Blue sky drinking: malbec

Categories: Expert guidance

Jane Parkinson on the ongoing success story of the malbec grape

Hearty, warming reds come in many forms, but one particular grape that has those properties in abundance is malbec. Made famous by Argentina despite its French origin, the malbec of today has many homes, from Croatia to Australia. But no matter where it’s found, malbec is undoubtedly one of the biggest red grape—and wine—success stories of recent times.

Originally from Cahors, a pocket of south-west France, malbec once enjoyed a reputation as the wine of popes and kings. Then in the 19th century phylloxera (a vine pest that feeds on vine leaves and roots) hit, claiming many French vineyards. France’s loss was Argentina’s gain as a few forward-thinking individuals uprooted some still-healthy malbec vines and took them across the Atlantic.

Putting them on that boat was probably the best thing that ever happened to malbec grapes. The intense sunlight of Argentina ripens the dark berries like a dream while the cool temperatures of high altitude vineyards retain the grape’s beautifully floral aromas. All this, together with a juicy but full-bodied palate—yes, there is every reason to love Argentinian malbec.

However, its homeland can still produce malbec with just as much flavour. French malbec (or côt, as it is sometimes known) can be found in three main locations: Cahors, Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. The last of these is the least familiar patch for malbec, but arguably it’s the most interesting, offering three qualities that suit today’s wine drinkers.

Firstly, it rarely reaches the alcohol heights of other malbec regions, typically being 13% or lower. Also appealing is its freshness. These days, crisp and breezy red wines are in real demand, and with the Loire Valley having a more northerly (cooler) climate than the other French malbec regions, the wines typically have higher acidity, which translates into a refreshing crunch on the palate. Finally, these wines are generally less tannic, which enhances their fruitiness and makes them perfect partners for the game meats now coming into season. In short, Loire côt will match the lot.

Brin d’Epice Côt Touraine, Domaine du Chapitre, 2015
Borough Wines, £13.50
Made by a brother and sister in the Loire Valley’s Touraine region, this côt has crunchy red and black berry flavours, perfect with venison and a fruity sauce. The slight savoury mushroom flavours will also match the earthiness of the wild mushrooms and celeriac.