We are surrounded by such a wonderful world of wine–grapes of every conceivable color, consistency, shape, and taste. Yet, unfortunately, many of those grapes go untouched by most, either due to lack of interest or to lack of knowledge. It’s easier to reach for a Merlot than a Tempranillo, more comfortable to grab a Chardonnay than a GewÃ¼rztraminer, and quicker to take a Cabernet Sauvignon than to scrutinize a Malbec.
Explore! Be wild! Take chances! These phrases don’t only apply to life (I’m not sure I even abide by them in life in general…), but to wine. Beginning with this post, I will attempt to raise your awareness, loyal readers, of exciting grape varietals that you probably haven’t heard of, but you should most certainly try. Today, we begin with my favorite of the not-so-popular red grapes: Malbec.
A brief history and overview of the grape: the Malbec grape is a thin skinned grape that needs more sun and heat than either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot to mature. It ripens midseason and it can bring very deep color, ample tannin, and a particular plum-like flavor component to add complexity to red blends. Called Auxerrois or Cot Noir in Cahors (southwest France), called Malbec in Bordeaux, and Pressac in other places, the grape became less popular in Bordeaux after 1956 when frost killed off 75% of the crop. Now, Malbec is most often associated with Argentinian, Chilean, and other South American vineyards, though it remains one of the minor components in Bordeaux blends.
Here’s why I love Malbec wines: they are bold like an old Bordeaux, peppery like a Syrah, and their most distinctive taste is chocolate. Chocolate! Because Malbec is now the major varietal for South American vineyards, it means that bottles of Malbec are cheap for their quality. A mediocre Chilean bottle could be had for less than $10, while a fantastic Argentinian Reserve bottle can be found for under $25. For a comparable level of deep-bodied, fullness-in-the-mouth, velvety texture, I think the next comparable bottle would be a California Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, and we all know how expensive California wines have become–a fantastic bottle could run you upwards of $50-70, if not more.
I simply can’t think of another red wine that packs the deep, complex texture of Bordeaux wines with the chocolate, coffee, and blackcurrant flavors of a Pinot Noir at such an affordable price. My prediction is that Argentinian and Chilean wines will soon go the way of South African and Australian wines in popularity, leading eventually to huge spikes in prices, so I’d recommend getting your hands on some Malbec as soon as you can, and let me know what you think!