Until recently, the Malbec grape was known primarily as a minor player in French Bordeaux blends. But it is becoming better known as a varietal on its own, with some excellent vintages coming from Argentina, and price points that make them very attractive.
Malbecs are known for their deep purple color, hard tannins, and earthy coarseness, said Al Spoler, co-host of Cellar Notes on WYPR radio. “The adjective ‘rustic’ applies to it very easily,” he said. “It’s wine made by peasants for their own consumption.”
Argentina grows the most Malbec, with the stars coming from the Mendoza region. Exports to the United States were a low priority until the Argentinians saw the popularity of Australian Shiraz, he said. Then they refined their winemaking, stepped up production and increased exports to North America.
Spoler is fond of Malbecs produced by Catena and Weinert, both of which sell for around $22. Perhaps the most successful producer in terms of quality, he said, is Susana Balbo, whose wines are always highly rated by Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate.
Ken Ross, manager at North Charles Fine Wine and Spirits, said Malbecs have been selling especially well during the holidays. “A lot of people are asking for Malbecs,” he said. Softer than Cabernet Sauvignon but with more tannin than Merlot, he said, “They offer good value. You get world-class wine for not a lot of money.”
Ross said he recommends Malbecs to customers who are serving red meat or pork. They also are a good accompaniment to mushroom dishes, he said, because of their meaty flavor.
Among the labels Ross recommends are Punto Final by Bodegas Renacer ($13) and small producer Antonietti, a steal at $12.
“Argentine Malbec is one of the best bets on the liquor store shelves these days,” said Natalie MacLean, a sommelier and editor of a wine newsletter at www.nataliemaclean.com. “It’s both delicious and affordable. It also pairs well with a variety of dishes, from hearty stews to spaghetti and meat balls.”
In addition to beef and pork, Malbec pairs well with lamb, game and bittersweet chocolate, said MacLean.
A very popular value Malbec is the Altos Las Hormigas, at about $10 a bottle. Alamos is another good brand that sells for about $15.