While once relatively unknown, malbec wine is now a popular choice that appeals to those seeking an easy-to-drink, full-bodied red wine. A bottle of malbec is an excellent option whether you’re new to wine or a knowledgeable enthusiast. Malbec wines offer straightforward, yet deep, flavor profiles with a moderate level of tannins that excite the palate.
Malbec grapes thrive in Argentina’s climate, which has led to the production of high-quality wines at affordable prices. You can purchase premium malbecs at a $10 to $20 price point that will surprise wine lovers with complex flavors. Malbec wines’ taste profile depends on the region and how ripe the grapes are when picked. Malbec wine characteristics typically include a full-bodied red wine that is almost jammy and tastes like dark fruits such as cherries or blackberries with spice, leather or tobacco notes. Some lower-altitude Argentinian malbecs are more medium-bodied, so if you prefer a less intense wine, you can still find great malbecs that appeal to your tastes.
If you want to know more about malbec wine, we’ve created a comprehensive guide for you to detail the taste, pairings and history of the wine.
What Is Malbec Wine?
Winemakers create malbec wine by using grapes of the same name. What type of wine is malbec? It’s becoming one of the most popular full-bodied reds due to its affordability and versatility. Malbec wines’ colors vary from dark ruby red to bright violet. Malbecs are a reliable choice for those seeking a wine that can pair well with most foods and spices. If you’re having a party, you’ll find most of your guests will enjoy a glass of malbec. It’s a wine loved by the masses! You can typically find high-quality options at lower price points when purchasing a malbec than many other red wines.
Malbec wines serve as great crowd-pleasers because most varieties have moderate tannin levels and are soft on the palate. It’s an approachable wine that most people will enjoy.
What Does Malbec Wine Taste Like?
The characteristics of malbec wines are lush with deep flavors of dark fruits, velvet texture and spice. What is a malbec wine like? Malbec has a moderate level of tannins — more than a pinot noir, but less than a cabernet sauvignon. The tannin levels found in malbec make it an excellent wine to try if you’re new to reds and are looking to ease into the dry mouthfeel tannins provide. It’s not an overpowering wine, and it has a relatively short finish that quickly fades after you swallow.
Malbec Wine Description and Characteristics
The terroir of the land where the grapes grow significantly impacts a malbec wine’s flavor profile. What kind of wine is malbec? It is typically a full-bodied red. You can find more fruit-forward malbecs with fewer tannins from grapes that grow in Argentina’s lower elevations. When malbec grapes grow in the high altitudes of the Andes, they develop thicker skins and become more intense, providing greater complexity and higher tannin levels while also giving cherry, raspberry and floral notes.
French malbecs grow at a much lower altitude, but the limestone present in the ground creates a more tannin-rich wine with earthier tones. You’ll find that most malbecs from France are less jammy than those from Argentina.
Types of Malbec Wine
The wine’s taste varies based on the malbec wine region the grapes come from, due to factors like altitude, temperature, rainfall and sun exposure. The land’s terroir also heavily influences the characteristics of malbec wine. You should expect a malbec from France to taste different than one from Argentina, despite coming from the same grape variety. Malbec grapes also grow in the United States, Chile, South Africa and Australia, to a lesser extent.
There are 100,000 acres of malbec planted globally, and an impressive 75% of the grapes come from Argentina. Argentinian vineyards produce so much malbec because the grape responds well to the country’s climate and altitude.
Argentinian malbec is strong and jammy, with dark fruits like plum, cherry and blackberry at the forefront. You can also taste coffee, chocolate and leather. A sweet tobacco finish will be notable if the wine spends more than 10 months aging in oak.
Most Argentinian malbec comes from the Mendoza region, which is sunny and dry for most of the year. The grapes grow at a high altitude in the Andes. The temperature shifts from hot in the day to cold at night, allowing the grapes to ripen and slowly develop balanced acidity and sugar levels to create a vivid and elegant wine.
The French malbec primarily grows in the southwest town of Cahors, where it’s known as côt noir. Malbec grown in France is savory and tart, different than its often sweeter Argentinian counterpart. Its taste is more leather-forward with notes of black currant, pepper and spices. The French varietal also has higher acidity and typically experiences longer aging periods, resulting in more robust tobacco notes.
French malbecs produced in Cahors benefit from the region’s soil rich with limestone. Calcium found in limestone aids in malbec grapes maintaining acidity longer into the growing cycle, which is evident in the taste as robust coffee, tobacco and spice notes develop.
The malbec is one of only six wines vintners can legally include in Bordeaux blends. French vineyards historically produced malbec to use in blends, but pivoted to creating malbec as a stand-alone wine after Argentinian malbecs saw gains in popularity.
