Malbec grapes may be an unfamiliar to some, but it is gaining attention from wine drinkers. And for good reason, in addition to its remarkable depth and flavor of complexity, malbec makes up some of the best value bottles under $25 in the world.
In the past, malbec was primarily a blending partner, adding its spicy flavor to Bordeaux blends. But today it is being made into incredible single-varietal wines.
Although malbec is traditionally a French grape, Argentina is the country to credit for bringing this grape to the world’s attention.
Malbec’s transformation from French blending grape to the signature wine of Argentina began in the mid-19th-century when French agronomist Michel Pouget planted the first malbec vines — at the request of future Argentine president Domingo Faustina Sarmiento and Mendoza governor Pascual Pedro Segura. In the hot, high elevation of Mendoza malbec thrived, with none of its past weaknesses of disease and rot susceptibility that plagued it in French regions.
Mendoza sits on a high flat plain next to the Andes Mountains. This location near the mountains acts as a rain shadow, giving the area an average annual rainfall of fewer than 10 inches. Melting snow from the Andes feeds a unique and vast network of irrigation channels. The dry sunny climate allows the grapes a near ideal growing climate and flat land makes for a less costly mechanization of vineyard practices and harvesting for producers.
Malbec’s most significant characteristic is its intense dark color. Its aromas evoke cherries, strawberries or plums and sometimes cooked fruit — depending on when the grapes were harvested. Its taste is soft with nonaggressive tannin structure. When it is aged in oak it develops coffee, vanilla and chocolate aromas.
- 2015 Pascual Toso Malbec, Argentina (about $13 retail)
- 2015 King Mendoza Malbec, Argentina (about $13 retail)
- 2015 Llama Old Vine Malbec, Argentina (about $15 retail)
- 2015 Bodega Norton Malbec, Argentina (about $11 retail)
- 2015 Don Miguel Gascon Malbec, Argentina (about $15 retail)
- 2015 Felino Malbec, Argentina (about $23 retail)
- 2015 Antigal Uno Malbec, Argentina (about $18 retail)
- 2015 Corazon del Sol Malbec, Argentina (about $25 retail)
- 2014 Swinto Old Vine Malbec, Argentina (about $40 retail)
If you’re a regular reader of Uncorked, you know of my love for the magnificent rose. And perhaps it is because I frequently profess my feelings that many have questioned my love of rose, wanting to know why I love dry rose so much. I generally will answer much like many of my past columns on the subject: It tastes great, is a versatile wine and matches well with almost all foods. But this past week when asked, I had a slow pause before answering and simply replied: because I live in the South and it’s hot.
A refreshing glass of chilled rose wine with its array of vibrant flavors is the perfect answer to what wine to drink on a hot day. In the past there were generally only a few styles on most retail store shelves (mostly very sweet styles), but today a whole range of rose is available in local shops with some stores having entire sections devoted to rose wines.
As with any style of wine there are different types based on the grape variety used in production. Rose wines range in color from light pink to a deep salmon. But based on the grape used for production, the styles can have many different tastes, some similar and others distinctly different.
Malbec red wine is growing in popularity as more consumers become familiar with it. The same can be said of malbec rose. When creating a rose wine the winemaker will let the juice soak on the skins of the red grapes for a very short time. The malbec grape is known for its juicy powerful skin and the rose styles reflect this with a fuller body and with tannic structure more so than other roses. A malbec rose is a crowd-pleaser, easy to drink and pairs with most proteins traditionally only thought to match with red wines.
- 2014 Domaine Bousquet, Argentina (about $9 retail)
- 2014 Calcu Rose, Chile (about $15 retail)
Pinot Noir is a finicky grape to grow; it is very sensitive to a region’s climate, soil and overall location. But this finickiness is also why we love the unique qualities of pinot noir with its elegant and powerful flavors when produced as a red wine. When a winemaker chooses to turn the grape into a rose, it showcases the same unique qualities and divine tastes. The flavors of this rose are usually cherry, raspberry, spice and bright berries.
- 2014 Elk Cove Pinot Noir Rose, Oregon (about $17 retail)
- 2014 Calera Pinot Noir Rose, California (about $25 retail)
Grenache, also known as Garnacha in Spain, is ideal for producing rose wines because of its low tannin and acidity. It almost always shows flavors of strawberry, raspberry, watermelon and sometimes lemonade.
- 2014 Penya Rose, France (about $12 retail)
- 2014 Chateau d’Aqueria Tavel, France (about $24 retail)
The wine world is full of many magnificent red grapes beyond the well known and popular. Just because hundreds of bottles of cabernet sauvignon and merlot line the retail shelves doesn’t mean other red grapes are inferior in flavor and quality. These “other” grapes are often hidden away in blends or from regions that don’t use a grape’s name on the label. But there’s no need to drink the same kind of wine day after day. Enjoy the classics but dare to explore the different.
Barbera for centuries has played second fiddle to the more famous Italian grape, Barolo. Barbera grows throughout Italy, but it is in the vineyards of Piedmont that for centuries the most concentrated and complex examples of this grape have been grown. Today, the grape has extended well beyond its deep-rooted history into California, Australia and Argentina.
Barbera can be fresh and fruity with cherry flavors or made in a serious, full-bodied style with a plummy spice taste. And as with most Italian grapes, its high acid and soft tannins make it an almost perfect match with many foods.
- 2007 Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti, Italy (about $15 retail)
- 2007 Renwood Barbera (Amador County), California (about $28 retail)
Originally from Cahors, France, malbec was traditionally used as a blending partner. Following a devastating frost in 1956, it never fully recovered, and most vineyards were replanted with grapes that had become more fashionable, such as merlot. But malbec found a new home in Argentina and Chile not as a blend, but as a thrilling single varietal. Its deep inky red color boasts lush fruit flavors with smooth tannins, making it easy to love. Since most South American wines are undervalued, it makes a tremendous bargain for wine drinkers.
- 2007 Trapiche Malbec, Argentina (about $9 retail)
- 2007 Francis Coppola Malbec, California (about $19 retail)
Cabernet franc is the father of the noble cabernet sauvignon (a cross with sauvignon blanc) but has never received much respect from the wine world. Perhaps it’s because, as with many French wines, consumers just don’t know which specific grapes are in the wine.
Cabernet franc is blended in many of the world’s finest wines — Chateau Cheval-Blanc, Ausone, Belair and Lefeur, to name a few. It’s used in blends to smooth and tame the aggressive and powerful cabernet sauvignon or to add a fragrant lift.
But it’s also mouthwatering on its own in The Loire Valley of France, the gracious home to this grape in Borgueil and Chinon. At its best, cabernet franc has fragrant aromas of black cherry, chocolate and violets and flavors of raspberries.
- 2007 Remy Pannier Chinon Cabernet Franc, France (about $20 retail)
- 2007 Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Franc, California (about $24 retail)