Malbec Matters


Malbec Matters

Bar None

Dr Debbian Spence-Minott

Thursday, October 15, 2020

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This week, we travel, if only mentally, to the continent of South America and pause to discover the rich, dark fruit flavours of Argentina's Malbec grape. There are several wine-producing areas within Argentina; however, since the region of Mendoza is home to more than 70% of Argentina's vineyards, what better place to begin our Malbec discovery.

Mendoza's Malbec

Most of Argentina's well-known Malbec producers can be found in Mendoza. One of the most familiar regions around Mendoza is the Valle de Uco (Uco Valley). The terroir of the Valle de Uco includes well-drained soil, consistent climate (sunshine) and ideal topography (significant altitudes), all contributing to Mendoza's advantage in winemaking. In fact, most vineyards capture approximately 3,000 hours of sunshine per year and are also approximately 3,000 feet above sea level. The vines of Mendoza span around 1,500 acres and offer wine lovers an exclusive experience of hands-on winemaking from the grape to the glass.

The Malbec grape is an extrovert

Think: Dry, full-bodied, leaning higher in alcohol (14% abv), with robust tannins and decidedly fruit-forward. The Mendoza sunshine at the altitudes grown gives the grapes a chance to carry considerable sugar levels, which converts to elevated alcohol levels in the bottle and high acidity. The Malbec grape is known for its plump, dark fruit flavours of blackcherry, plum, blackberry, blueberry and raisins together with pomegranate and raspberry; the fruit also possesses a smoky finish. These wines are great alternatives to cabernet sauvignons as the tannins are not as pronounced. Here are four amazing facts about why Argentinean Malbec matters:

1. Argentina 'saved' Malbec — The grape, also grown in France, was reinvigorated by Argentina. Today, Argentina leads production of the grape with over 75% of all the acres of Malbec in the world! Hence, Malbec's status as the grape of Argentina.

2. Blind-tasting tell signs of Malbec — Pour a glass of Malbec, tilt the glass to the side and hold to the light or against a white background. Can you see a magenta-tinged rim? Malbec wine is a deep purple-red that is nearly opaque, similar to syrah/shiraz. Malbec wines will often have a bright magenta rim – the ultimate telltale sign!

3. Malbec loves altitude – In lower elevations, Malbec grapes struggle to produce the acidity needed to create great-tasting and long-lasting wine. High elevation areas with a wide diurnal temperature shift (that is, hot days and cold nights) contribute to the grapes producing more acidity.

4. Malbecs are not very oaky — Because of the Malbec's rich flavours, many wine tasters perceive that oak has contributed significantly to the wine's finish. Not true! The standard Malbec spends about six months aging in oak. As you ascend in the price-quality relationship, the wine will spend a longer period of time (18-24 months) interacting with the oak barrels.

Malbec's Pairing Picks

Do you love meats? Then Malbec will be your wine of choice. If you think about it, Argentina is known for its quality meats. It is customary for the wine producer, irrespective of global location, to develop wine to complement the food flavours of that particular region. So, think: Malbec; think: Meat! Other pairings include (a) spices and herbs — spices that have earthy or smoky flavours, such as parsley, thyme, rosemary and barbeque sauce, complement the Malbec wine; (b) vegetables and vegetarian fare — green and red bell peppers, potato, arugula, kale, onion, beet, and black bean all pair well with Malbec; and (c) cheese — rich, soft to semi-firm cow's and/or goat's milk cheeses work best!

Making Malbec Moves

Frankly speaking, all Malbecs are great! However, we know that greatness is relative, so let us clue you in on what to look for based on pricing – our continuum ranges from good to iconic – as you simply can do no wrong with Malbec!

• Good - J$1,500 - J$3,000 per bottle

• Great - J$3,000 - J$7,500 per bottle

• Exceptional - J$7,500 - J$19,500 per bottle

• Iconic (usually hand-harvested with great ageing potential) – Over J$20,000 per bottle

As usual, we include in our pictorial highlights some great wines available in Jamaica. Your assignment is to contact your local wine purveyor, wine shop, restaurant or supermarket to determine what Malbecs and prices are available to you. Cheers to making Malbec moments!

Readers' Grapevine Club: If you are new to wines and want to join us on our wine discovery, then this is for you. On the third Thursday of each month, I will highlight your feedback on our grape variety/vine of the month. For November, we welcome the chilled atmosphere associated with Eiswein or Icewine. After all, if we were in wine country, we would be looking forward to welcoming winter.

Readers' Feedback:

Extraordinary wonder and joy are interwoven through ordinary life; seek them relentlessly. Please share with me your wine, spirits and cocktail experiences or comments on the above article at, or follow me on IG @debbiansm #barnoneja.

Dr Debbian Spence-Minott
An Alumna of the US Sommelier Association
CEO of the Academy of Bartending, Spirits & Wines
President, Jamaica Union of Bartenders and Mixologists (JUBAM) Limited
CMO – National Rums of Jamaica Ltd.

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