What Is Malbec Wine?

A Guide to Buying and Drinking Malbec Wine

Malbec wine grapes

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In This Article

Originating in Cahors in the Bordeaux region of France, malbec (also known as côt) is now the iconic grape and signature red wine of Argentina. Sometimes used for red wine blends, the grapes are also used to make a luscious wine of the same name. Malbec wines exhibit flavors of juicy red and purple fruits, and, similar to most other red wines, are slightly high in alcohol.

Fast Facts

  • Regions: Argentina (Uco Valley, Tupungato, Salta, Paraje Altamira), Cahors, Chile, Tuscany, Sonoma
  • Origin: Cahors, France
  • Sweetness: Dry
  • Color: Deep purple
  • ABV: 13–16% 

Malbec vs. Merlot

Malbec and merlot both originate from the Bordeaux region of France and are used in red wine blends. While both exhibit flavors of dark, juicy fruits and notes of tobacco and vanilla, merlot is softer than malbec, with less intense tannins. Merlot grapes are most commonly grown in France and therefore tend to carry a higher price tag than malbec. Both wines pair well with red meat.

Taste and Flavor Profile

Malbec wines are dry, full-bodied, and exhibit rich, dark fruit nose and flavors like blackberry and red plum. They're juicy and jammy, with notes of vanilla, tobacco, dark chocolate, and oak. With medium acid and moderate levels of tannins, they pair well with food. High-quality Argentinian malbecs effectively reflect their terroir, with high altitude wine boasting red fruit flavors like cherry and raspberry and more floral notes. French malbecs are typically on the earthier side.

How to Taste Wine

Follow a few steps when tasting wine to ensure you have the best experience:

  1. Look: Take a good look at the wine, examining the color and opacity through the glass.
  2. Smell: Swirl your glass for 10 seconds and take a quick whiff. Then stick your nose into the wine glass for a deep inhale, taking in your first impressions of the wine.
  3. Taste: Take a small sip and let it roll around your mouth. Note the acidity, sugar, tannins, and alcohol content when first tasting, then move on to tasting notes (berries, spice, wood) and finally the finish.

Grapes and Wine Regions

While malbec originated in the Bordeaux region of France, it did not flourish there. Susceptible to pests and fungal diseases, it was progressively planted less and less and typically only used in blends. Once transplanted to Argentina in the 1800s, the vines thrived in the dry, high elevations and quickly became the country's most important grape. Lower altitude grapes tend to be thinner-skinned and used for blends and mass-produced wines, while high altitude grapes are thick-skinned and intense. Malbec ripens midway through the growing season, with harvest varying depending on the location.

Malbec grapes are used in a variety of red wine blends, often pairing with merlot, tannat, and cabernet sauvignon. It's one of the six wines allowed in a Bordeaux blend and is used to make a Cahors blend.

Food Pairings

Malbec takes well to food pairings and is best when served with smoky and spice-rubbed red meat. Try it alongside a sirloin steak, grilled lamb chops, or braised pork, or pair it with a rich blue cheese. Vegetarians may enjoy malbec with grilled, meaty portobello mushrooms.

Serve malbec or red wine blends featuring the grape in a red wine glass. Serve at slightly below room temperature, or about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don't have a cellar or wine fridge, stick it in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes before serving.

Key Producers, Brands, and Buying Tips

Malbecs are widely available at supermarkets, wine shops, liquor stores, and on restaurant menus. You'll likely find several options at a range of price points, with bottles sold for $12 to over $200. Most options will be in the $15 to $40 range, and a high-quality malbec can be had for a bargain, around $20 to $25—the value tends to be high when compared to French reds. If you can't find a good malbec, take home a merlot instead.

Look for these brands when shopping for the popular red wine:

  • Michelini
  • Luca
  • Superuco
  • Don Miguel Gascon
  • Antigal
  • Altos Las Hormigas
  • Colomé
  • Susana Balbo
  • Catena
  • Crios