Malbec: Varietal of the Month

Marcy Gordon on Dec 30, 2019

When we think of Malbec the first thing that may come to mind is Argentina. But the variety actually originated in the Cahors region of France and is one of the building blocks of Boudreaux blends. But Malbec from the Mendoza region of Argentina is where the grape developed it’s following and found it’s place in the foothills of the Andes and high elevations sub regions of Luján de Cuyo and the Uco Valley. If you like Cab Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon you will most like enjoy Malbec as well. Inky and dark in color, Malbec ranges from medium to full body and pairs well with bold flavor forward foods like saucy meat dishes and strong chesses, and of course it is a delight as well all on its own.

Here are capsule reviews of some of the many Malbec wines you may find along the Wine Road.

Selection of Malbecs from the Wine Road lined up on a counter

Amphora 2013 Malbec Dry Creek Valley, Belvill-Hart Vineyard
Deep purple in color with a bluish halo on the edges as you tilt the glass toward the light.  Intense aromas of blueberries, black currant and ripe dark fruits. Great depth of flavor with full yet supple body delivers flavors of licorice, sour cherry, black oolong tea and a prominent cherry cola vibe. A bright note of maraschino cherry and mocha develops on the mid palate and lingers to the end. Pair with savory and spicy meat dishes like lamb kebabs or Moroccan beef stew. 

Dry Creek Vineyard 2017 Malbec
Initially elusive, this Dry Creek Vineyard Malbec develops slowly like a Polaroid photo—faint at first, the aromas and flavors gently come forward then deepen into a full spectrum of dark fruit flavors and vibrant expression of the grape. Rich and complex, it’s bursting with bright spice notes including white pepper and allspice along with lush ripe black fruits, particularly plum and boysenberry. Delicious and satisfying it offers great balance with firm yet silky tannins. You might as well take a picture, because it will surely last longer than the bottle once you open it.

Fritz 2016 Malbec Dry Creek Valley  
Bright clear ruby color with aromas of all spice, candied ginger and plums. Rich and full-bodied it’s constantly changing in the glass as it opens and develops to its full expression. Balanced and buoyant flavors of mocha, fig jam and fresh blackberries dominate on the mid palate. Long graceful tannins glide like velvet to a pleasing finish.

Hanna 2015 Malbec, Alexander Valley, Red Ranch  
Dark purple to garnet in color with a nose of blackberries, brambles and maple sugar. On the palate a full flavored rush of blueberry, black cherry, tart cranberry, and cherry cola. Tightly wound at first but settles down quickly. Each sip builds on the last, delivering a nuanced and delicious take on chocolate covered cherries. And I’m not talking about your grandma’s chocolate covered cherries, circa Forest Gump, nope—I’m talking about truly awesome chocolate covered cherry cordials made from the finest, juiciest cherries enrobed in the highest quality chocolate. That’s what this Malbec is reminiscent of—pure joy.

Malbec bottles on a counter with Christmas wreath in background

Kelley & Young 2016 Malbec, Alexander Valley, Robert Young Vineyard
Kelley &Young 2016 Malbec offers bright vibrancy with great depth grounded in dark fruits. Aromas of black plum, sage, vanilla, and spicy carnation open up in the glass. Abundant black currant, dark cherry, blueberry, raspberry and sweet tobacco are revealed on the mid-palate with a pleasing through line of anise. Deep, dark, and intense the long persistent tannins linger with a fine silky, powdery texture. Enjoy with braised meats or a simple charcuterie board of smoked meats and hard cheesees.

Longboard 2016 Mystos Malbec
Named after a secret surf spot, the Mystos Malbec is ripe, robust and fragrant with flavors of dark fruits, juicy Santa Rosa plums, blueberries, and hint of Cuban cigar. Full of texture, the silky smooth tannins are like a portrait of Elvis on black velvet: exciting and slightly irreverent, but classic in all regards. Surf the wave of flavor in this Malbec and pair with Korean BBQ or Memphis pot roast.

Peterson 2015 Malbec Estate Grown Dry Creek Valley, Bradford Mt. Vineyard  
Malbec loves a high elevation and Bradford Mountain, at 1260 feet, is an optimal location for growing wines that are expressive and reflective of their place—aka terroir. A few sips of this Malbec and you’ll be wondering—was this made by a winemaker or a wizard? It’s as if the wood sprites came out at night and secretly created a magical elixir. Aromas of crushed violets, brambles, dark fruits, cedar and a touch of spicy wild carnation mingle in the glass. Tremendous structure and balance support the plush flavors of licorice, mocha, dark cherry, boysenberry and a sassy top note of pomegranate. The supple tannins offer a steady backbeat to the thrum of texture and depth all the way through the finish.

Malbec bottles on counter with Christmas wreath in background

Rodney Strong 2014 Reserve Sonoma County
Sourced from individual lots on hillside vineyards, this Malbec is rich, lush, full bodied and age worthy. Aroma of violets, vanilla and coco puffs open into an opulent mouthful of blackberry and cola, with baking spice and a tinge of nutmeg. Long finish with lasting supple tannins. Pair with lamb couscous or enjoy on it’s own with a good book and a kind-hearted dog by your side.

Robert Young Estate Winery 2014 Alexander Valley, Sonoma
Dark garnet in the glass this lovely Malbec delivers aromas of black cherry with notes of plum, French vanilla and sweet and tobacco. Opens beautifully into a cascade of flavors featuring juicy ripe raspberry, wild sage, ginseng, tealeaf and a dusting of cocoa. Fine to powdery tannins with long undulating finish that rolls across the palate in satisfying waves of flavor.

Selby 2015 Malbec, Dry Creek Valley
Eighteen months in French oak give this Malbec a rich and complex structure with dominant flavors of red plum, blueberry, cocoa, and crushed violets. Medium tannins with a dollop of sugarplum smooth out the finish. Pair with Mac and Cheese made with the sharpest cheddar you can find. Or create a cheese board of semi soft and hard cheeses that will complement and harmonize with the cherry cola notes of the wine.

Williamson Wines 2014 Tango Malbec, Atlas Peak, Napa Valley
Big and beautiful, the Tango Malbec is a tailored power suit of flavor with a lacy camisole beneath. Tango, like it’s name implies is intense and fiery, a dance of inherent tension between lush fruit flavor and subtle tannins. Dark and seductive, it opens strong but settles into a delicate pas de deux of fleshy Bing cherry, wild violets, all spice, cigar box, caramel, and sage. Soft velvety tannins sidle quietly into the night. Best paired with someone you love.  

Posted by Marcy Gordon

Marcy Gordon is a freelance wine and travel writer. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Wine Enthusiast, San Francisco Chronicle, Sonoma Magazine, The California Travel Guide, and Forbes Travel Guide. In 2017 she was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers. She is the co-host of the award winning Wine Road Podcast.

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