6 Things You Should Know About Malbec

Six things you should know about Malbec


The Malbec you love is most likely from Argentina, from the wide stretch of desert at the base of the Andes. It's richly-fruited and gregarious and affordable, so much so that its popularity seems obvious. Fated, even. In just two decades since the country's Malbec production became more export-oriented, Argentine Malbec has entered the American wine drinker's diet with a vengeance. US consumption of the grape has gone up 60% over the past year alone.

Though Americans have only very recently begun to buy bottles of it with any fervor, the Malbec grape has a long, winding history that begins in southwestern France. Carved up by the meandering bends of the Lot River, Cahors -- the birthplace of Malbec -- is equidistant from the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Pyrenees. Established as an AOC in 1971, it was once beloved by kings and tsars for its alluring "Black Wine."

Want more about Malbec?

Stop by the Snooth forums for Malbec recommendations and favorites from fellow wine lovers, or to hear more about Cahors Malbec, including insights from one of the region's top winemakers. 

Getting to Know Malbec

1.) Malbec goes by a stunning variety of names; according to master French ampelographer Pierre Galet, the synonyms used throughout the ages number in the thousands. Still frequently referred to as "Cot" in its birthplace, the grape also goes by Auxerrois, Quercy, Cahors, Pressac, Medoc Noir, Pied Noir, Costa Rosa, Luckens, Magret, and Noir de Pressac.

2.) The "Cahors" grape variety was originally planted by the Romans, in the Lot river valley, nearly 2000 years ago. Legend holds that the emperor even sought (unsuccessfully) to squash the region's production after the wine proved more beloved than the local Italian wines.

3.) The Romans weren't the only ancient civilization to fall in love with French Malbec; in 1225, Henry III decreed that nothing (particularly the egregious taxes from the officials in Bordeaux) was to stand in the way of his shipments of wines from Cahors. In Russia, Peter the Great installed the region's Malbec as the official mass wine of the Orthodox church.

4.) Despite the longstanding tradition of winemaking in Cahors, the region was almost entirely wiped out by Phylloxera in the end of the 19th century. In the following decades, winegrowers replanted the vineyards, only to lose everything again in a devastating freeze in 1956. By 1971 -- the year the region gained AOC status, there were 440 hectares under vine, a number that has since risen to 4,500 hectares. Argentina has over 25,000 hectares in Mendoza alone; the grape is grown in regions stretching across the full length of the nation.

5.) Cahors Malbec has historically been referred to as the "black" wine due to its deep, inky, thoroughly opaque coloring. Made from black grapes that are larger than their Argentine counterpart, the French expression of Malbec typically shows complex aromas of violets, rich, earthly black fruit, very sturdy tannins, and liquorice undertones.

6.) Though Malbec was introduced to Argentina in the late 19th century, the focus on creating higher-quality wine to export began only two decades ago; previously, the vineyards produced very high yields (appoximately 25 tons / hectare), with the juice principally used for jug wine. In recent years, the yield in many vineyards is as low as 5 to 8 tons / hectare.

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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: John Andrews
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    36106 3,448

    I have to admit ... I'm one of the those American consumers that is flocking to Malbec. I do want to try some Cahors as well as look at regions in the US that are doing Malbec well.

    Jun 28, 2010 at 1:40 PM

  • Snooth User: nvansicklen
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    211788 552

    My favorite Malbec is Trapiche. They are fairly priced and brilliant wines.

    Jun 28, 2010 at 2:07 PM

  • Snooth User: Spinazi
    139707 3

    Argentinian Malbecs have become my "go to wine". There are several delicious brands at my local store under $20. If you like something a little more special, you can have a spectacular Malbec for $60-80. Overall, the wines are very approachable and I'm sure that's one important reason why they have gained such widespread appeal. Keep 'em coming!

