The story of Malbec starts in Bordeaux, France, where it has been used as a blending grape for hundreds of years. One of the five classic grapes of Bordeaux (six if you count the “lost” grape of Bordeaux, Carmenere, thought to be extinct for 100 years but found to be doing quite well in Chile, where it was mistaken for Merlot), Malbec is used in small quantities to add tannin and color to the Cabernet and Merlot based reds of the region. However, the thought of using Malbec as the primary grape in a Bordeaux Blend would send a Bordeaux purist into conniptions. Instead, in France outside of a few wines from Cahors, Malbec is relegated to being a second stringer, not worthy of its own wine.
How fortunate we are that the Argentineans don’t feel the same way. Brought to Argentina in the mid 1800s, it was widely planted. During the late 20th Century, Argentinean growers discovered that they could produce high-quality wine from Malbec, and it is now Argentina’s widest planted varietal.
The United States has fallen in love with Malbec, both for its lush, ripe flavors and its price point, as many South American wines are a relative bargain compared to imports from Europe or Australia. As a varietal, it is growing faster than any other type of wine, and it has good name recognition among younger drinkers.
Septima Malbec is a favorite of mine. It has a wonderful aroma of blackberries and plums, and in the mouth it is mouth-filling, firm and dry with a distinctive oak note. Rich jammy fruits play against the brambly tannins, keeping the wine balanced. From the Western edge of Mendoza, up against the foothills of the Andes, the winery itself is over 3,000 feet above sea level, which moderates the warm summers with a cool alpine breeze.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this wine is it’s price. In most stores you should be able to find it for $13 a bottle or less, which makes it a fantastic buy for a delicious Malbec.
The Wine: Bodega Septima Malbec
Appellation: Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina
Production: 50,000 Cases
Where you can find it in Fairbanks: By-the-glass at Gambardella’s Pasta Bella, Geraldo’s, Pump House, Last Roundup, and Brewsters; Off-Sale at Gold Hill and Gavora’s Fine Wine.