Malbec offers big bang for your buck, writes Christine Austin, who picks her 12 best buys.

It was when I was standing in a slightly muddy field, hot sausage in one hand, glass of wine in the other, watching the local firework display that I really appreciated the flavours of Malbec.  Its rich, dark, plum-filled flavours wrapped themselves around the meaty sausage perfectly, and kept out the cold too.

Malbec has become so popular, particularly for pairing with meat that it is in danger of going down the Chardonnay route to self-destruction. I know several sommeliers who refuse to list Malbec in their restaurants, preferring to steer customers away from these easy-drinking, powerful flavours towards something more challenging.  But what is wrong with easy-drinking, powerful flavours? There are many times, especially when there is a roast rib of beef on the table, or a steak on the grill that the flavours of Malbec are just perfect. And the fact that it comes at a range of prices means that you can match the bottle to the occasion without breaking the budget.

Malbec is the signature grape of Argentina. It is full of dark, bramble and damson fruit, sometimes with a whiff of violets on the nose and with varying amounts of structure, from plush and soft, to structured and chewy, depending on its winemaking and oak aging. The vines arrived in South America in the mid 1800s when cuttings were imported from Bordeaux and it settled in rather well.  In the far west of the country, tucked up against the magnificent Andes mountains, where the air is clear and the natural warm sunshine contains more ultra violet light than our northern hemisphere, Malbec grapes ripen to a deep, purple colour. Within the skins, flavours become full and generous while tannins round out and soften.

Some of the best Argentinian Malbecs come from the Uco Valley, a long ridge of land lying close to the mountains. With the snow-topped peaks in view, and at an altitude of 1500 metres and more, the warm daytime temperatures promote lush, ripe fruit, but at night cold air flows down the slopes and settles around the vines. It is this daily warmth and nightly chill that retains those fabulous flavours in the grapes.

Now that Argentinian Malbec has tasted such great success, the vignerons of Cahors in France who for decades have battled to sell their wines are now climbing on the band-wagon have started to put the name Malbec on their labels instead of the traditional Cot.  Malbec is also being grown in Southern France, Australia, South Africa and even New Zealand.  Each country has its own take on the grape, but wherever it comes from Malbec seems to settle in a make good wine.

On a sliding scale, depending on budget, here are my dozen Malbec best buys.

French Malbec 2017, Tesco £5

A bargain Malbec with warm, jammy, blackberry and cherry fruit. Perfect for any Monday through Wednesday pasta or shepherd’s pie supper.

Malbec 2017, Argentina, Morrisons £5

From the San Juan area of Argentina, this soft, juicy, mulberry-filled wine has enough meat-friendly structure, to accompany sausages and terrines.

Exquisite Collection Argentinian Malbec 2018, Uco Valley, Aldi £5.99

Sourced from the Uco Valley, this is a softer style of Malbec, juicy and packed with plum fruit and edged with spice.  The regular-sized bottle is good for weekday suppers while the magnum, with enough for 12 glasses of wine (£11.99) is great for a party.

Legendary Malbec 2016, Lot, France, Spar £7.50

From the traditional home of Malbec this is an unoaked, fruit-filled version, with dark plum and cherry flavours and a long, supple finish.

Seascape Malbec 2017, Capeography, South Africa, Booths  £8.75

While Argentina uses altitude to keep their Malbec grapes cool, in South Africa they rely on the sea breezes sweeping in from the South Atlantic.  These vineyards can see the sea and the grapes ripen perfectly, keeping vital freshness and fruit.  This is big enough to taken on spiced chicken and pork ribs.

Jean-Luc Baldès Malbec du Clos 2015, Cahors, France, Waitrose £8.99

From the original home of Malbec, where it used to be called Cot, this is a damson and spice-filled wine with grip and personality.  It can handle beef with ease but it goes particularly well with roasted duck breast.

Don David Blend of Terroirs Malbec 2016, Argentina, Co-op £9

The Calchaquí Valley in Salta is 1000 Km north of Mendoza where vineyards are planted in the foothills of the Andes at around 1700 metres altitude. This cool, sunny location produces vivid, intense flavours of mulberries, damsons and violets. Structured, firm and suited to red meat, this is a real treat.

Château Les Rambauds Malbec 2016, Bordeaux, France, Marks and Spencer £9.50

Inky dark and full of chunky black fruit flavours with an edge of chocolate and a dry, firm finish.  This is Malbec with a French attitude.

Viñalba Mendoza Malbec 2017, Argentina, Morrisons £9.75

Hervé Fabre is the Frenchman behind the Viñalba brand and he has transformed the availability and flavour profile of this grape.  Viñalba wines are listed in many supermarkets and independents, some blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Touriga Naçional or Cabernet Franc.  All of them hit the mark for flavour and value.   This is the straight Mendoza Malbec and it is packed with mulberry and plum fruit, supported by quality oak.  Good enough for a Saturday night dinner party.

Craft 3 Malbec 2017, Mendoza, Marks and Spencer £10

Blended from 3 high-altitude sites in the Andes foothills, hence the name, this is a chunky, rounded, multi-layered wine, with dark plums upfront backed by hints of chocolate and spice.

Fuzion Winemaker’s Selection Malbec 2017, Mendoza, Waitrose £11.29

A soft-style of Malbec, packed with fruit and balancing freshness but without the chunky tannins that can sometimes get in the way of food. Layers of raspberry, strawberry and blackberry fruit wrapped around by silky, ripe tannins.  No oak in this wine so the flavours shine through.

Colomé Malbec Calchaquí Valley, Salta, 2016, Waitrose £17.49

Available only on-line and in the top stores, this comes from the highest vineyards in the world.  Some are planted at 2600 metres which means cold nights, sunny but cool days and a long, flavour-developing ripening period.  It is an intense, chewy, complex wine, packed with flavour, structure and power. Perfectly balanced, pour this alongside a Sunday rib of roast beef.




About The Author

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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