Malbec (MAL-beck)


Indigenous to southwestern France, malbec, the now popular name for the grape variety cot, is the offspring of two obscure French grapes—magdeleine noire des Charentes and prunelard. While malbec is one of the five grapes that can be legally blended to make red Bordeaux, plantings of it there have been declining for a long time (the grape is prone to frost, and thus has steadily fallen out of favor in Bordeaux’s maritime climate). Today, malbec generally makes up less than 10 percent of any Bordeaux wine—if it’s used at all. Half a world away, however, malbec is a star. In the mid-nineteenth century, the grape was brought from Bordeaux to Argentina where it is now the leading red grape for fine red wines. There, it is grown in the dry, sunny, extremely high-altitude vineyards that like steps, descend from the peaks of the Andes. And, in contrast to Bordeaux, malbec in Argentina is almost always made as a single varietal, rather than part of a blend. Malbec tends to be low in acidity and slightly less tannic than cabernet sauvignon. Indeed it’s prized for its soft, mouthfilling texture (the wine equivalent of molten chocolate cake), its deep inky color, and its plummy, mocha, and earthy aromas and flavors. Outside of Argentina and Bordeaux, malbec is the historic grape of Cahors in southwestern France, where it has traditionally been known by its original name, cot. (In an interesting marketing twist, Cahors now refers to itself as the “French malbec” though in Cahors the grape makes a rough-edged tannic wine). Malbec shows good promise in the Napa Valley of California where it is increasingly grown to be used as part of top-notch cabernet blends.

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