WASHINGTON WINE VERSUS THE WORLD-MALBEC
Malbec expresses itself in a multitude of ways depending on where it’s grown. In France, Malbec goes by the name Côt and to a lesser extent, Auxxerois. Here, it produces ruby-hued wines that show currant, plum, dark-berried fruit, leather, and spice with an overall rustic and earthy character. In Argentina and other New World winegrowing regions including Washington, Malbec expresses itself with a unique magenta hue, a tell for New World Malbec, as well as with an abundance of fruit such as blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, raspberry and plum along with a touch of black pepper. Malbec takes well to oak, which imparts hints of chocolate, coffee, and tobacco and pairs amazingly well with a variety of foods, particularly anything grilled.
Historically, Malbec was one of the six approved grape varieties allowed in Bordeaux blends, but in recent years fell out of favor amongst grape growers due to its poor resistance to Spring frosts, commonplace in the maritime climate of Bordeaux. Just a bit further south of Bordeaux, in Cahors, Malbec produces a rustic version of wine with lighter fruit aromas and an earthy profile. By luck, Malbec was brought from France to winegrowing regions in the southern hemisphere, in particular Argentina, where it found itself a popular home. Here, the dry, sunny, high altitude vineyards offer a large diurnal temperature swing which helps maintain Malbec’s medium acidity and medium tannin structure. You’ll find plantings of Malbec in Chile, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and California, but in Washington state Malbec shines.
Malbec in Washington state can be a component of a blend, adding an abundance of dark fruit to the mix, but most often it is showcased as a single varietal wine. Planted throughout many of its winegrowing appellations, Washington’s warm, dry climate aids the ripening process of this thick-skinned grape while the large diurnal temperature helps retain the acidity vital to producing age-worthy wines.
So, let’s take our 2018 Columbia Winery single varietal (100%) Malbec (100%) Malbec from Red Mountain. Red Mountain is one of the smallest and warmest of Washington’s AVAs. This sub-appellation sits in the southeast corner of Washington state with southwest facing vineyard slopes soaking up every hour of sunshine during the growing season. Nighttime temperatures drop significantly allowing the vine to relax just a bit and retain the grapes natural acidity. Here on Red Mountain, Bordeaux varietals like Malbec thrive. 2018 was an amazing vintage allowing the grapes time to slowly ripen and develop concentrated flavors. The 2018 Malbec is purple in color with a magenta hue. It shows blueberry, blackberry, and spice and with 16 months spent in French and American oak. This wine is well-balanced, structured, and age-worthy. Serve this delicious Malbec with a lamb burger with goat cheese and caramelized onions on a grilled brioche bun for the perfect pairing!
Cheers and enjoy!
- Shelly Fitzgerald, Wine Education Specialist, CS, CSW, AWE, WSET Level 3