A wine merchant once let me into a secret about ordering from an unfamiliar wine list: go for the Rioja or the Malbec, and you can’t go wrong. Malbec is one of the very few grape varieties, like Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, that has become a brand name familiar to non-wine buffs.
What’s all the more remarkable is that 25 years ago the word ‘Malbec’ was almost unknown. In its home in South-west France, where the grape made an often rather tough wine called Cahors, it was called Cot. In Bordeaux, however, it was known as Malbec, but there was very little of it.
Once an important variety, it had largely been superseded by Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, and Merlot. But there were acres and acres of the stuff in Argentina, where it was brought by French immigrants in the 19th century.
In the 1990s, Argentine producers managed to harness all that sunshine to transform this often awkward grape into something people loved – full-bodied but with smooth tannins, lushly fruity and perfumed with violets. A new wine style was born, Argentinian Malbec.
It’s become such a success that in South-west France, they now call the grape Malbec instead of Cot, and it’s generally made in a fruitier more friendly style than in the past.
The one criticism you could have of Argentinian Malbec is that it can all taste the same. Many producers have found a crowd-pleasing formula, and stuck to it, and who can blame them?
It wasn’t easy choosing between many very similar tasting bottles. It’s not going to be a problem for most customers, however, who aren’t likely to taste 35 in one day. That wine merchant really was on to something.
Best Malbec under £10
Waitrose Argentinian Malbec 2018
- Available from: Waitrose (£7.99)
Made in the world capital of Malbec, Mendoza, this is one of the best value wines on the high street. Fresh nose, juicy ripe fruit and some perfume, who could ask for anything more?
Taste the Difference Morador Estate Selection Malbec 2018
- Available from: Sainsbury’s (£7)
Sainsbury’s stock two Malbecs from this producer, this is much nicer that the rather insipid Fair Trade option. It’s full-bodied and darkly fruity with tannins that scream ‘roast beef’.
Château Tour de Gendres, Bergerac 2017
- Available from: Vinvm (£15.10)
From one of the best estates in Bergerac, this is a blend of 60% Malbec with the rest Merlot. Very different to Argentinian Malbec, it has a firmness and freshness that will appeal to claret-lovers.
Best Malbec under £20
DV Catena Malbec 2017
- Available from: Sainsburys (£10)
Catena Zapata is one of the country’s giants making wine at all price points to a very high standard. This is Argentinian Malbec with the plushness levels turned up to 11.
Rustenberg Malbec 2018
- Available from: Waitrose (£8.99)
There’s quite a lot of Malbec in South Africa too, this example will impress even the best Argentinian producer. The fruit here is like summer pudding followed by peppery spice. Great fun.
Pulenta Estate Argentinian Malbec
- Available from: Berry Bros (£12.95)
Smooth as hell, perfumed with violets and crammed with juicy dark fruit, this is the very platonic ideal of what Argentinian Malbec should taste like. Excellent value for money.
Le Vassal de Mercues, Cahors 2016
- Available from: The General Wine Company (£14.99)
Yes, the tannins are quite firm, this needs food, but with its polished dark fruit, fresh plums, and floral edge, this is Cahors made with a nod to Argentina.
Leftfield Hawkes Bay Malbec 2017
- Available from Noble Grape (£16.99)
A rare spotting of a New Zealand Malbec with grapes from the highly-regarded Gimletts Gravel region and very different and delicious it is too: highly aromatic, lowish alcohol and beautiful bright red fruit.
Available from Noble Grape (£16.99)
Best Malbec under £30
Viu Manent Single Vineyard Malbec 2017
- Available from: Winebuyers.com (£112.15 for a case of 6)
This one was my mother-in-law’s favourite. It’s made on the other side of the Andes in Chile. There’s a great balance to it, with lush fruit, fresh acidity and a stalky, aromatic note.
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This review was last updated in January 2020. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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