For some, Malbec wine is a flavorful glass of wine that’s the perfect complement to a traditional pasta dinner. For others, how to find the best Malbec wine means more than an enjoyable glass–it’s a tradition.

This year marked the 8th year of the now annual Malbec World Day with the fitting theme of ‘elegance doesn’t mean perfection’. While it’s celebrated around the world, in some ways the day honors not only Malbec wine but the Argentine culture in general. In fact, the grape is celebrated as a symbol of Argentina’s values: ‘expressivity, resilience, and identity’.

In the United States, wine tasting and celebrations take place mostly in New York City and Chicago to honor both the wine and culture. Malbec wine is so prized that the day is a global annual celebration is actually supported by Argentina’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

As over the top as it might seem to dedicate an entire day to Malbec wine, it represents, both for Argentina and many other countries around the world, something beautiful and to take pride in.

But if you want to find the best Malbec wine possible, first you need to know a few things about it. Even if you’ve never heard of, or tasted Malbec wine, read on–you may very well fall in love with this signature full bodied red wine too.

And it may just be your new favorite wine variety.

What grapes are used to make Malbec wine?

Malbec wine is produced from the stunning Malbec grapes, which are inky purple and are also used to produce red Bordeaux wine. Malbec wine is made only from Malbec grapes, however, and also exudes a gorgeous deep inky hue that makes it stand apart from some other red wines.

The grape itself has a thick skin and requires both more sunlight and heat than other grape varieties, making it challenging to grow in some climates. Malbec grapes ripen in the middle of planting season, but in order to do so, they most be tended with special care–hence in part why the wine itself represents resilience. The rich hue and signature flavor profile certainly plays into the identity of expressivity and even identity–though the identity question is a bit more complicated than you might imagine.

Does Malbec wine come from Argentina?

Yes and no. Though the national day of recognition is promulgated by Argentina, Malbec wine was not always associated with Argentina. As it happens, Malbec wine has a bit of a more complicated history.

In fact, in the past, Malbec wine was known as a French wine. The Malbec grape itself was originally grown in the French region of Cahors but instead of Malbec wine, it was used as a grape for different wine blends.

Malbec grapes started being grown in Argentina during the 19 century, when Argentine winemakers were given advice by Michel Pouget, a French agronomist that the grape could be used to improve wine blends.

First planted in the area of Mendoza, Malbec grapes succeeded at a scale they had not in France–while in France the grapes can easily spoil, the Argentine climate is more suited to the delicate Malbec grape. But though Malbec wine was produced in Argentina for many decades, it failed to gain global traction.

When and how did Malbec wine become popular?

Malbec wine first rose in popularity long after it was first brought to Argentina in 1852. While production of Malbec grapes declined severely in France due to climate hardships and rot, Malbec grapes and wine continued to be produced in Argentina, where a local culture had already started to develop around the signature red wine.

By 1900, it had spread, or at least started in Australia and over time, grew in popularity, though it was not until the 2000’s that Malbec specifically became more recognizable.

Even in Argentina regions, Malbec had a rough period: during the 1980’s, Malbec production was greatly depleted due to the ‘vine pull’ program, but it has since recovered.

Today Malbec wine can be found in France, Argentina, South America, Australia, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and even the United States–showing just how much its popularity has risen in a relatively short period of time.

Where does most Malbec wine come from?

While it’s true Malbec grapes are grown in more locations and wine is produced around the world, France and Argentina remain the key producers of Malbec wine, with Argentina accounting for over seventy five percent of the wine produced and boasting eighty thousand acres devoted to growing the Malbec grape.

The second largest producer of Malbec wine is the Cahors region of France, which produces about eleven percent of all Malbert wine and devotes fifteen thousand acres to the grape.

What are some of the common characteristics of Malbec wine?

