Malbec Red Wine 101: What Malbec Tastes Like and What To Pair It With

Malbec Red Wine 101: What Malbec Tastes Like and What To Pair It With

McKenzie Hagan |

Opening up a bottle of Malbec wine at a dinner party can make you feel like you’re that cool wine lover who goes off the beaten path. While Malbec is a globally loved wine, it’s nowhere near as popular or well-known as Merlot or Pinot Noir — but that won’t stop us from loving it. Famous for its deep purple color and spicy, savory flavors, Malbec wine is a perfect option for those who love strong flavored red wine Malbec with plenty of body.

You may be interested in Malbec red wine, but do you know what makes its flavors so intriguing? From its fascinating, cross-continental history to the best way to serve this deliciously full-bodied wine, this article will have you browsing the Malbec section when you make your next wine run.

What Is Malbec Wine?

Malbec wine is known for its deep purple color and full body. Malbec grapes are small and dark in color with very thick skins, producing a wine that has rich fruity flavors and medium tannin levels.

A unique characteristic of Malbec wine that differentiates it from other red wines is its distinct taste profile. Malbec wine offers a beautiful balance between fruit and acidity. The fruit-forward flavor profile often includes notes of blackberry, plum, black cherry, and raspberry, while the acidity is often characterized by flavors of cocoa, coffee, and molasses. This makes Malbec a complex and satisfying choice for red wine enthusiasts.

Malbec wines are often higher in alcohol than Merlot or Pinot Noir. Some bottles contain up to 15% ABV, so watch out for this boozy bottle if you’re trying to cut down on your alcohol intake.

Malbec grapes are fussy and can be difficult to grow, so they’re grown in much smaller quantities than other more popular red wines. Malbec grapes do well in sunny climates that also have cold nights. High elevation spots are perfect, like the Mendoza wine region nestled in the foothills of the Andes in Argentina.

In Bordeaux, France, Malbec is a popular blending grape. It’s often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Gamay to make Bordeaux blends.

Fun Facts About Malbec Wine

  • Malbec wine is one of the most popular red wines in the United States. Malbec is right behind Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon in popularity.
  • Malbec is more commonly known as Côt in France. Côt translates to “coast” in English.
  • It’s theorized that Malbec got its name from a Hungarian peasant with the last name of Malbec or Malbeck who spread the grape all over France.
  • While Malbec is predominantly known as a red wine, there is a popular rosé variety, which is crisp, fresh, and floral in flavor.
  • April 17 is World Malbec Day. Put it in your calendar for another reason to celebrate wine!

One thing that sets Malbec wine apart is its ability to adapt to its environment. This attribute allows it to express the unique characteristics of its terroir in the bottle. For example, in the cool climates of France, the wine is lighter in body and color, exhibiting more tart fruit and higher acidity.

On the other hand, in the warm and sunny climate of Argentina, Malbec tends to be full-bodied with ripe, lush fruit flavors and mellow tannins.

Where Does the Malbec Grape Grow?

Malbec is synonymous with Argentina. In fact, before Argentina started growing it in the 18th century, Malbec was considered a low-quality grape that was only suitable for blending.

Today the Malbec grape takes up three-quarters of Argentina’s vineyards and is considered their most important grape.

While the Malbec grape originated in France (in the Cahors region), the Argentinian Malbec is the most celebrated. The two taste very different — while an Argentinian bottle is plummy and soft in texture, a French bottle is quite tart and savory. 

There are three notable wine regions in Argentina producing the best Malbec:

  • Mendoza
  • Salta
  • San Juan

All of these regions are perfect for growing Malbec grapes, as the vineyards are at high altitudes with plenty of sunshine.

Malbec is still grown in France, mainly in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley, but it does struggle with the cooler climate. In fact, the entire French crop was nearly destroyed in the mid-1950s due to adverse weather conditions.

Malbec also grows in other areas around the world, though in much smaller yields:

  • California
  • Chile
  • South Africa
  • Australia
  • New Zealand

What Does Malbec Wine Taste Like?

