You want organic or biodynamic wine? You've come to the right place. Today our super intern is speaking about Malbec.
Varietal Overview: Malbec
History and Cultivation
Yet another well-loved grape that traces its origin to French wine country, Malbec is a native of the town of Cahors in the south of France. The first reference of the grape dates as far back to the 16th century, where the varietal was originally known by the name Auxerrois. Originally, the first Malbec vines were grown inland of Bordeaux on the bank of the River Lot. However, somewhat forced migration occurred when a major frost devastated 75% of the grape crop particularly near Bordeaux in 1956. Although some vines were replanted in Cahors and used in red blends, Malbec acreage in France was steadily declining, which made it prime-time for introduction into other wine growing regions throughout the world.
One of the most important immigration stories in Malbec’s history is that which brought the varietal to Argentina in the 1800s. The provincial governor in Argentina at the time, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, instructed a French agronomist to bring vine cuttings overseas. Here it found success being grown in Mendoza, the country’s premiere wine region. This one is a massive success story, as Malbec quickly became Argentina’s most widely-grown grape variety and has become known as the country’s signature red grape.
With Southern France and Mendoza being two highly distinct growing climates, it is easy to see how versatile Malbec vines are. In its homeland of France, vines grow in a temperate climate regulated highly by the River Lot. In Mendoza, however, Malbec vines are subjected to much warmer temperatures and a greater variety of terroir, being grown from the foothills of the Andes to low country plains. This being said, wine enthusiasts can tell the difference in these grapes not only in the finished product, but in the raw grapes themselves. Malbec grapes grown in France are typically medium-sized, growing in semi-loose bunches. In Argentina, however, these grapes are noticeably smaller and grow in tighter bunches. Due to this difference, it is thought that the original vine cuttings brought over to Argentina in the 1800’s were a clonal variety from French Malbec that eventually went extinct in France but flourished across the pond. Although Malbec is grown in many other regions throughout the world including the United States and Chile, it is still very much known for its differential production in Argentina and Cahors, France.
Tasting Profile and Pairings
In general, Malbec is characterized by the deep coloring of the wine which it produces. This translates over to a flavor profile that is also distinctly deep, although there are noticeable differences between the two best-known Malbec wines; France and Argentina. This is not surprising, as these regions have much different growing conditions and differences in the grapes themselves as discussed above. French Malbec is medium to full-bodied, dark purple in color, and much higher in tannins, leading to a drier, inkier wine with aromas ranging from tobacco to raisin. Compared to a Cabernet Sauvignon, however, the tannins in these wines are much lower and therefore can be paired with leaner red meat. French Malbec can stand-up against bold spices as that which is found in Mexican, Cajun, Thai, or Indian preparations. In the cold months of winter where comfort food is king, try a nice dry French Malbec with hearty beef stew!
Argentinian Malbec is much more fruit-forward and with a plusher, juicier taste. This can be attributed to the warmer climate which brings out the sugar and fruit in the grapes. These wines have significantly less acidity and instead are characterized by dark and sweeter fruit notes such as plum and black cherry. Argentinian Malbec is publicized as easy drinking, well-rounded and with plenty of fruit, and can still be paired with plenty of red meat. A blue cheese burger is a budget-friendly and easy meal that can amplify the slightly-lighter body of Mendoza Malbec and bring out the dark fruit. For a more formal occasion, try roasted lamb with mint.
Try this Recipe with Malbec on a Cold Winter Night!
Hearty Beef Stew
3 lb. (1.5 kg) boneless beef chuck (trimmed)
4 thick slices Applewood-smoked bacon, chopped
2 Tbs. canola oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 carrots, cut into chunks
3 celery stalks , cut into 1/2-inch (12-mm) lengths
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
6 Tbs. (2 oz./60 g) all-purpose flour
4 cups (32 fl. oz./1 l) beef stock or broth
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme
1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 1/4 lb. (625 g) red-skinned potatoes
Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 325°F (165°C). Cut the beef into 1 1/2-inch (4-cm) cubes and set aside. In a large Dutch oven, cook the bacon in the oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is crisp and browned, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain and set aside. Pour the fat into a heatproof bowl. Return 2 Tbs. of the fat to the pot and heat over medium-high heat. Season the beef cubes with salt and pepper. In batches to avoid crowding, add the beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes per batch. Transfer the beef to a plate.
Add another 2 Tbs. of the fat to the pot and heat over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Stir in the butter and let it melt. Sprinkle with the flour and stir well. Gradually stir in the stock, and then stir in the tomato paste, the 1 Tbs. parsley and the thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. Return the beef to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover, place in the oven, and cook for 1 1/2 hours.
Cut the unpeeled potatoes into 1-inch (2.5-cm) cubes, add them to the pot, stir, re-cover and continue cooking until both the meat and potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes more. Season the stew with salt and pepper. Serve at once, garnished with parsley and the reserved bacon.