Old World vs. New World Round Three: Malbec!

Many people think the Malbec variety is from Argentina. Many people also drink wine from stem-less glasses, but I can only save so many souls. I can, however, spread the word that Malbec originally hailed from France! Whether sipping that fuchsia-rimmed purple brew from Zwiesel or from Solo cups, the reason the public does not know this fact is that French Malbec will typically be labeled as “Cahors” a region in southwest France. It is also sometimes a component of Bordeaux blends. To complicate things further, in Cahors you will sometimes hear of Malbec by the name of “Côt”. They also sometimes call it Auxerrois, and to make this semantic hellscape even hell-ier, Auxerrois is also the name of a white grape grown in Alsace frequently blended with and labeled as Pinot Blanc. And then there is also Auxerrois Gris aka Pinot Gris, but we are now straying so far from Malbec that if I elaborate further you will be tempted to smash a bottle of Côt on ma tête. It’s no wonder Malbec wanted to escape its troubled and confused roots and leave its good-for-nothing parents Magdeleine Noire des Charentes (hear Mag was a real nag) and Prunelard (deadbeat poet) for the warmth and sunshine of the New World. Malbec dug its roots into Argentina’s Mendoza and never looked back, rarely acknowledging its French heritage. Not that its relatives haven’t tried to reclaim some of the grapes’ cache. Some French winemakers have tried labeling their wine as “French Malbec” in an effort to spread the word that little scamp in Argentina owes it all to them. I’ve also noticed there is a trend amongst my fellow wine-industry friends of hating on Malbec. Perhaps that is borne from how much consumers love it these days? Malbec is very easy after all. It tastes richly of dark berries, plums and has full tannins that are rarely rough. Notes of baking spice and yummy yum cocoa back it all up. It can be a tasty swill that will not challenge you. My only issue with some Malbecs is a careless heaviness. The flavor profile is rich. The body is full and tannins and alcohol high enough that in particularly warm regions it can be mouthcoatingly thick without enough nuance or complexity to interest me. But must we hate it because it is easy? I say we must not. Even though one story is that Malbec got its name from French for “bad” and “mouth” -- a term for someone who speaks badly of others. But I have also read that Malbec came from Malbeck, a doctor who might have introduced the grape to Bordeaux. I’ve further heard rumors Malbec came from its habit of turning one’s beak rouge. What Malbec may lack in complexity, it makes up for with confounding etymology. Also! So many of them did well with a hearty decant. So perhaps Malbec can get its groove with wine snobs back. And if not? Who cares. It keeps people happy. Now if we can just keep it in proper stemware. I drank oodles of Malbec for you, dear ones, to see whether Cahors perhaps could still beat its New World progeny. I have picked a winner I will declare at the end. Oh, and shower Malbec! Let me tell you, I really didn’t think I’d have one until it was rainy in LA, and then a nice warming glass of juice and a hot shower paired so perfectly I could not resist. Read on for results! CAHORS Just west of Bordeaux, along the river Lot is where they grew a lot of Côt. Apparently it was renowned back in the Middle Ages when it was called le vin noir or “the black wine”. It suffered setbacks, first when phylloxera struck, then when its vineyards were wiped out with the great frost of 1956. I do hear there was a cold war then. But replant they did, and by 1971 Cahors was granted AOC status, under which it must contain minimum 70% Côt with Merlot and Tannat. Here are my hot Côts: Chateau Pineraie Cahors 2014 I loved this once, twice and thrice! I’m happy to tell you it goes down well at my favorite wine bar, in my parents’ basement with a screener of A Star is Born, and well, back at the same bar where I went to taste it again. Probably my favorite Cahors all over. It is tart. It is somehow earthily refreshing and warming on