Malbec wine is considered a full bodied, red wine with a deep, inky purple hue and pleasant aroma. It has a high level of acidity, moderately high alcohol content, and medium levels of tannin. Tannin refers to refers to the combination of three characteristics of wine:

  • Dryness- How dry a wine is refers to how much sweetness or sugars is left; the more dry the wine, the less sweet notes.
  • Bitterness
  • Astringency-refers to the amount of ‘puckering’ reaction you get upon consuming the wine

A wine with high tannin tends to age well, is associated with full bodied red wines, and tends to have more bitterness and astringency, making for a slightly sharper effect. However, Malbec actually has lower levels of tannin than many other red wines, making it still flavorful but slightly softer.

What is the flavor profile of Malbec wine?

As it so happens, the flavors in Malbec wine complement the medium level of tannins quite well, balancing out more bitter notes with sweeter, fruity flavors. Red plum, blackberry, vanilla, and just a touch of cocoa are the main notes, with touches of black cherry and raspberry.

It is known to have a shorter finish than some wines, meaning that the flavors will not linger quite as long.

See some Malbec comparisons here:

What does Malbec wine pair best with?

Malbec wine pairs best with lean meats like sirloin, flank steak, and skirt steak as well as even chicken, lamb and pork. Don Miguel Gascon, an Argentina wine company that produces Malbec, suggests the following fine dinner pairings:

  • Prime rib may be a fattier meat, but here it works because the textures of the rib complement the bolder flavors of the wine.
  • Flank steak can be served either gaucho-style( a form of barbecue popularized in Argentina where meat is cooked over wood embers or coals) or over an open top grill; smoky notes marry the different flavors with the complex notes of the Malbec wine.
  • Slow cooked pulled pork should be prepared over many hours for the best results then smothered in zesty barbecue sauce; the tangy notes play well with the richness of Malbec.

If you don’t eat meat, Malbec also pairs well with substantial vegetables stews. Chorizo and meal are also commonly consumed with Malbec wine.

Is Malbec wine expensive?

You’ll be pleased to learn that Malbec wine is not considered very expensive; on average it’s a rather affordable wine compared to some other red wine varieties. In fact, much of the best Malbec wine can be found at under one hundred, or even fifty dollars a bottle.

How do you find the best Malbec wine?

Now that you know the characteristics of Malbec wine, it’s easier to identify what you’re looking for –but finding the best Malbec wine can still be rather tricky. Here’s what you need to look for.

Don’t get too caught up on the region.

While different growing regions can produce different results, you don’t have to have an Argentine Malbec to have a quality one. Now many regions are able to grow Malbec grapes much for efficiently than was the case in the past.

Do look at the origin, though.

You want to make sure you’re getting, however authentic Malbec wine. Make sure it’s only made from Malbec grapes, and make sure that it comes from a single source.

Look for aged wine, and look at how it was aged.

While not all wines improve with age, red wines like Malbec too. If possible, look for a wine that also states how it was aged; for example, some bottles will mention that the wine was wood aged, which adds a new perfumed note and increases complexity.

Focus on the flavor notes.

Read the label and see what flavor notes are mentioned. Blackberries, dark cherries, raspberries, and cocoa notes are signs you’re getting the best Malbec wine. Allow for some variation, though and select based upon what flavor notes you tend to prefer.

Note the color (of the wine and the bottle).

If possible, find out what hue the wine will be. The best Malbec wine should be a rich, almost inky purple violet, a darker hue than many other red wines. Also opt for wine in a dark colored bottle, which helps protect against UV rays.

Is it a second label or first label?

First label wine indicates that the wine was produced grapes are at the very best and most mature, while second label wine tends to include the grapes left over after the first harvest. However, second label wines are still held to certain quality standards and do come at a much cheaper price. While some experts may suggest you opt for second label wine in order save money, Malbec is affordable enough of a wine that we recommend you opt for the first label as much as you possibly can.

What altitude was it grown in?

Although not true for all wines, what altitude the grapes were grown in may impact the quality of Malbec wine, because Malbec grapes thrive in higher altitudes.

Look for complex aroma, with a balance of fruits and either vanilla or cocoa.

To get the most of your Malbec wine, search for wine that is labeled as an aromatic blend of fruits and either vanilla or cocoa for a more complex finish.