The malbec is a well-known feature of many red blends, such as the French Bordeaux. In Argentina, vineyards blend malbecs with the regional bonarda grape. A malbec-syrah blend is another combination that has gained popularity in recent years.
Some winemakers create rosé wine with malbec grapes. The process of making rosé involves leaving the skins on the grapes for only a short time. With the grape skins removed, the wine won’t absorb malbec’s typical dark purple hues, coming out a light pink color instead. Rosé made from malbec has fewer tannins and is a light, crisp wine.
How Is Malbec Wine Made?
In Argentina, locals organize days where groups gather to harvest the grapes from February to April. The growing season in France is in the warmer months, and the grapes are ready in late summer and early fall. Malbec grapes need to fully ripen on the vine because they won’t continue to ripen after harvesting.
The grapes are ripe and ready for harvest when they are a rich, inky purple color, juicy and plump. Vintners typically harvest grapes by cutting off the stem, not by picking individual grapes.
After harvesting, you can store the grapes for up to six weeks in a dry, dark and cool cellar. Vineyards rarely share their malbec wine recipes. However, winemakers create wine using either the whole stem with clusters of grapes or by removing the stems and only using individual grapes. Adding the stem results in a wine that is richer and higher in tannins.
Next, winemakers add yeast to the grapes to begin the fermentation process, which lasts an average of five to 21 days. Malbec wine gains its signature ruby red color from the grape skins, so the skins remain on the fruit throughout the fermentation process, and winemakers need to keep them submerged because grapes float. They do this by using a tool to push the fruit down or pumping the wine over the top.
Vintners then drain the wine from the fermentation barrels and use a press to squeeze any remaining liquid out of the grapes. After the initial fermentation, a process called malolactic fermentation takes place. A microbe, Oenoccocus oeni, digests the malic acid found in wine and converts it into the gentler lactic acid. This acid conversion leads to red wine having the velvet mouthfeel you may be familiar with.
Winemakers then age the wine in either metal tanks or oak barrels. If aged in oak, the malbec will absorb additional notes of vanilla, clove and smoke. As wine ages, it becomes smoother and less astringent.
After aging, the wine goes through a filtering and clarification process before bottling. Winemakers may choose to have specific malbec varieties continue aging once in the bottle. Now, it’s ready for consumption!
History of Malbec Wine
Malbec grapes originated in France, but failed to thrive in the cooler climate. The thin-skinned black grape is sensitive to frost, mildew, root rot and pests. The malbec requires ideal growing conditions to produce bountiful harvests. French vineyards often disregarded the malbec, instead choosing to focus on grapes that consistently performed well. Malbec grapes were once typical in France’s Bordeaux region, but a severe frost in 1956 killed over 75% of the vines, and vintners chose to plant hardier varietals to replace the dead vines.
The governor of Mendoza, Argentina, commissioned a French botanist named Michel Pouget to develop the Argentinian wine industry. In 1853, Pouget planted several French grape varietals in Argentina, then observed which ones responded best to the country’s climate and terroir. The malbec grew well in the country’s high altitudes, and it’s now the most widely planted grape in Argentina. Pouget’s introduction of malbec to Argentina boosted the country’s economy and helped turn Argentina into one of the world’s largest wine producers.
However, malbec has not always been a trendy wine. In the mid-20th century, Argentina’s economy suffered due to issues with the government. During this economic downturn, many vineyards removed malbec vines and replaced them with cheaper-to-grow grapes to stay afloat. Argentinian wine went through another revival period in the 1990s, when modern malbec wine history begins. The malbec wine produced in the mid-to-late ’90s gained international attention and acclaim.
Argentinian malbec gained access to the American market starting in the early 2000s, and from there, it quickly became a household name. It’s an accessible wine, sporting a low cost and an appealing, straightforward taste.
How to Serve Malbec Wine
You will get the most out of the malbec wine flavor profile by serving it between 59 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit. If you store your wine at room temperature, you can put a bottle of malbec in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to bring the temperature down to its ideal serving point. If your malbec is in a wine cellar or wine fridge, you can serve it directly.
It’s best to serve malbec in a Bordeaux wine glass, a tall glass with a large bowl that narrows toward the top. The shape works to trap the wine’s aroma and flavor to give you the best sensory experience.
Aerating wine isn’t necessary, but if you prefer, you can transfer the malbec from the bottle into a decanter to give it a chance to “breathe” for around an hour. Exposing the wine to air will soften tannins and help bring the fruit flavors forward.
Malbec Red Wine Food Pairings
As a full-bodied red, malbec pairs well with flavorful meals and can stand up against spicy foods, lean red meats, darker poultry, savory cheeses and roasted vegetables. Here, we’ve created a guide that will help you decide how to incorporate a malbec wine pairing with food.
