Originally from south-west France, where it’s known as côt, malbec is used to make the famous ‘black wine’ of the Cahors region – so called because of its dense, inky colour. It’s been a regular import to the UK since the 13th century. Traditionally tough and very tannic when drunk young, these wines are best left to age for a few years to soften up but these days there are plenty of French malbecs made in lighter, more approachable styles.
However, Argentina is the real star of the modern malbec story – particularly high up in the Andes mountains in the province of Mendoza, where the climate really suits this tricky grape. This is where most malbecs on our shelves come from and they tend to have a brighter, more exuberant quality than traditional Cahors côts, as well as more supple tannins and a pleasing, velvety mouthfeel. Although they are often weighty in alcohol – 14% ABV or thereabouts – their generally high acidity gives balance and freshness.
Steak, practically Argentina’s national dish, is usually the go-to food match, although any robust, meaty food is a safe bet – think pulled pork with a sticky sauce, or a perhaps a sausage casserole – and they’re one of my favourite things to drink with lasagne or a spag bol. When it comes to veggie choices, aubergines have a natural affinity with malbec, particularly when baked with a tomato-based sauce, or try earthy lentils with roasted root veg.
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Malbec wines to buy
Tesco Finest The Trilogy Malbec
This is made by Bodega Catena Zapata, the oldest winery still in family hands in Argentina, now headed by the inspirational fourth-generation vintner Laura Catena. From high-altitude vineyards in the Mendoza region, it’s concentrated but elegant, with layers of ripe black fruit, chocolate, pepper and a little vanilla from its gentle ageing in oak barrels.
Touraine Côt-Malbec Domaine Guénault 2022
Although Cahors is malbec’s spiritual home in France, the Loire valley also grows it very well, particularly in the Touraine region, better known for its zingy sauvignon blancs. This modern, unoaked malbec is prettily fragrant and very juicy, with soft, pure fruit and a lovely silky texture.
M&S Collection Tradición Susana Balbo Malbec
Susana Balbo is another of Argentina’s pioneering women of wine. She was the country’s first female winemaker and now runs her winery along with her two children. This weighs in at a punchy 14.5% ABV but wears it with aplomb – plush plum and damson fruit with some warming spice, lifted with a lick of mineral freshness on the finish. Great value for this class of wine.
This is a great way to use up any port left over after Christmas, and it also works with red wine. It’s a riff on the deeply unfashionable port and lemon, a drink rarely seen since the 1970s. Just pour 75ml of port over ice in a tall glass, top up with ginger beer and squeeze in a slice of orange. A dash of brandy will add a warming hit.
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