Saturday is World Malbec Day so what better time to put a spotlight on versions that are available on most High Streets.
Around 90% of the world’s malbec production is in Argentina or France with the former outnumbering France by 3:1.
Consequently, today’s focus is on Argentina, but our friends over the Channel do get a look in at the end.
While the variety actually originates in France, difficulties in ripening it and its propensity to disease and frost damage has reduced its popularity and usefulness there, apart from in an area around Cahors.
However, because it needs regular sunshine and warm weather, malbec is well suited to life Argentina and has now been produced there for just over 150 years.
Increasingly, though, the best versions are emerging from that country’s higher altitudes where conditions differ appreciably from flatter, hotter and drier regions.
On the palate – and speaking generally – malbec sits in the middle of the fruit flavour range (offering cherry and red plum elements) but it can tend either way from there.
Some versions lean towards softer fruits like raspberry while others bear a greater resemblance to more robust fare like damson and blackberry.
Chocolate and spice elements like clove and cinnamon often appear in the background.
So, let’s take a look at a handful of versions that I can firmly recommend.
As ever, hyperlinks and pictures should help you find – or, indeed, buy – these wines.
We’ll start the review with three impressive versions that all win my Seal of Approval accolade as dependable well-made malbecs that represent good value for money.
Starting with the latest harvest
Reports from Argentina suggest that the 2020 malbecs will have especially intense flavours and today’s sole representative from that vintage seems to confirm that view.
Argentina's hot, dry summer created high quality fruit for the 2020 vintage – although volumes may be down – and allowed early ripening (and, hence, an early harvest that avoided the more rigid Covid restrictions that came later).
Floral and dark in colour, 2020 Morrisons Best Malbec (£6.50 instead of £7.75 until 4 May – at Morrisons and 14% abv) brings us obviously youthful but concentrated raspberry and plum flavours with good acidity, limited tannin and supplementary touches of graphite, eucalyptus and a clove centred richness.
From a slightly different region
Central Mendoza remains Argentina’s principal wine producing area but, just to its north, lies San Juan (home to this particular wine) where determined growers are pushing up quality levels – despite the challenges of a lower altitude and higher temperatures than other parts.
See one result of their endeavours with the soft and mellow, 2019 Extra Special Malbec (£6 at Asda and 13.5%) that contains medium bodied loganberry and red plum flavours supported by controlled acidity but little tannin yet attractive hints of chocolate and cinnamon.
And a bargain price
Today’s most keenly priced recommended malbec may not be available for that much longer because I hear suggestions that Aldi has a “Specially Selected” Uco Valley version from the 2020 harvest (priced at £5.79) may be waiting in the wings
With a savoury “nose” and good depth though, 2019 Buenas Vides Argentinian Malbec (£4.99 is, I am told, the in-store price at Aldi and 13.5%) offers concentrated damson and mulberry flavours embellished by firm tannin but modest acidity and with concluding baking spice, cocoa and herb influences.
Then comes my Runner-up.
Often substantial texture and a depth of flavour go hand in hand in wines so I was impressed to see this version that adroitly wraps smooth and concentrated dark fruit flavours in a texture that is lighter in body than you would otherwise expect.
Tasty and long, 2019 Beefsteak Club Malbec (£6 – instead of £7 until 4 May – at Sainsbury’s, although other retailers may have it, and 13.5%) delivers smooth plum and blackberry flavours in a medium bodied caramel depth that also incorporates firm, fine tannin and evolving acidity.
Finally, my Star Buy
Go north east from San Juan and you encounter another well-known wine region, La Rioja, where the Famatina Valley is noted for the quality of the wines (like this Fairtrade version) produced on its higher, more windswept, terrain.
What I especially liked about this wine was the integration at work here; slightly firm tannin is kept in check by the pronounced (and smooth) fruit components while an extra dash of acidity keeps everything lively too.
Juicy, aromatic and dark in colour, 2019 Irresistible Fairtrade Organic Malbec (£7.50 at the Co-op and 13%) provides us with smooth, black cherry and bramble flavours, nippy acidity, discernible but proportionate tannin and a background that combines cinnamon and cola elements.
And for variations on the theme
As we have already discussed, malbec originated in France before its rise to fame in Argentina and versions from the two countries do differ with French ones being earthier, meatier, slightly more rustic with more obvious tannin and oak influences.
Different, as I say, but certainly not inferior.
For instance, Languedoc’s 2019 Pierre Jaurant Pays d’Oc Malbec (£5.99 at Aldi and 13.5%) is deeper and more savoury than most South American versions and has rich elderberry and prune flavours with firm tannin but modest acidity and a suspicion of (oak derived) rich chocolate and allspice on the finish.
Catch up again with all this site has to offer on Monday gentle reader to see the latest information on supermarket offers and, of course, the week’s Top Tips among easily accessible wines.
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