Malbec – Been a Long Time

Gosh. When was the last time I drank a Malbec?

Other than a few bottles of Achaval Ferrer, I don’t have any Malbecs in my collection. I never buy Malbec at wine stores, and I don’t see it frequently on wine lists by the glass.

You’d think that I abhor Malbecs, but I actually quite enjoy them!

I’m guessing that there are two reasons for this. First, I don’t eat a lot of beef anymore because my wife doesn’t think it’s healthy. (I love it nonetheless! So I sneak out for a steak from time to time.) Second, because like Aussie Shiraz, mass-market Malbecs can feel pretty formulaic.

So I decided to give Clos d’Argentine’s 2014 Winemarker’s Selection Malbec Reserva. The wine got a 91 from Wine Enthusiast and costs around $15 (I think).

Of course the wine is very dark. I smelled more oak than fruit on the nose, together with an unpleasant aroma of wet cigarette butt that once my brain latched on to I just couldn’t shake. I decided to let the wine sit for a bit, and I’m glad I did.

I am constantly reminded of the importance of letting wine breathe – even for wines that are just five years old like this. During the ‘waking up’ process, nasty smells that have been bouncing around in the bottle waft away, the sometimes vinegar-like acidity fades, primary aromas get into the glass and my overall enjoyment of the wine surges. 

After an hour, the cigarette butt smell was gone, replaced by much preferable dark cherry and tobacco aromas. Still not as fruity as I would like, however, and even a bit sour! Acidity was good though the tannins were hardly noticeable.   

While the ‘breathing’ certainly helped, I wasn’t a big fan of this wine. It felt unbalanced (too much wood) and not enough core, ripe fruit. 

WineKnow Facts:

  • While Malbec is Argentina’s iconic red wine, the grape is indubitably French. In Cahors, it’s known as Cot. (In a wonderful boomerang, Cahors wines are making something of a comeback thanks to Malbec’s global fame!)
  • That said, Argentine Malbec tastes quite different from Cot from Cahors. Much of this comes down to climate and wine-making approaches. But the grapes themselves have different attributes – likely because the original Cot cuttings came to South American in the 1800s, well before the phylloxera epidemic in Europe. Even French winemakers admit (well, some of them do) that the original Cots (now making Malbec in Argentina) are superior for more serious wines.
  • Classic Malbec characteristics: very dark purple, brambly (even gamey) dark fruit, high alcohol, medium-high acidity and medium tannins. Maybe some chocolaty goodness or smokiness on the finish. Wines tend to be big but ‘smooth.’
  • The most comparable grapes to Malbec would be Syrah and Merlot – at least in my mind.