    Jun 28, 2010 at 2:12 PM

  • Snooth User: Baron Francois
    Hand of Snooth
    93660 9

    Baron Francois Wine and Spirits would recommend you to try Georges Vigouroux’s amazing Malbec from Cahors:

    -Chateau de Haute-Serre 2005: This full-bodied red is filled with concentrated raspberry and dark cherry flavors, with alluring mint and spice notes.
    Elegant and rich on the finish, with dark chocolate and mocha. 100% Malbec

    -Domaine Georges Vigouroux Pigmentum 2007: Powerful aromas on the nose of red and black fruits: raspberry, blackcurrant, blackberry, which continues in the mouth. Ripe tannins are supported by the fruit flavors. 100% Malbec

    - Domaine Georges Vigouroux le Gouleyant 2008 : A full-bodied red that’s backed up with muscular tannins and acidity. Has plenty of dark plum flavors and dusty notes. Finishes with espresso roast. 80% Malbec 20% Merlot

    Jun 28, 2010 at 3:42 PM

  • Snooth User: Gavilan Vineyards
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    517320 40

    Malbec is one of those wonderful rich wines that can barely be found any other place. This varetal has found a new home and perfect growing conditions here in Mendoza.
    It took 20 years for people to recognize the value in this grape. Now I can only hope that Bonarda or Corbeau, as it is called in France, will receive an equal place in history and in the wine drinker's hearts.

    Thanks Carly for this excellent article.

    Jun 28, 2010 at 4:15 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,942

    So where are the tasting notes? I find nine times out of ten that Cahors malbec are more complexly interesting than those from Argentina....

    Jun 28, 2010 at 4:56 PM

  • A very dear Italian friend in NYC as introducded me to Montepulcianao, a Tuscan Rud. In so far as I know ther only two wineries in the entire State of California, that make this varietel. One of them Is Bell Piazza out of Plymouth in the Mohter Lode, and I hae no idea who or where the other is.

    You might pass on some information about this fine Italian Red Wine, I know I would like to learn more. The last time I was at Bella Piazza I purchased of their three remaining cases.

    Oberst Wagner

    Jun 28, 2010 at 5:49 PM

  • Snooth User: vasilek
    458913 26

    My favorites are: Escorihuela Gascon and Terrazas de Los Andes (Reserva).

    Jun 28, 2010 at 6:08 PM

  • Snooth User: yodamon
    134455 45

    This last week I have opened the following Malbecs: Layer Cake, Alamos, Terrazas. All of them good and I would re-purchase again.

    Jun 28, 2010 at 7:22 PM

  • Snooth User: Gavilan Vineyards
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    517320 40

    Alamos is great value. 91Points and can be bought for under $10.

    I have to disagree though with the complexity of the French ones over the Argentinian ones.

    Keep in mind what Carly started out with in the article. The export industry is really just 20 years old. There are still many wineries here that make export wines but have some of the old mentality of table wine left in them.
    Also, most wineries here are self funded. Like ourselves. Take the 2009 wine we made. It started in July 2008 with pruning. In March/April 2009 we harvested, paid for the harvesting, paid for the barrels, paid to make the wine. Kept it in storage for 12 months in those barrels, paid for the bottles, the corks, the bottling. Now we have it in storage in bottles and the earliest we can release this wine is in 2011. So we front money for 3years + before seeing a return. The true age to be best served though is 2013-2018. As such many wineries still cut their wines to be drinkable within 2-4 years. If you want something complex and structured intensely you need to go into the "Reserva" and pay the same prices as the French versions. Unfortunately Argentina is not yet a fully recognized Country as THE best place to grow excellent grapes.
    Word is out though :) All the big wineries from the 'old world' are buying vineyards here left and right.

    Jun 28, 2010 at 8:01 PM

  • Malbec is a wonderful varietal. The first malbec I tried was mixed with cabernet franc and souvignon and merlot in a wine called Woolshed Red from New Zealand. An absolutely fabulous wine. The next was Mouton Cadet from Bourdoux, really great wine and finally a malbec from Argentina, Don Silvestre, fabulous with a spicy note to it. I love malbec now and will drink it whenever I can!

    Jun 28, 2010 at 8:01 PM

  • I made a mistake here, folks dont get excited. Mouton Cadet doesnt have malbec in it, its merlot.