a St. Louis winter’s day all in one fell swoop. It is not a unitasker wine. Domaine Cosse et Maisonneuve “Solis” Cahors 2016 It is new world in styling and old world in sophistication. Is it a solid classic example? Nah, but this is (almost 2019), and if Cahors wants to get mod with it, why not? It is sassy and high acid AND fruit forward. Best mash up of old and new I’ve come by. Chateau du Cedre 2014 Berries and pencil box notes out the wazoo. I adore when a winemaker can rein in ripeness with a…pencil box. Like they took all the berry colored/scented crayons and put them in a pencil box with many shavings of pencils. To those of you who are young, pencils are those things people wrote with when they gave up plumes and cared enough to want to erase. You will want to keep this wine in your memory. Distinctly an old world that has an attitude, yet is a friend. Like the deep friend whom you can say dark things to and they will share their darkness and you will connect on these things. ARGENTINA Malbec was brought to Argentina in the 1860’s where it felt the warmth of lying in the sunny Andes rain shadow, enjoyed the winds of the Zonda and discovered a multitude of altitudes and aspects in which it could grow and garner that coveted high diurnal range that allows grapes to get very ripe while maintaining acidity. Mendoza was to be Malbec’s spiritual, if not original, home. Here are the stand outs: Bodega Catena 2016 and Bodega Catena Zapata Nicasia Vineyard 2014 Ooh lala. They were both fabulous. If you have the bucks, treat yourself to the Zapata; it is sublime. But for about a quarter of the price the Catena may just be my favorite in terms of quality for price. But then, if you splurge with the Catena Zapata expect unequalled freshness, and blackberries floating down rivers of melting Andes snow and into your happy blessed mouth. Or is that just shower water because…you guessed it. If I am going to be so gluttonously luxurious as to take an alcoholic beverage into the shower, I’m going big. Zapata is great on dry land and just enormous in the shower. Septima Obra Malbec 2016 A rich one! And soft. Very dark berry and cocoa. So you have a chocolate bar and you shave it into thin shreds and toss them with equal parts black raspberries and raspberries and black cherries. Then you shred a tiny amount of mint on top. And serve on a very aromatic wood platter. I think it wants food. I’d actually like it with one of those dried blueberries coated in a blue tinted white chocolate shell. And if I may pair beverages with beverages, I’d like an espresso on the side. Don Miguel Gascón Reserva Malbec Mendoza 2015 There is some soil on the nose and on the tongue, but this is tart chocolate grown in earth that was steeped in some blackberry tisane. Flavor aside, the tannins are ripe and well-integrated, with flavors of overripe plum, black cherry, more dark soil and deep, dark bitter chocolate. The finish says I am whole. Namaste to this wine. Luca Wines Old Vine Malbec 2015 From the Uco Valley subregion of Mendoza! Elevation and old vines. Stout. Luca Malbec is not rugged, but robust and yet sharp-tempered. It has an attitude. I am not sure if it deserves the attitude, but it cops it, and I’m along for the ride because it is evolving in the glass as the night goes on. Also…YAY A WOMAN WINEMAKER! And also from the Catena family. Laura Catena has quite the pedigree. And it shows. So what is the verdict? If someone held a dried vine to my throat and made me pick a side, I would take Cahors. I found that all-around at many price points a lot of their wines pleased me. BUT! The Catena Malbecs, both high and low in price were delightful! Sadly there is no win in delight. France takes this round, but hey, it’s not going to hurt Mendoza. They still get most of the public’s praise. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Want to read more from Ellen? Check out her recent articles: Live, Raw and Real Old World vs. New World Round Two: Grenache Noir! Old World vs. New World Round One: Cabernet! You can also listen to Ellen's podcast with Shaughn Buchholz, The Wine Situation here .

