Malbec – thin skinned black grape variety. Synonyms include Cot, Cot Noir and Auxerrois. It is suited to dry warm climates, can handle some time in American and French oak and typical flavour characteristics include damsons, raisins, liquorice and a lifted violet perfume.
Argentina has put Malbec firmly back on the map and almost all red wine drinkers are familiar with its deep purple wines that are wonderfully fragrant, juicy, full on the palate and loaded with flavours that remind of ripe damsons. What some people don’t know is that Malbec’s birthplace is France and it was once used as a blending component in the great wines of Bordeaux! It was never a huge player, with most estates’ vineyard plantings accounting for around 10%, but its soft juicy nature and ripe tannins rounded the wines, added colour and helped lift the aromatics. It is no longer used in Bordeaux being replaced by the earlier ripening and more manageable Merlot, after the devastating frost in the 1950s. Further south in Cahors, although the damage caused by the frost was as severe as in Bordeaux, vineyards were replanted with Malbec and still account for over 70% of the region’s plantings. Sadly the wines don’t command a huge following but at their best can provide some top-class drinking.
Argentina’s success with Malbec on the international wine market has led to increased plantings around the world. More producers are keen to show they can turn their hand to crafting great wines from this ever popular varietal. You can now tap into some excellent examples from Chile, there are some old plantings in Oz and a handful of newer sites so expect to see these more readily available, (as single varietals and in blends) but most exciting for us is what’s going on in South Africa. Our close working relationship with Graham Knox and winemaking champ Nico Vermeulen has put us ahead of the game here and we’ve started identifying small plots of Malbec and flying it solo! Our first release, Unity Vineyards High Plains Malbec 2010, has been well received and we hope to just keep making it better and better over the coming vintages as the vines age and deliver grapes with a higher concentration and the resulting wines’ flavours intensify.
The future for Malbec looks bright. With more vineyard plantings coming online from a number of old and newer regions we’ll get to follow as the flavour profile of each is honed and developed. Argentina is currently at the top of the stack but the gap will close up pretty swiftly I’m sure and with the increased publicity hopefully a few more wine drinkers will give the wines of Cahors a go, especially if they haven’t as yet!
We’ve got a great range of single varietal Malbecs and some cracking blends, which I’m sure will only increase in time, but for the moment there’s plenty to get stuck into at pretty much all price points – enjoy all, I do!