Alcohol content.

The best Malbec wine hovers around fourteen percent alcohol. The best Malbec wine hovers around fourteen percent alcohol.

If you want classic flavor, opt for a classic growing region.

We know we initially said not to stress too much about the region, aside from flavor variations, but if you want a tried and true Malbec, opt for Malbec that was grown either in Cahors, France or in Argentina.

Price point.

Just how much you should spend on Malbec is, as you might imagine, a bit complex. It depends in part on your budget and what features you’re looking for. Since Malbec is a fairly affordable wine, there isn’t a specific reason to spend on the most expensive bottle you can find. In fact, spending in the range of twenty to fifty dollars will score you a very good experience. Here is a pricing index as suggested by Wine Folly:

Just how much you should spend on Malbec is, as you might imagine, a bit complex. It depends in part on your budget and what features you’re looking for. Since Malbec is a fairly affordable wine, there isn’t a specific reason to spend on the most expensive bottle you can find. In fact, spending in the range of twenty to fifty dollars will score you a very good experience. Here is a pricing index as suggested by Wine Folly:

As you can see, spending anywhere from ten to fifty dollars per bottle is the sweet spot to a decent or even great bottle of Malbec–though do note this model and price comparison is based on 2016 results so you’ll need to raise your price point by maybe as much as a dollar or so.

How can I get started? Do you have any suggestions for some of the best Malbec wine?

Malbec wine is abundant enough that you’d be hard-pressed to label a single bottle the very best. For our purposes, the Malbec wine that makes our best list have good overall value: they are under one hundred dollars and exhibit some of the finest qualities of Malbec wine; plus they earn a high review from experts and/or consumers.

Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec:

This Malbec wine comes from the high altitude Gualtallary wine region of Argentina. It’s considered a ‘bold and structured’ wine and averages around one hundred dollars a bottle though it may be hard to find unless you ship internationally. In 2013, it was given a Gold award for Wines of Argentina While originally meant exclusively for the Argentine market, there are now like varieties that are sold around the world. It has a deep purple hue with blackish notes and the aroma of dark berries with interplays of cocoa and vanilla. Red currant, eucalyptus, and black pepper add complexity as you drink. It also has a longer finish than other Malbec wines.

Luigi Bosca Single Vineyard Malbec DOC Lujan de Cuyo:

This Malbec wine adds some spice and savory notes the complement the richness and full body finish of the best Malbec wine. Originating in Mendoza, Argentina, it’s rich, intense, and pairs well with venison and beef. Sandalwood, peppercorn, and flowers play with the traditional berry and plum notes.

Georges Vigouroux Chateau de Mercues Cuvée Malbec:

This French Malbec wine comes from Cahors and is newer (2015) but an excellent pick with the signature dark inky hue of Argentine wines and lighter notes to lift the floral aromas for a playful glass. Citrus, violet, vanilla and cocoa play with soft earth tones, as well as splashes of milky touches for a milder and still complex experience.

Chateau du Cedre GC Grande Cuvee:

Also from the Cahors growing region of France, this Malbec wine is a classic in many ways, offering the bold deep flavor and the level of complexity of different notes you’d expect, with less distinct twists but a price point that averages under seventy dollars a bottle. It’s won numerous awards, including a Silver for Decanter World Wine Awards, and its based in the location where Malbec grapes were first grown.

Phebus Malbec Patagonia Reserva:

If you’re looking for a wine that’s under twenty dollars and still reflects some of the better qualities of Malbec, this is one of your best bets. Tannins are more soft for a smoother finish, and the ripe berry notes are balanced with hints of mushroom and just a touch of spice for a balanced glass. This wine also comes from the Mendoza region of Argentina.

2015 Alamos Malbec:

Our final pick is also a budget option, and also features a softer, smoother finish. This Malbec wine also combines syrah and bonarda for a pleasant blend of vanilla, black cherry, plum, and just a touch of smoke; you can purchase a bottle for under twenty dollars.

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