Malbec has a short finish compared to other full-bodied red wines, so it’s well suited to pair with leaner red meats and lighter meats like pork and turkey. Meats that malbec goes well with are:
- Dark-meat poultry like chicken thighs
- Flank and shoulder steaks
- Lamb chops
- London broil steak
- Pork tenderloin
Spice and Herb Pairings
Malbec goes well with many spices and herbs that have an earthy or smoky taste. Some spice and herb pairings are:
- Barbecue sauces and rubs
- Black pepper
- Smoked paprika
Soft to semi-firm and aged or molded cheeses pair well with a malbec. Ideally, the cheese shouldn’t have a long aftertaste because malbecs have a short finish. Some specific cheeses to couple with malbec are:
- Blue cheese
- Monterey Jack
- Strong goat cheeses
Hearty vegetables and starches are ideal for pairing with a malbec. Here are some great vegetarian options:
- Bell peppers
- Brown rice
- Brussels sprouts
- Mushrooms, especially grilled portabella
- Sweet potatoes
- Yukon Gold potatoes
How to Store Malbec Wine
After purchasing some bottles of malbec, there are a few things to consider to ensure it stays fresh until you’re ready to drink it.
1. Ideal Temperature
You should store red wine at a temperature between 54 and 66 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher or lower temperatures can harm the wine, and it may taste differently than intended if stored outside of this range. Household refrigerators operate at too cool a temperature to safely store wine.
Wherever you store your wine, ensure that area does not frequently experience temperature changes. Temperature fluctuations can damage your wine and lead to a deterioration in quality, so it’s vital to maintain a consistent temperature. The cork can expand or contract whenever temperatures swing, leading to air entering the bottle or wine escaping the bottle.
2. Ideal Storage Area
If you don’t have access to a wine cellar or wine cooler, you can keep your bottles in any area of your home that is dark and cool. Many people find it convenient to keep their wine in basements, semi-heated garages or cool closets. The ideal humidity level to store wine is between 60 and 68%. At levels lower than this, the cork can dry out. At higher levels, the labels may start to peel off the bottles, making them hard to identify.
The room must be dark, so the bottles won’t face light exposure, which can cause light strike. This phenomenon occurs when UV rays from the sun penetrate a bottle of wine and cause molecules present in all wines to interact, forming sulfur compounds. We can smell even a minute amount of these sulfur compounds, and it makes the wine taste very off-putting, effectively ruining it. Light strike can happen quickly — it only takes three hours to impact clear bottles and around 18 hours to affect wine in green bottles.
Store wine bottles horizontally, lying on their sides, to keep the corks moist. If the cork dries out, the wine can age poorly and suffer a decrease in quality. Horizontal storage is crucial if you plan on storing your wine for several years.
3. Preserving Malbec Wine’s Lifespan
How long does malbec wine last? Whether you’re opening your new bottles right away or keeping some stored away, it’s essential to know how long your wine will maintain its high-quality taste and texture.
If you’re an aspiring wine collector, malbec is an excellent choice because many varieties can last in storage for up to 20 years. The more full-bodied and robust types, often from France, can easily remain stable for 20 years if you keep the bottles in an ideal temperature and storage area. Sweeter varieties and those with a lower alcohol percentage will retain their quality for at least 10 years. Like those from France, wines with higher tannins will outlast wines with a lower tannin concentration, such as many Argentinian varieties. When complex wines age, subtle notes and flavors will become more prominent with time.
It’s essential to note that most wines you purchase come pre-aged and are ready to drink as soon as you receive them. It shouldn’t be necessary for you to age them yourself, but if you find a wine you love and want to make sure you have plenty in reserve, a malbec will keep well in storage.
After opening a full-bodied red like a malbec, you can expect it to last around four days after opening the bottle with proper storage. It’s vital to recork it as soon as possible after pouring to extend an opened bottle’s shelf life. You can use the original cork or a rubber wine stopper to reseal the bottle. A small piece of waxed paper wrapped around the cork will create a more durable seal and prevent any cork from falling into the wine. You can also transfer the remaining wine into a smaller bottle to reduce the amount of air exposure, which may give you an extra day before it starts to go flat.
Shop for Malbec Wine Online
If you’re looking to experience the diverse malbec wine flavor profile, Marketview Liquor has selections from all the premier malbec growing regions. Malbec is a wine that appeals to the masses because it’s easy to drink, yet complex and exciting to experience. If you’re hosting a dinner party, you’ll find that malbec wine food pairings will elevate the meal.
Browse our vast offerings of malbec online today and have it shipped directly to your front door. At Marketview Liquor, we pride ourselves on offering premium wine from all over the world at affordable prices. Whether you’re looking to enjoy the earthier French malbecs or explore the famed Argentinian varietals that grow high in the mountains, you can find the perfect malbec for any occasion.