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The rise of malbec from Argentina has been unstoppable over the last decade. With its luscious boom of blueberries and licorice, scent of violets, smooth taste, and sometimes also the suggestion of chocolate, it’s easy to see why it has become the red stalwart of supermarket shelves and gastropub wine lists alike. Bold and joyful, you could say that Argentinian malbec is the red equivalent of sauvignon blanc from New Zealand.
Not everyone is ecstatic about it. I’ve seen a fair few sommeliers roll their eyes in despair when they’re asked to pour it – but then somms do have low boredom thresholds, always keen to move on to the next thing, the more offbeat the better. Well, the next thing is here and, bad news somms, it’s malbec. Though not, this time, from Argentina, but from France.
Argentina might be the world’s biggest producer of malbec, but the grape’s historic heartland is Cahors, deep in south-west France. In the Middle Ages, Cahors was one of Europe’s most important financial and trading centres and its wine so revered that it was served at the wedding of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the man who would become King Henry II of England.
By the end of the twentieth century, malbec from Cahors had slightly fallen by the wayside. That’s not to say no one loved it – I once had a set of bookshelves made by a Radio 2-loving carpenter with very esoteric tastes who was so partial to a drop that it became a sort of unofficial rider on his contract.
But malbec can be a challenging wine – and Cahors was traditionally made opaque and dark, with such fearsome, mouth-drying tannins that you needed to leave bottles for two decades or more before they began to be approachable. Old malbec is delicious, like a cheap take on mature claret, but 20 years is a long time to wait to pull a cork, and we live in an age of more immediate pleasure.
I’ve always thought how frustrating it must have been for French vignerons to watch as their grape became such a bumper success somewhere else. But perhaps the success of malbec in Argentina has been a cue for change. Because I keep tasting malbecs from Cahors, as well as elsewhere in southern France, that don’t floor you with their tannic astringency and are instead deliciously juicy – and inexpensive too.
For instance, I love Paul Mas Vinus Malbec 2017 France (£8.25, Morrisons). Another goodie is Jean-Luc Baldès Malbec du Clos Cahors (£8.99, Waitrose). Finally, as if to round off the reverberating exchange between France and Argentina, look out for two wines made by Hervé Joyaux Fabre. Originally from Bordeaux, Hervé has been making malbec in Argentina for almost three decades – and he recently bought an estate in Cahors because, ‘I wanted to go to the home of malbec.’ His two Cahors malbecs, Mission de Picpus and Prieuré de Cénac, are both delicious can be found at robersonwine.com.
Read more articles by Victoria…
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Victoria Moore is an award-winning wine columnist and author. Her most recent book is the The Wine Dine Dictionary (£20, Granta).
All prices correct as of June 2019.