Saturday, 9 June 2012

Malbec - A Secondary Grape

Shelly Medernach, one of my many favorite cousins, recently gave me the great pleasure to be able to pontificate on my favorite subject - wine.  She asked about the Malbec grape and I was ready to help as much as I could!  While not knowing much about the grape, I was surprised that over time, I had picked up some knowledge which I was glad to share.

Malbec is considered in a group of secondary (according to how much is drunk, not an appreciation for the quality of the grape) red grapes with Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Shiraz being the 4 grapes in the primary red grape category. Malbec joins Grenache, Carmenere (mostly from Chile), Barbera, Tempranillo, Cabernet Franc, and a few others in what are known as 'secondary' wine grapes. This does not necessarily mean they are secondary in taste, but just wine sales.  Some of these grapes if grown properly and by themselves or in blends can provide some truly outstanding wines and that is true of Malbec as well as the others.

Malbec grows best in Argentinian soil, followed by Chile and then some spots in Europe and Australia. It is such a heavy grape with big tannins that it is usually blended with some other grapes such as Merlot or Cabernet Franc and provides some great blend combinations. I have had a few bottles of 100% Malbec and loved it, but you need to be careful not to drink too much as it is bigger, heavier and has more tannins than most grapes. If you love big robust Shiraz wines you will probably like a bottle of 100% Malbec.

It is almost grainy because there is so much tannin in it. Tannin is what is in tea that makes you suck in your cheeks a bit and provides texture to the wine (or tea). I love big tannin wines if they have been fully integrated to the wine (which takes years) so it must be well aged to smoothen the wine out and take the grainy edge off the wine. However if aged and cellared properly for 5 - 10 - 25 years, tannin is what gives some of the great red wines their structure and complexity.

Therefore, I would not drink a newly bottled Malbec, but would once it has 4 - 5 years or more of age into it. And you may want to try a blend instead of a 100% Malbec.

I think it is a great grape, when selectively used and from the greatest regions, such as Argentina. The grape is also very sensitive to its 'terrior' (the influence of the land, soil, weather, and growing conditions around it) similar to Pinot Noir. That is why some Pinot Noir and Melbecs can be truly great from one region and not from another region, and great one year and not the next. Both grapes are very sensitive and are influenced more than Riesling or Semillon which typically are more consistent, at least within region or from year to year.

The Malbec is very fruity, but can taste leathery, a bit smoky and spicy - a bit like black pepper, but these are all flavors in small quantities that give the grape great depth and flavor. If you like a Hunter Valley Shiraz (unfortunately you have probably not have had any if you are reading this from the US), or if you like any robust Shiraz, you will probably like Malbec, or at least a Malbec blend.  Give it a try!

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