LOS ANGELES May 6, 2013 – Twenty years ago, Malbec was thought of as little more than a blending grape to add color and tannic structure to the great wine blends of Bordeaux. It is a thin-skinned grape that requires a great deal of sunlight to properly ripen. It seems to grow well in a variety of soil types and has become increasingly popular as a single varietal because of its ability to convey the terroir, essentially the expression of geography, geology and climate, in which the grape is grown.
Despite its long history as one of Bordeaux’s essential grapes, it isn’t France that’s making a name for Malbec. The grape is now best recognized as the flagship varietal of Argentina. In fact, Argentina is now the greatest producer of Malbec in the world.
Malbec was first planted in Argentina in the mid 19th century but the real interest in the varietal didn’t occur until the late 20th century, when enterprising winemakers began to truly embrace the grape’s potential in the Argentine soil and climate. It turns out the secret to great Malbec, at least for the Argentines, is altitude.
It is in vineyards planted in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, a practice started in the 1990’s, that Malbec has experienced international success. Here, where the grapes get ample sunlight without great heat and irrigation can be controlled, winemakers are able to produce wines from this once misunderstood grape that offer great acidity, tannic structure and character.
What’s most attractive about Malbec is that, in part because it is a relative novelty to the wine world, it tends to represent great value for money. Because of their high acidity, the Malbecs of Argentina tend to be food friendly and versatile—easy to pair with a wide variety of foods. The wines range in price from the lowest of low to the high end but almost always offer among the best values, whatever the price range.
Delicious, well-balanced Malbecs can be found at your neighborhood wine retailer for between $10 and $20. These are perfect wines to select for a party. But for a splurge, you can easily find $50 Malbecs as impressive as well as wines twice the price.
Interestingly, among alcoholic beverages, Malbec is the gift that keeps on giving. We all know the rationale that drinking wine is beneficial to health. But you may not realize that some varietals can be more beneficial than others for heart health. Malbec examined in the south of France was discovered to have some of the highest level of beneficial flavonoids of all grapes. (These flavonoids not only promote cardiovascular health but also inhibit the destruction of collagen, helping you to feel and look your very best.)
Among reds, Malbec is one of my favorite choices for summer. Inexpensive Argentine Malbecs are wines that are made very purposely in an approachable style that is ready to drink the minute it is pulled from the store shelf. (Argentina is also recognized for finely crafted Malbecs worthy of ten or more years aging—but these are not the wines I’m looking to drink poolside.) These wines are acidic enough to be refreshing and can be enjoyed slightly chilled in the dog days.
When aged in oak, Argentine Malbecs develop rich notes of spice, coffee and cocoa, all of which help to make it a delicious partner for any meat cooked on the grill from chicken to pork ribs to thick steaks. It also works well with grilled vegetables, burgers and hot dogs.
In other words, Malbec is a grape to go to for any summertime affair.
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