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So which Malbecs are the Best Value?

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 but now reduced to £4.49 in some stores – 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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Comments

14 Comments

Dave Cronin

Nice selection again Brian, who doesn’t like a drop of Malbec ? I find it a very versatile drink and good to pair with lots of dishes not just Steak. I was in Aldi last week and picked up a Argentinian White Malbec for £6.99, not tasted one before. For the money it was very good, still had elements of the Malbec taste along with a floral elegance and freshness and acidity you get from a white wine, something different and definitely worth a try .

Brian Elliott

Thanks for your kind words Dave. I did consider that white Malbec but, to me, it did not quite match the standard of the others but Eddie (see later post) plans to give it a go so let’s see what he thinks.

John M.Laskey

Excellent suggestions Brian.
It may be that not many of your followers mention this but I’d like to say that you do write beautifully in your inimitable style.
Keep ’em coming!

Brian Elliott

Wow! What a fantastic testament! I am glad that the site “hits the spot” for you and really appreciate your taking the time to say what you think. Very many thanks … Brian

Paul Turner

Surprised you did not include the Australian Yellow Tails Malbec sold by Sainsbury’s. This is blended by the Casella Family one of the biggest in Australia. Strangely it is not sold in Australia itself. Tried to get it posted as a birthday present to a son in Melbourne. The Casella family supply Laithewaites on an exclusive basis with their most popular red: Black Stump.

Brian Elliott

Hi Paul and good to hear from you. As you will appreciate there are dozens of examples to choose from so I tend to focus on supermarket own label ranges rather than branded wines but subscribers do appreciate it when someone tells us about another example that they have enjoyed. Thank you doing that. I think many people will be familar with Black Stump and the inky richness it brings to the party.

Eddie Walker

Super critique and a thoroughly enjoyable read and heads-up on what is what is where in Argentina! I’m with Dave and many other people these days who will work through the Malbec card as opposed to still being on the quest for decent claret at under a tenner that so many really struggle with. The prices of Malbecs that by comparison in way of character and quality for well under £10 on the High Street, means we are being treated very well with such choice and diversity of location as well, as you describe. I currently have several bottles of the Trivento Golden Reserve, 2018 on-shelf, that I got for £9 instead of £16 on an Asda double-dip last year. I was ready to open one on Saturday but will instead head to my local Co op and try for your star-buy recommendation. And then when I’m in Aldi next I will have the Pierre Jaurant again because I enjoy old-fashioned rustic, unpretentious French regional wines, try Dave’s white offering as well that may get overlooked a lot of the time, but look forward to the incoming replacement for the Buenas Vides to try out a 2020 version. Thanks agained .. cheers .. Eddie.

Brian Elliott

Hi Eddie and really good, as ever, to hear your thoughts. As you imply, Trivento is also a good option so I will be interested in your thoughts on the Co-op option. That French malbec Jean Claude Mas makes for Aldi seems. to me, to get that style exactly right – even if he is not based in Cahors. Do tell us how you get on with that white Malbec – you will have the casting vote since Dave Cronin and I mildly disagree about it.

JerryW

I will be popping into Aldi this week and will keep an eye out for the white Malbec.
I notice that in my Morrisons the “The Best” Malbec is different to the one you mentioned, it is called Gran Montana and comes from Mendoze. The prices are the same .. no sign of the other. They also have another The Best Gran Montana at £10/bot from the Uco valley. I might buy one of those for comparison purposes ..

Brian Elliott

It is all a bit confusing but, to be fair, all the Morrisons versions I have tried have proved to be pretty sound.

Eddie Walker

It’s me again Brian!
The Co op bottle I got wasn’t the same label as you have up. It’s not from the ”irresistible” range for instance but I suspect in all respects it is exactly the right wine you prescribe! It IS very good, a lot of strong characterful points where Malbec is concerned and a real value buy. It got drunk with food, a well roasted thick pork loin chop with juicy fat and crispy crackling. Then afterwards with Wensleydale and smoked Coverdale cheeses! A joy it was and they gave me a £1 off voucher for a next purchase of anything … that can only be another bottle of this. I am however shying away from the Aldi white Malbec after what has been mentioned here and by others, a slight difference of opinion. I think the jury is out for the time being when warm summer days and quaffing lighter wines outdoors are not here yet in the far north!

Brian Elliott

Glad you have enjoyed that malbec; the Co-op range continues to impress and the fact that their buyers have mostly been there for a while may tell its own story.

JerryW

So .. no white malbec in my Aldi but Morrisons had a vast range of red malbec. Must have been 20 different types .. going to have a comparative tasting, will report back idc!
Morrisons also have a number of interesting Italian white wines on offer at present, Fiano, Falanghina, organic pinot grigio, grillo ..

Brian Elliott

Really like to hear what you conclude Jerry – either on this site or via email. Most of those revived Italian white wine grapes you mention provide attractive, soft wine that is usually well worth a second look.


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