15 best malbec wines all red oenophiles need to know about
From across Argentina and Chile, these are the bottles to indulge in
The malbec grape, an inky purple fruit, originated in the south-west of France, where its concentrated dark fruit flavours can still be found in the so-called “dark” wine that takes its name from the town of Cahors.
In the past, these French wines have been overlooked, but now a new generation of winemakers are taking a fresh look at this established classic and producing some very agreeable and welcoming wines.
Malbec’s history is a long and varied one. When winemakers moved to the New World, and more specifically Argentina, the wine truly came into its own.
Free of the susceptibility to disease that harmed its reputation in France, it flourished and prospered, often in some of the world’s highest vineyards.
The wines – sometimes made from grapes picked from 90 to 100-year-old vines – are rich, luscious and eminently drinkable.
Approachable and consumer friendly, they offer both fruitiness and richness offset by a natural acidity. As such, they are an ideal companion for Sunday roasts, red meat dishes, roast pork or a good cheese.
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H.J. Fabre malbec 2016, 14.5%, 75cl: £15.99, Laithwaite's
Hervé J Fabre, an experienced French winemaker, left Bordeaux for Argentina in the 1990s and now produces award-winning malbec from 30-year-old vines in the more southerly Argentinian vineyards of Patagonia. Warm days here increase the alcohol content, but the deeply-coloured wine is awash with rich and dark fruit flavours along with floral notes and hints of liquorice. It can be drunk now, although it needs decanting at least an hour before serving, or kept for another five years.
Hey Malbec! 2018, 14%, 75cl: £10.99, Majestic
With its striking superhero comic strip label and title, this isn’t a wine necessarily aimed at connoisseurs. But behind the bluster is a more than decent Argentinian malbec from renowned Mendoza winemaker Matias Riccitelli. His grapes grow high in the Uco Valley, producing a robust wine with the characteristic notes of ripe blackberry and damson allied to hints of pepper and spice. A meaty red in the best sense of the word.
Magma Tupungato malbec 2018, 13.5%, 75cl: £15.99, Virgin Wines
A wine whose origins are inherent in its name. Magma – the lava that flows from an active volcano – forms the basis of the soil on which the vines of this malbec grow on Mount Tupungato in the central Andes. The high-altitude terroir with its intense sunlight, cold nights and long growing season results in a malbec that’s fully flavoured and deep in colour with elegant tannins and a smooth finish.
Haçienda de Calidad special selection malbec 2018, 13%, 75cl: £8.49, Kwoff
Away from the cool, high-altitude vineyards of Mendoza, an increasing amount of malbec is being produced in the San Juan area – part of a region that the Native Americans called the Cuyo, the “land of the deserts”. Silky smooth and unoaked, with rich and deep blackberry, cherry and damson flavours, it’s a wine that’s made for roast meats and rich sauces.
Doña Paula selección de bodega Gualtallary malbec 2016, 13.5%, 75cl: £39.99, Taste Fine Wines
Everything about this magnificent malbec is big, including, admittedly, the price. But what you get for your money is an absolute top-notch wine made from grapes grown at a height of 1,350m above sea level. When you consider that Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak, comes in at just under that, you realise that we’re at the limits of viable viticulture. Layers of sand and limestone give this full-bodied malbec a minerality that sits well with the deep and textured flavours of blackberries and dark fruit.
Opi malbec rosé 2018, 12.5%, 75cl: £10.99, Laithwaite’s
Opi, aka winemaker (and aspiring chef) Rodolfo Sadler says that like any artist, he has to “study all the elements I have to work with in order to craft the best possible wines”. In this case, that means hand-picking malbec grapes from high-altitude vines irrigated by meltwater from the Andes and crafting them into a refreshingly dry but fruity rosé with strong notes of raspberry and strawberry. Summer may be long gone but that’s no reason not to enjoy a rosé as invigorating and palatable as this.
Château Combel-la-Serre le pur fruit de causse cahors 2016, 12.5%, 75cl: £22, Red Squirrel
Malbec may have found fame in the New World but the spiritual home of the humble purple grape remains the south-west of France, close to the Lot river, where it originated. Disease and unfavourable growing conditions took their toll but the malbec grape still produces some splendid cahors, including this example from winemaker Julian Ilbert. Grown on a limestone plateau (“causse”) in a certified organic vineyard, the wine is less heavy than the inky cahors of the past and has a textured but intense hit of black fruit followed by long finish. One to enjoy with a good roast.
