Day of Malbec

POSTED ON 12/04/2014

Thursday is World Malbec Day and while I’m not a fan of treating grapes like saints by giving them their own day of the year, I feel an exception is well deserved in the case of the malbec grape. Known as Etranger, or stranger, in 18th century Bordeaux, this varietal interloper from Cahors in South West France found its way into Bordeaux as the black wine of Cahors, in order to bring muscle and colour to skinner clarets. As a half-sibling of merlot, malbec remains a minor variety in Bordeaux and was still known as cot or auxerrois in its heartland of Cahors until recently.

The game changer was Argentina. Nicolas Catena, a Decanter Man of the Year, was the prince that tried the glass slipper out on this Cinderella of grape varieties only to find that it fit like a long-lost, er, glass slipper. Exploding onto the international stage in the early 1990s, it became as instant a hit as any grape variety can. In doing so, it shone a new light on its place of origin. On the terraced slopes of the Lot Valley, Cahors now proudly parades its ancient cot as malbec, finally doing justice to the variety by producing flavoursome reds in tune with the modern taste for brighter fruit.

Sadly, only a fifth of Argentina’s original 50,000 hectares remained in 1990 after growers switched to more lucrative cash crops. Back up at 30,000 hectares today, it accounts for three-quarters of all malbec planted worldwide. I recently extolled the virtues of Argentinian malbec ( and heralded the delightful 2011 Luiga Bosca, £15.99, buy 2 = £12.99, Majestic as a wine of the week. Now, new in at Tesco is the 2011 Tesco Finest* The Trilogy Malbec, £12.99, classic vibrant blackberry fruit with opulent dark chocolatey undertones.

Across the Andes, Chile is less well-known for its malbec, but a worthy pioneer here is Viu Manent , a producer of malbec in the Colchagua Valley from century-old vines. This specialist’s 2012 Malbec Le Secret de Viu Manent, around £10, Oddbins, Wholefoods. Flagship Wines, St.Albans, is a lipsmacking fruit bomb of a malbec, delivering liquorice spice and opulent blackberry fruit aplenty in a refreshingly juicy, savoury package.

In Cahors recently, I observed at first hand just how well malbec has adapted to the 21st century with much-improved viticulture and winemaking. Take for instance Pascal’s Verhaeghe’s 2010 Château du Cèdre, £18.50, Lea & Sandeman, a finely-hewn modern classic with aromatic dark red fruit notes behind poised mulberry fruit concentration. Or the majestic 2008 Château de Chambert Grand Vin, £21.36 - £23.50,, West Mount Wines, a rich malbec whose sweet cherry fragrance and richness of spicy black cherry is polished by stylish oak while retaining its spine of savoury freshness.

Something for The WeekendSomething for The Weekend

Night In

2009 Santa Rita Medalla Real Carmenère, Leyda Valley

Deep-hued red displaying the herb and camphor aromatics of Chile’s carmenère, grape with a herb-infused opulence of textured dark berry fruitiness and a bittersweet chocolate touch that’s both rich and savoury. £11.99, buy 2 = £7.99, Majestic.

Dinner Party

2012 Sancerre Roc de L’Abbaye, Florian Mollet

An outstanding expression of the sauvignon grape in its heartland, this dry Loire white shows subtly-scented herbal intrigue and elegantly defined gooseberry and apple flecked with blackcurrant leaf, finishing crisp and bone dry. £13.99, down from £15.99, Sainsbury's.

Splash Out

2011 Neudorf Tom’s Block Nelson Pinot Noir

The Finn’s stylish Kiwi pinot kicks off sweetly fragrant, gripping with a powerfully flavoured, richly textured loganberry-like fruit quality that’s subtly oak-spicy and etched with mineral freshness. Around £20 bottle / case, Lay & Wheeler, Richard Dawes,


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