    Jun 28, 2010 at 8:05 PM

  • Snooth User: hhotdog
    Hand of Snooth
    78705 481

    gavilan...keep up the good work. own my own business and i understand your passion. get us more info on your wines and the back round of your work and vineyards. i love the stories behind the wine almost as much as the wine itself!!! keep the info coming!! look forward to your replies.

    carly... you never stop to amaze us all here on snooth. love the dedication and great writing. you seem to hit a key that always gets attention. inspiration. you go lady!

    Jun 29, 2010 at 1:49 AM

  • Montepulciano is from Abruzzo in the east of Italy. Its always reliable and underpriced, and great with Pizza. The wines of east italy, molise, abruzzo always have struck me as genuine and a little underplayed relative to the "connoisseur discovered" and hence overpriced Tuscans, Venetians and Piedmontese. Having said that there are some very highly prized Montepulcianos.

    As for Cahors they are not seen as much as they should be.
    Clos Triguedina is recommended from memory

    If Bonarda is also a name from Malbec a distant favourite from a decade ago was Bonarda Oltrepo Pavese from Italy, a really wonderful red wine that gave great pleasure until the wine shop that sold it here disappreared.

    Jun 29, 2010 at 5:09 AM

  • Snooth User: Cahors Wines
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    498228 91

    Thanks Carly for your good article.

    It is good to give attention to the Malbec wines, especially the original from Cahors, France.
    Chateau de Chambert, Clos Triguedina, Domaine du Théron etc. are relatively unknown but produce wines of very high quality.

    Jun 29, 2010 at 5:50 AM

  • I rather drink Malbec from were it came from, the Cahors, and can recommend the wines of La Caminade, which is available in the US. http://www.schiller-wine.blogspot.c...

    Jun 29, 2010 at 6:31 AM

  • Snooth User: wimryan
    250731 14

    I live in Brasil and the vast majority of the wine consumed here is argentine reds. I would highly recommend the offerings of Cuvelier Los Andes. They have a spectacular 90+ Grand Vin Malbec as well as a formidable blend, called Collecion. You can pick up either of these wines in the states for under US$35.00. They will cellar nicely for 5-8 years, and in my opinion, are a couple of the finest reds to come out of the Mendoza region. Terrazas, Alamos etc. are very commercialized wines made almost specifically for the american market. You would do good to dive a bit deeper into some of the lesser known labels, where available...

    William Ryan

    Jun 29, 2010 at 7:53 AM

  • Snooth User: r sprezzatura
    Hand of Snooth
    354247 747

    Great article. I enjoyed reading about the history of the grape. I've been a fan of the Argentine Malbec for some time now. Wonderful wine at a reasonable price. The article has inspired me to try the 'original' Malbec.

    Jun 29, 2010 at 8:40 AM

  • Snooth User: Malbec Man
    518309 76

    Lesser known labels are definitely the way to go if you want good quality at a great price. Try Tupun Malbec, Sur de los Andes (both from Argentina) and Polkura Malbec, a fantastic Chilean Malbec!

    Jun 29, 2010 at 2:03 PM

  • discovered by accident the Malbec grape from Argentina, and now that is my go-to red wine. I have been drinking the wine from Flinca Fleishman, around $9 a bottle, does anybody have another choice I might try around the same price?

    Jun 29, 2010 at 8:16 PM

  • Snooth User: dirkwdeyoung
    Hand of Snooth
    231231 328

    Bergerac and Pecharmant also use Malbec blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

    Jun 30, 2010 at 12:23 AM

  • Try the Clos La Coutale Cahors 2007. Nice, inexpensive wine ($14) that offers a good example of French "malbec."

    Jun 30, 2010 at 11:21 PM

  • My Wife and I were recently in Paris and dined at
    a lovely restaurant Les Pure, who's cuisine is
    to die for. Next to us was a middle age Parisian
    whom we shared our thoughts on the food and
    wines, He let us try his wine declaring it's virtue
    He call it black wine from the Southern part of
    France. Upon tasting this fine wine I became
    a believer. The night ended leaving us all friends
    and enjoying a very special wine.....Lou Sisbarro

    Jul 03, 2010 at 9:08 PM

  • Llama Malbec is absolutely exquisite. When it opens up it has notes of vanilla and maple. Very unique.

