Malbec

All You Need To Know About Malbec: A Quick Guide

Malbec is the most well-known red grape from Argentina, although it originated in France as one of the 6 Bordeaux blending varieties (however, it’s used in minimal quantities now). It’s a dinner crowd favorite as it’s velvety and easy drinking (but also structured) 

A few more notes on Malbec:

  • Some of the best come from Mendoza in Argentina
  • These wines typically showcase dark fruit, but in high elevations, more red fruit shines
  • Smoky notes are also very common
  • Malbec is easy to pair with a lot of heavy dinner entrees, and especially good with red meat (burgers are my fave!)

The following guide will illustrate what Malbec tastes like (aroma, flavor, and structure). It will also tell you where it’s from, provide you with common food recommendations, similar varieties, and let you know why you should be drinking more of it!

How would I describe Malbec?

Big

Malbec is certainly considered a heavier red. Fairly big in body and full of ripe fruit. It’s a wine that is well-loved with heavy dishes like a steak, a burger, or BBQ! 

Inky

Malbec is known for its tell-tale dark purple hues! Often fairly opaque, Malbec has thick skin and needs a lot of sun and heat to mature! In France, the conditions are cooler, which often produces a more dark/inky and rustic wine. In warmer climates like Argentina, you will often notice a bright magenta rim!  

Juicy

More than any other element, Malbec is known for its big fruit. It’s often a great mix of black, red, and blue. The wines from Argentina are typically very ripe, luscious, and juicy!

What does Malbec taste like?

Malbec Taste

These are the most familiar tastes and aromas I typically find in a glass of Malbec. It’s also common to find cherry, plum, raisin, graphite, soil, black pepper, tobacco, mint, licorice, and vanilla depending upon where the wine is from, and how it is made.

Remember, wine tastes are somewhat relative. There may be some different tasting notes you consistently find while drinking Malbec.  

What about structure?

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to structure for every grape, however, there IS a general range when it comes to body, acid, alcohol, and tannin for each. Below are general guidelines for classic representations. Growing conditions and winemaking techniques can impact each of the following.

Full Body

Think of that weight as a liquid scale, from water (light body) to heavy cream (full body) in your mouth. Malbec is a big wine with full fruit flavors!

Body of wine

Medium Plus Acid

You can judge acidity based on whether your mouth waters after you take a sip of something. The more you salivate, the higher the acid. Malbec usually ranges between medium and medium plus.

acid in wine

Medium Plus Alcohol

You can feel alcohol ‘burn’ the back of your throat when you take a sip. Malbec grapes get very ripe and usually fall between medium-plus and high alcohol. 

alcohol in wine

Medium Tannin

Tannin contributes to the dryness of a wine. It comes from the skin of the grapes during the winemaking process. You can tell a wine has high tannin if it dries out your tongue. It imparts almost a bitter flavor. Malbec is typically very smooth, but tannin can jump to medium-plus.

tannin in wine

Where is Malbec from?

wine from Argentina

Argentina

Primarily in: Mendoza

Malbec did not originate here, but is said to have been brought here in the 1800’s and thrived in the warm climate and higher elevations. It is now the countries most popular red variety. The higher altitudes can lead to thicker-skinned grapes and more intense wines! Mendoza is the famed region for Malbec due to the elevation and soil conditions being ideal! These wines are likely to show a fair amount of ripe black fruit, with a red raspberry liquor note, as well as smoky minerality and a hint of cocoa! Typically luscious and full-bodied!

You can also find Malbec from the France (Cahors), Australia, and California.

What are the best food pairings for Malbec?

Wine and Food Pairing

Burgers

Why?

If I’m drinking Malbec it’s usually because I’m making burgers! This is one of my personal favorite pairings. The burger is usually charred a bit which is great with the smoky elements in Malbec. The food is also heavy, but not enough to overpower the wine! All the rich fatty flavor seems to go down perfectly with a glass of Malbec, which complements all of the flavors! 

Wine and Food Pairing

BBQ

Why?

One reason is that the savory flavors and richness of the meat balance out the tannin of the wine! Another is that you typically put sauces with flavors that match Malbecs flavor profile, such as fruity, tangy, smoky, and spicy! 

Wine and Food Pairing

Steak

Why?

Malbec is a full bodied and typically robust wine, however the tannin can be softer than other reds, so lean cuts of steak are a better option! The bold dark fruit and full flavors are a great accompaniment!

Other Pairings: Lamb, Duck, Pot Roast, Sausages, Pulled Pork, Stew, Mexican, Bold Cheeses, Charcuterie

What other similar varieties would I enjoy?

(common confusions)

Sangiovese

Syrah has:

  • darker color (generally less vivid magenta)
  • more black pepper and “meaty” qualities
  • typically less red fruit
Cabernet Sauvignon

Merlot has:

  • typically less intense fruit
  • more green/bell pepper flavors
  • typically more complexity (more flavors and aromas)
Tempranillo

Zinfandel has:

  • typically less color pigment
  • more fruit inconsistency (tends to be both jammy and tart)
  • typically more alcohol

A Certified Sommelier and Certified Specialist of Wine with a passion for everything wine + beverage!