Bodega Septima

Septima Obra Mendoza Malbec 2016

This wine likes you and therefore you like it. It is accommodating and friendly and always there for you and in this Malbec afternoon of life you’re enjoying that. Don’t think too much just curl up in its cocoa-blackberry coziness and let the tiny hint of mint keep things from getting old. I’m not a giant Malbec person but this one will coddle you into indulgence — 6 months ago

Paul, Ron and 8 others liked this

Domaine Cosse et Maisonneuve

Solis Cahors Malbec 2016

Fruit forward and also acid forward. Sassy sharp tongued berry hussy. I like it. It doesn’t taste like Cahors. Which is fine. Fin. — 6 months ago

A, GV and 19 others liked this

Bodega Catena Zapata

Alamos High Altitude Vines Selección Mendoza Malbec 2017

It’s good. It is friendly and just...well balanced. Not the most deep and complex but very smart. There is a brightness and cranberry with almost maple notes lingering in the background. That and a bucket of blueberry jam. But as I said, balanced. This jam knows how to balance work and family. — 6 months ago

Bill, Daniel and 18 others liked this

Château du Cèdre (Verhaeghe et Fils)

Cahors Malbec 2014

Another young soul in an old world body. I put this solidly in the...solid realm. It has berries and some cedar/pencil lead and it is a rather uptown cahors but I’ll take it! Meanwhile I’ll just keep trying to match bottle to shirt to eyes here. — 5 months ago

Paul, Jason and 11 others liked this

Bodega Catena Zapata

Alamos Mendoza Malbec 2017

Hard at work...this is fleshy and ripe but has a hit of green. Wonder if they gave it a tad of stem inclusion. Ripe and dried red fruit—something pruney going on. Not my favorite but I never get Malbec in blind tastings so attempting to learn. This is just a big mouthful of dried fruit served in a woodshop. Gives me flashbacks to when my granddaddy once made wine and the adults were trying it (I was maybe seven) and my uncle snuck to pour his out in the big sink in the garage near where granddaddy kept his woodworking stuff. The uncle turned out to be a ass so I’ve no idea if the wine was good but I drink this and...The smell of wood and wine... — 9 months ago

Isaac, Shay and 8 others liked this

Luca Wines

Old Vine Malbec 2015

Laura Catena is in charge here. All hail a wine with an awesome woman with a wine heritage killing it! Super into this. Give it a minute or so to get a breath of air then appreciate its voluptuousness. It is supple and earthy and has an attitude. This Malbec may just have made me its bitch. — 6 months ago

Daniel, Ira and 14 others liked this
Bill Bender

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😂 @Ellen Clifford half cat and half wine drinking mime
Ellen Clifford

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@Bill Bender well one has to keep life fresh 😬
Bill Bender

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Absolutely @Ellen Clifford 👍🏽👍🏽🍷🍷

Bodega Catena Zapata

La Consulta Nicasia Vineyard Malbec 2014

Hey. Hi. Oh. Hey. The fresh and acid and balance and blackberry and damnnnnnn it must be good because I do not have good words except that...I could use less dollars but it is VERY good — 6 months ago

Iwan, Trixie and 15 others liked this
Bill Bender

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Always fun to read your posts @Ellen Clifford
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And yours @Bill Bender ! 🥂

Bodegas Escorihuela Gascón

Don Miguel Gascon Mendoza Malbec 2015

Oh damn. Well. The Gascon workaday bev Malbec is good but this is...deeper and has balance if not nuance. The art film that is arresting despite depth.
So. That.
The thing is I didn’t expect it to knock out the basic Gascon but damnnnn the ripe plus the ripe plus superb levels that are not...see/breathe/chemical through. Very pretty to look at and there’s more than meets the eye.
— 6 months ago

Trixie, GV and 15 others liked this

Château Pineraie

Cahors Malbec 2014

I had it at Covell. I ended up accidentally buying the same at thanksgiving in St. Louis. And now I’m back at Covell drinking it because it stands well in many ways: it has a refreshing nature—some sort of herbal underbelly to it berry cassis fun. So far my top cahors pick but there’s more to be tried... — 6 months ago

Trixie, Bill and 6 others liked this

Bodega Catena Zapata

High Mountain Vines Mendoza Malbec 2016

It’s juicy it’s scrummy it’s not a wee bit glummy. It’s....great Malbec at a friendly price! Omg. Ripe and fresh. A little simple but I have no complaints. Curious to see how the zapata levels up — 6 months ago

Serge, Severn and 12 others liked this
Javier Torres

Javier Torres

Uno de mi vinos favoritos 👍🏻👌🏻🍷🍷