You know you like it, here's why. Plus five bottles you need to try.
Malbec was first cultivated in southwest France by the Romans, who planted vineyards in Bordeaux. More recently, French malbec production has been focused in Cahors, but these days the real hub of malbec production is Argentina.
“Malbec has been grown there since the grape was first brought to the country in the mid-19th century,” explains Phil Crozier, director of wine at the Gaucho steakhouses. “But only now are people coming round to the idea that it’s a world-class wine.
The Argentinian climate lends itself to stunning malbec for two reasons — altitude and latitude,” he says. “The latitude, from north to south, spans an enormous range of temperatures, from very hot to extremely cool. And, as you travel from west to east, the altitude starts very high — with the Andes mountains — and gets progressively lower. This means that it’s possible to drink your way across Argentina and encounter a totally different malbec in each part of the country.”
What’s more, the insatiable rise of malbec shows no signs of slowing. “Demand is only increasing,” says Crozier, “It now accounts for 40 per cent of everything we sell.” Is he surprised? “Not at all! It’s accessible, but it’s complex. Everyone loves a malbec.” Here are Crozier’s five best bottles:
1 Colome Estate 2009
“Salta has the highest vineyards in the world,” says Crozier, on the home of Colomé Estate malbec.“The grapes are farmed at an altitude of 8,500ft, and you get around 320 days of sun a year, meaning the fruit is very mature and the wine more alcoholic.” (£15, agwines.com)
2 Vinalba Gran Reserva 2008/2009
Luján de Cuyo is one of Mendoza’s key winemaking destinations (the Uco Valley being the other — more on which later) and is home to Viñalba Gran Reserva, a malbec that Crozier describes as “bloody exemplar”. He’s not wrong. It’s a hugely aromatic red, with hints of violet, lavender and black pepper.“ This one is fleshy, velvety and soft — it just tastes perfectly ripe,” says Crozier approvingly. (£15, majestic.co.uk)
3 Coleccion NQN 2007
The air is cooler down in Patagonia, and the result is a very grown-up malbec — dark and savoury, with a long finish. “This is straight from the southernmost part of Argentina,” says Crozier. “You get very mineral wines, with pure tannins — elegant, delicate and earthy.” The NQN is not as crowd-pleasing as its Mendozan brethren, but it’s hugely rewarding. (£19, latinwinesonline.com)
4 Urban Uco 2010
“The Uco Valley is a newer winemaking region, south of Mendoza, where the climate isn’t as hot,” says Crozier, “but it’s producing some accomplished malbec.” Urban Uco, from the O Fournier winery, is a great endorsement of the region’s capabilities. The temperature means the grape matures gently, so there’s great purity of fruit — the wine is aromatic and subtle, with slightly sharper tannins. Age it for a few years, then uncork it on a special occasion. (£10, leaandsandeman.co.uk)
5 Pulenta La Flor 2010
In Mendoza, there’s the family-owned Pulenta Estate, which irrigates its vineyards with water straight from the snow-capped Andes. “Mendoza is, for many people, the heart and soul of Argentinian winemaking,” says Crozier. The La Flor 2010 malbec is appealing, with smooth tannins and a tiny hint of spice. Crack open and drink promptly. (£11.50, bbr.com)
Words by Max Olesker