Malbec Wine: Oman holding a bottle of wine

While we’ve covered that French and Argentine Malbec taste quite different, they do share some common tasting notes. Malbec is known for its jammy fruit flavors, but also for its highly savory notes. Some of these include:

  • Coffee
  • Leather
  • Black pepper

Warm-climate Malbecs, such as those produced in Argentina, South Africa, or Australia, exhibit dark fruit flavors like blackberry and plum. Cool-climate Malbecs, like the ones produced in France, have a more black cherry quality with hints of raspberry.

Malbec wines are also celebrated for tasting smooth and chocolatey on the tongue. They are low in acid but have a lot of structure. Some would even call them a meaty-tasting wine. Did you know Malbec wines exhibit a variety of intriguing characteristics that are influenced by the terroir they are grown in? For instance, Malbec wines from the Mendoza region of Argentina often show notes of sweet tobacco and violets.

In contrast, Malbec wines from the cooler Cahors region of France can offer fresh red fruit flavors, such as raspberry and cranberry, coupled with subtle herbal undertones. This versatility makes Malbec a fascinating red wine to explore and enjoy.

How To Pair Malbec Wine

Like many red wines, Malbec wine pairs well with meat, especially red meat. However, unlike some of its red wine cousins (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) it doesn’t have a very long finish, making it easy to overwhelm with fattier meats. Instead, seek out lean cuts of beef, turkey, or even ostrich.

For vegetarians looking for a perfect Malbec food pairing, look to blue cheese. A cheese board or a grilled blue cheese sandwich would be an exuberant treat, while a blue cheese souffle is a perfect dinner party option.

Vegan wine lovers, don’t despair — we haven’t forgotten about you! The secret to pairing Malbec with food is remembering its tasting notes of pepper. A couscous-stuffed roasted red pepper would be an ideal food pairing. Use plenty of olive oil to counteract the tannic nature of the wine.

How To Serve Malbec Wine

Contrary to popular belief, red wine isn’t always best served at room temperature. Malbec wine is no exception. Before serving Malbec, try popping it in the fridge for half an hour. This should cool it to just below room temperature, and will allow you to experience Malbec’s full depth of flavor.

Because Malbec is a full-bodied wine, choose a wide-bowled glass. A glass with a wide mouth will allow you to experience the intense fruity aromas of the Malbec, while the large glass should soften the spicy tasting notes and balance the savory flavors.

Finally, Malbec is a wine that benefits from decanting. Before serving your bottle, pour the wine into a decanter and leave it for 30 minutes. Not only will this get rid of any sediment found in the bottle, but decanting your Malbec will aerate the wine and make the flavors and aromas more vibrant upon drinking.

Malbec Wine: Argentina’s Pride and Joy

Woman lying down with a bottle of wine on her side

Though Malbec wine may be considered a secondary grape varietal to European winemakers, Argentina has made Malbec their own. Boasting a full body, exceptionally fruity flavors, and a unique purple color, it’s not hard to see why.

For wine enthusiasts who like to experiment with food pairings, Malbec wines from different regions can provide a thrilling experience. Due to the variations in terroir and the impact it has on the final product, different Malbec wines may complement different food items better. For example, a more fruit-forward Argentine Malbec might pair beautifully with spicy Mexican cuisine, while a more earthy French Malbec might be ideal with a hearty stew.

While French Malbecs can be quite tart (and harder to get hold of than Argentine Malbecs) they do make excellent blends. Look out for Bordeaux blends, which combine Malbec with other Bordeaux-grown wines to make delicious lighter options.

If you’re in the market for a strong-flavored wine, and you don’t mind the high alcohol levels, Malbec wine may be just what you’re looking for. Remember to pair it with lean red meats, creamy blue cheese, or peppery vegetable dishes.

Whether you’re a fan of Malbec wine or not, this hardy little grape’s tale of survival is fascinating and deserves to be known by anyone who loves wine. From near extinction in France to an incredible comeback across the globe, Malbec is a fighter. We’ll be celebrating this wine all year round.

Lastly, Malbec wine isn’t just limited to its traditional red form. The grape's versatility allows it to be crafted into rosé, sparkling, and even dessert wines, offering a broad range of flavors for wine lovers. So next time when you are in search of a versatile yet intriguing wine, remember that Malbec might just be the answer!