When we think of Malbec our mind immediately takes us to the mystical vineyards of Argentina, rising in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, thriving in the hot, semi-dessert climate, irrigated by rainwater captured as the snows melt from the mountains each spring. Argentina has made a name for itself by perfecting the wines made from this Bordeaux grape, but it is not the only place in the world that this hearty, robust, full bodied variety can grow. As its origin would suggest, it is one of the original grapes of Bordeaux, and though often over shadowed by the other big three of the region (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc) it is still very much a part of the French wine scene, as well as thriving in parts of California, Washington and beyond, however it is most often used as a blending grape outside of Argentina. Here are a few favorite Malbec dominant wines I have enjoyed recently, a few were sent for editorial consideration.
Fritz Underground Estate is a small production winery in Sonoma better known for their Zinfandel or Pinot Noir than their Malbec, but their very small production (about 100 cases last vintage) 2011 Estate Malbec from grapes grown on their Dry Creek property shows how fresh and slightly floral this usually intense wine can be. Red cherry and ripe plums, purple wild flowers, spice and a touch of dark chocolate create a lush, refined and approachable wine that pairs with rich stews or hearty game. $45 available through the winery website.
The Horse Heaven Hills AVA and the Columbia Valley AVA in Washington State seem to be finding its way with Malbec. Like many wineries in Argentina, it is still a relatively young industry with young vineyards planted in very dry soils (rainfall amounts in the Columbia Valley are about 10 inches per year, compared to 8 inches in Mendoza, with very hot days in both regions during the summer months fluctuating dramatically at night when temperatures can drop 40-50 degrees.) With similar climate conditions and incredibly mineral rich soils, seeing the variety thriving in Eastern Washington make sense.
Hamilton Cellars in Richland, WA, not far from Pasco, creates a small production (less than 300 cases annually,) intense 100% Malbec aged almost 2 years total in 60% new French oak, creating a red and black fruit filled wine with leather, spice, espresso and dark chocolate notes with firm tannins that will soften with some aging. Their current release is 2009, available via their website for $30.
Mercer Estates in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA makes a small amount of Malbec from their sustainably farmed Spice Box Vineyard overlooking the Columbia River for about $30 a bottle, available through their website with first allocation going to their wine club members.
I’m a fan of Miner Family Wines and owner/winemaker Dave Miner’s Napa Valley Malbec continues to show me why. Though better known for their robust Oakville AVA Cabs and of course, his stunning Wild Yeast Chardonnay, the winery (and Dave along with winemaker Gary Brookman) like to play a bit, trying out new varieties and techniques in their Silverado Trail vineyard. I first had their Malbec a few years ago, the first Malbec I had tasted from a Napa Valley winery, and loved it. From fruit grown predominantly in the vast, diverse Stagecoach Vineyard, with the current 2009 vintage blending in about 12% Petit Verdot creating a black plum, earthy, leather and tobacco filled wine ideal for pairing with rich and hearty grilled meat. $50 available via their website.
Felino by Vina Cobos is one of the many ventures of winemaker/consultant/importer Paul Hobbs along with Andrea Marchiori and Luis Barraud. 93% Malbec with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot added to the blend balances robust black cherry, blackberry, licorice and spice notes with a subtle smokiness and earthiness that I love in many Mendoza Malbec wines, with just a touch of mocha on the finish. Big, bold and luscious, meant to be enjoyed with a grilled steak or lamb chops. About $17 a bottle at Pogo’s.
2010 Valle las Nencias Malbec Reserva comes from vineyards located 3800 feet above sea level in Valle de Uco, Mendoza creating a floral, slightly herbal, earth filled wine with ripe black fruit, licorice, violets and spice. Only native yeast is used during fermentation, enhancing some of those earthy notes and the wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered to ensure the true expression of the grape is tasted in each sip. Veritas is pouring the wine by the glass now for $11 a glass, Pogo’s has the wine for about $17 a bottle.
D’Autrefois Malbec from the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south of France is an inexpensive wine (about $11) filled with ripe cherry, blackberry, plum and a touch of cola with hints of fresh flowers with light acidity and tannin. Subtle tannins and not overly complex, which is nice as many Malbec can need a little bottle aging to settle the tannins before drinking; this one is an easy drinking style wine pairing nicely with anything you would throw on the grill for dinner. $10.99 at Total Wine and More.