Varietal Spotlight: Malbec

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photo by bongo vongo via flikr

Single-varietal Malbecs have been the hot thing ever since inexpensive Argentinean imports put them on the map. This is a young person’s wine, if my observations in the tasting room hold true; because you can find Malbecs for such good value, 20-somethings are snapping them up and becoming familiar with this grape. It’s trendier than Merlot and Cab, it has some tannin to it, but can also be hugely fruity, so it appeals to the taste buds of younger drinkers. Malbec is not a stuffy grape; it’s a lively and fresh choice for wine drinkers looking to branch out or get started in exploring wine.

I like Malbec for its dark fruit flavors; blueberry and blackberry are predominant flavors in many Malbecs, and many of the Washington Malbecs I’ve tasted have been full, round wines with a lot of fruit and some spice to them. Malbec is a great young-person wine because it has some tannin to it, but it’s lower in tannin than big Cabs and Merlots. The first Malbec I ever had was on my birthday a few years ago, when my friend ordered a glass of Walla Walla Malbec at a bar; it was the cheapest wine by the glass, but it rocked!

Where is it grown? Malbec is one of the traditional Bordeaux grapes, although it’s almost never seen by itself in France. Bordeaux blends usually contain some percentage of Malbec; for a while, many of the Malbec vines in Bordeaux were wiped out by frost, but the vines have since been replanted and the grape has been making a comeback. Argentina is what really drew attention to 100% single-varietal Malbecs, especially in the Mendoza region. The US market went a little crazy for inexpensive Argentinean Malbecs, and that’s really where the current Malbec trend came from. Since then, single-varietal Malbecs have been more popular in the US. California has some Malbec, but Washington has been growing Malbec for quite a while as well, since at least the 1990’s.

Pair with: pulled pork, sweet-and-sour meat dishes, pesto pasta. Malbecs are usually fruity and lower in tannin than, say, Cabs, so they’re not necessarily calling out to be paired with steaks and burgers, but I think meats in a sweeter sauce or pasta in light sauces would be delicious with a Malbec.

Try drinking: Argentinean imports! If you’re new to Malbec, start yourself out on those inexpensive imports and see what all the fuss is about; then, you can move on to some of the delicious Malbecs being made here in Walla Walla!

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