted in Cahors, a wine region in southwest France. In Cahors, it is known as the “black wine,” since after fermentation, the color is very dark purple, almost a blue-black. The grapes grow on the most rugged of limestone, giving the wine a full-bodied taste, but with a smooth finish.

Further north, in the Loire Valley, Malbec was often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Gamay to give a lighter bodied red, usually served slightly chilled, in order to pair with the Loire’s fresh seafood. In Bordeaux, it is still grown in all the red Bordeaux appellations, but because the grapes are sensitive to frost, more and more acreage is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Chile has shown some attention to the varietal, but often Malbec is just used to blend with other Bordeaux grapes, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

In California, there have been quite a few experimental plantings, mainly to blend, once again, with the other Bordeaux grapes. Combining these grape varietals usually gives more tannin and body to the blend.

Argentina is where Malbec has gained its fame and notoriety. (Malbec is the number one wine exported from Argentina.) A French agricultural engineer introduced the grape to the Argentines in 1868. Since Malbec needs more heat than Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, growing conditions are optimal in Argentina. Malbecs from Argentina are softer and less tannic than those from France, and often boast a spicy black cherry flavor with hints of white pepper.

A little history about Malbec is sure to inspire you to head out to your local wine store and shop the Argentina section. The wines are usually reasonably priced and ready to drink, so pull up your comfy chair close to that fire, and enjoy!

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