El tesoro de las montañas 2018, 13.5%, 75cl: £43.24 for case of 6, Amazon
Named “the treasure of the mountains” this easy-drinking malbec is made from grapes picked from 30-year-old vines in Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo, which is thought to feature some of the best terroir in the Mendoza wine region. There are oodles of luscious dark berry, damson and black cherry flavours here, tempered by hints of pepper and spice. Enjoy this with a wholesome casserole, red meat or a decent slab of mature cheddar
Masi Tupungato passo doble malbec corvina 2017, 14%, 75cl: £15, Vivino
“Argentinian soul, Venetian style” is the watchword for this certified organic red wine which blends malbec grapes (85 per cent) with the Italian grape variety corvina (15 per cent). It’s made using the traditional Venetian winemaking appassimento technique, which means leaving the corvina grapes to dry out for the winter months to concentrate aromas and perfumes. The result is an unusually aromatic wine with intense fruit flavours, soft tannins and a delicate minerality.
Square Ranch malbec 2017, 13%, 75cl: £7.49, MMWines
Smooth and fruity with lashings of blackberry and damson this is an easily approachable malbec for those who are new to the wine. From Argentina’s long established Mendoza region it’s the ideal accompaniment to any red meat dish from a Sunday roast to a humble beef burger. Or you can simply enjoy its full-toned freshness and hints of spice by itself.
Finca Mirador Achaval-Ferrer malbec 2014, 14.5%, 75cl: £81.95, Corney & Barrow
Big money for a big wine. Hand-picked from 70-year-old, low-yield vines growing at a height of more than 700m in the Mendoza region of Argentina, this is perhaps the ultimate malbec. Huge flavours of red berries and darker soft fruits with hints of spice and pepper and a welcome minerality. This single vineyard wine is bottled unfiltered to retain its aromatic integrity and will need decanting an hour before drinking. But if you can resist the temptation of drinking it now, it will keep for up to another eight years.
Château Pineraie tradition cahors 2016, 13%, 75cl: £11.95, Slurp
A dip into the malbec homeland with a Cahors from fifth generation French winemaker Jean Luc Berc. His 50-hectare estate near Puy-l'Eveque is managed according to the principles of “lutte raisonneé” (reasoned struggle), an approach to winemaking that minimises the use of chemicals and pesticides. A blend of malbec (85 per cent) and merlot (15 per cent) the wine is aged in oak barrels and only lightly filtered, preserving the concentrated black fruit and bramble flavours, complemented by pleasing tannins.
Viu Manent San Carlos malbec 2016, 14%, 75cl: £20.95, Secret Bottle Shop
Malbec can also be found in Chile in regions such as the Colchagua Valley where bright days and cool nights and a climate that’s almost Mediterranean result in some excellent wines. This single vineyard offering from Viu Manent – recently voted among the top 25 wineries in the world – comes from century-old vines and has intense damson and dark fruit flavours and hints of spice. More mellow perhaps than malbecs from neighbouring Argentina but just as attractive.
Familia Zuccardi malbec Q 2017, 14%, 75cl : £15.99, Virgin Wines
Argentinian winemaker Sebastian Zuccardi's admits that “we were using far too much oak and losing the natural characters held within our grapes. I now put the fruit first, the natural freshness and purity ahead of everything else”. The result from, selected high-altitude lots (1,100m) in the Uco Valley is a malbec where blackberries and blueberries fight for equal prominence along with notes of chocolate and coffee. It's a big wine with big flavours.
Bodega Ruca malen terroir series 2016, 13.5%, 75cl: £13.95, HIC
There's recently been a terroir-driven approach to many Argentinian malbecs, where the mountainous vineyards in the Uco Valley’s “golden triangle” benefit from high-altitude UV light that helps to engender the wine's unique fruit character, colour and structure. Cool night-time temperatures and a long, warm season also help to prolong the ripening of the malbec grapes, preserving a fresh acidity and concentrating the dark berry flavours.
The verdict: Malbec wines
We think the best buy has to be the already acclaimed H.J. Fabre Malbec from Laithwaite’s with its tantalising dark fruit flavours and hints of liquorice. A luscious and soothing red wine that will brighten any dull winter’s day.
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