Argentina’s most important variety came by way of France, where it’s commonly called Côt (sounds like “coat”). Wines are loved for their rich, dark fruit flavors and smooth chocolatey finish.
- Full Body
- Medium Tannin
- Medium-Low Acidity
- 13.5–15% ABV
Unlike Cabernet, Malbec doesn't have a long finish, making it a great choice with leaner red meats (ostrich anyone?) and does wonders with melted blue cheese.
Fun Facts About Malbec
- Malbec loves the sun. Sunshine helps Malbec produce thick skins and high color pigment (anthocyanin).
- Argentina “saved” Malbec. Before Argentina took on Malbec, it was just a minor grape in South-West France. Today, Malbec makes up three quarters of Argentina’s vineyards and is spread throughout the world.
- Blind tasting clue! One of Malbec’s classic “tells” in blind tasting is its bright magenta rim and opaque purple color.
- The higher the better. Malbec struggles to maintain acidity in lower elevations but does fabulously in higher elevation spots where there is a large diurnal temperature shift (cold nights and sunny days).
- Malbec is a team player. Single-varietal Malbec wines are tasty, but be sure to try a Malbec blend with Cabernet Sauvignon. Malbec is a blending grape in Red Bordeaux Blends.
- Mark your calendars! World Malbec Day is April 17th (add wine days to your calendar – iCal link)
- Less oak than you might think. Malbec is so fruity and smooth, it often doesn’t need as much oak-aging. Affordable Malbec wines may only get 4–6 months in oak whereas, top-shelf Malbec get as much as 18–20 months in oak.
How Much Should I Spend?
There are essentially three unofficial quality tiers of Malbec from Argentina based on price. Here’s what we’ve observed:
- $12–$20 Good Introductory Wines. Entry level wines, which are usually produced in large quantities, tend to focus on Malbec’s smooth, juicy-fruity style without much oak. (oak costs money!)
- $20–$50 Great. This is what you should expect to spend for higher-end reserva, or select vineyard wines from high-quality producers of all sizes. Extended aging (in tank or oak), brings out rich chocolatey flavors and velvety textures.
- $50–$250 Exceptional. The icon producers in Agrelo and Uco Valley charge well above $100 a bottle, but you can find top-quality Malbec for around $50 from lesser-known producers. When you compare that to the icon wines of Burgundy – which start at $250,– Malbec offers incredible quality for the price.
Hunting For Quality?
Here’s what to look for when seeking out high quality Malbec wine:
Manual Harvested: Great wines are almost always hand-harvested. While mechanized harvesters continue to improve, there is still no comparable substitute for a delicate hand and a choosy set of eyes.
Extended Aging: Good Malbec can handle cellar aging. Typically, the more time a wine spends in the cellar, the higher investment the winery is making into giving the wine ample time to develop before it hits the market. It’s not uncommon to see quality Malbec wines age for 15–24 months prior to release (regardless of whether it’s oaked or neutral oak/tank-aged).
Tech Notes: Acidity (sourness) is usually between 5–7 g/L and pH ranges from 3.65–3.75 in the top-rated wines we found tech sheets on. Also, residual sugar is little to none (less than 1 g/L).
Region Specific: The Uco Valley and Luján de Cuyo in Mendoza consistently produce top-rated Malbec wines. Outside of Argentina, look to Cahors, France and Walla Walla on the Oregon / Washington border.
A Lil’ Malbec Wine History
Malbec, which is also called Côt (“coat”) or “Auxxerois,” comes from Sud-Ouest, France. The thick-skinned grape was a natural cross of two esoteric varieties: Prunelard from Gaillac and Magdeleine des Charentes from Montpellier (the mother of Merlot!).
Malbec is an important blending grape in Bordeaux but, because of its poor resistance to fungal diseases and pests, it never surfaced as a top grape.
The grape really didn’t rise to fame until it was brought into Mendoza, Argentina. It was first planted by a nostalgic French botanist in 1868 who hoped to improve wine quality in the region. Today, it’s now Argentina’s most important grape.
Get The Book
Your visual guide to the world of wine. Wine Folly: Magnum Edition is the perfect companion on your adventure into wine. Now, with over 2x the content of the first, best-selling edition.