    Jul 14, 2010 at 8:26 PM

  • Snooth User: enotheque
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    45898 1,165

    If you're new to Argentine Malbec or know somebody who claims to not like them, I highly recommend Altos Las Hormigas (vintage is irrelevant). It has the type of delicious flavors, balance and character that many New World wines simply lack at the particular price point.

    Jul 16, 2010 at 7:22 PM

  • Snooth User: PJMwine
    475141 9

    One of the best red wines I've ever tasted was at an Argentinian Wine Dinner in Alexandria Virginia.
    It was a Don Manuel Villefane Malbec Reserve 2007. I would like information on where to purchase this vintage. PJ Mahoney

    Jul 30, 2010 at 9:30 AM

  • I must say that all the input of Malbec of this page is quiet interesting and very imformative and such as I happen to love Argentinian wine, I also found it quiet motivating enough to go out and purchase a bottle or two and put it all to the test :). 1) Trapiche 2009 Malbec, 2) Alamos 2009 . . . . Lets see . . .

    Aug 04, 2010 at 4:31 PM

  • Someone else has already mentioned Trapiche. I find that most Malbecs are very tasty. Try Lo Tengo. Most that I have found are between $10 & $15. Sure wouldn't spend more. I get some good ones from Trader Joe's for $5.

    Aug 10, 2010 at 6:55 PM

  • Trapiche was a treat. I am yet to pull the cork on my Alamos. I will take you up on your advise. Lo Tengo sounds like it will be well rewarding. Argentina has yet to disappoint me.

    Aug 10, 2010 at 9:29 PM

  • hello everybody! I´m an argentinian sommelier. I work in a wine store selling wines and guving tastings. I personally love blends, but I must say argentinian malbecs are wonderful. 90% of my customers are tourists, and 99% of them love and ask for malbecs as it´s known as "our" grape. I tasted lots of Cahors and I really think there´s something different here, wines are more complex and interesting.
    Yesterday we had a blind tasting with enologists, sommeliers, wine sellers and consumers. We opened 36 different bottles and ended up concluding our wines are more than great.
    As malbec matters, I highly reccomend to try at least one of each region, cause as we have a large country it´s still difficult to speak about terroirs!
    My favourites are: Yacochuya 2002-04-06, from Calchaquies Valleys in Salta, north region, more than 2000 mts high.
    From Mendoza definetly Achaval Ferrer "Finca Altamira 2006", refined, complex and full bodied, and Cuvelier Los Andes Grand Malbec 2006
    Patagonian malbecs are really different,as the climate is also, most of them have a distinctive mineral note. Marcus Gran reserva malbec is a good option, or Finca Noemia as well!
    These are all not so cheap wines....but you should try and open them before dying!
    What I most love about argentinian wines is that you can get excelent options in really low prizes (from 10 to 40 dollars you can taste beautiful malbecs like Ave, las perdices, Achaval malbec mendoza, Luigi Bosca reserve, Rutini, Alpamanta, and a hundred more!
    Come and visit!!!!

    Aug 29, 2010 at 4:36 PM

  • Snooth User: aacolman
    572360 15

    On our honeymoon in South America we tasted many Malbecs in Mendoza. Since then it has been our go to red to show dinner guests that great wine can be purchased at value prices.

    My personal favorites are by the Telteca Winery and their Malbec Gran Reserva in particular is incredible.

    Sep 14, 2010 at 10:42 AM

  • Snooth User: Helen Poole
    1337036 29

    nice one

    Aug 30, 2013 at 6:00 AM

  • Snooth User: anvilpep
    1370081 34


    Sep 24, 2013 at 12:59 AM

  • interesting

    Sep 27, 2013 at 2:28 AM

  • interesting

    Oct 07, 2013 at 12:15 AM

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