For years, Malbec languished in the shadows, mostly as an uncelebrated blending grape. But as Argentinian winemakers began coaxing the grape into sensuous bottles, French winemakers rediscovered its charms too.
These days, poor, misunderstood Malbec is no longer the under-appreciated, kicked-around grape it was. And now that it's getting the loving care and attention it deserves from winemakers, wine-lovers everywhere are taking notice, especially those who love reds with rich tannins and lush, ripe fruits.
Return to Glory in Cahors
In the past, Malbec was best known as a junior member of the blend in Bordeaux wines, dominated by superstars such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. But when the devastating frosts of 1956 destroyed many acres of Bordeaux Malbec, most vignerons decided to replant with hardier vines. Malbec's been on the run in Bordeaux ever since.
Yet, while Malbec may be on the ropes in Bordeaux, it's positively thriving in the southwestern French appellation of Cahors, where red wines are required by law to contain at least 70 percent Malbec, or as it is sometimes called, Auxerrois. The remaining 30 percent may be made up of soft, lush Merlot and/or fiercely gripping Tannat. But often, Cahors is 100 percent pure Malbec.
Malbec is Delicious When Aged
True to the variety's heritage, Argentinian Malbecs also excel when blended with Bordeaux varieties — so don't shy away from those variations on a Malbec theme. And don't be afraid to cellar them for a few years, either. Aging often coaxes even more pleasure from these blessed bottles. That goes for Cahors, as well.
The Cahors region is steeped in a long tradition of dense and chewy, inky-dark wines. In fact, at one time these wines were widely known as the "black wines of Cahors" because a portion of the wine was boiled in order to concentrate the already deep color and flavor. While the very thought of this might cause modern winemakers to cry in their Chianti, back then these wines were held in even higher esteem than Bordeaux itself.
Throughout Cahors' history, its winegrowers have clung steadfastly to Malbec. In fact, when those same killing frosts of 1956 hit Cahors, winegrowers never flinched, loyally replanting with their most beloved variety.
Today, the quality of Cahors wines is on the upswing, and there's never been a better time to try them. The foremost features of Cahors' proud tradition remain firmly entrenched — namely, a penchant for deep flavor and sumptuous richness — while modern vineyard and winery techniques round out the old formula with heightened complexity and finesse. And . . . no more boiling!
For a great many connoisseurs, Argentina produces the finest examples of Malbec found anywhere on the planet. Experts often point to Argentina's unique climate as an indispensable element of this magical collaboration. There's a special combination of high altitude and warm, sunny days moderated by cool, crisp nights, which vastly extends the number of growing days before the grapes must be picked.
Finally, if food's on your mind, think beef. Argentinians eat more beef than anyone else, so it should come as no surprise that Malbec's merry mix of ripe, juicy flavors and plush tannins makes it the perfect match for such hearty fare as grilled steaks, roasts and stews.