SOME months ago, when I was in Khartoum, I was surprised to see an American wearing a T-shirt proudly bearing the message, “I’m a Malbec fan.” My surprise was not at the message, for Malbec is very much the go-to varietal wine in the United States, but that the wearer should dare to flaunt such a message in the strictly temperate Sudan.
From obscurity, Malbec has come to be the flagship wine of Argentina, the most fashionable varietal among American consumers, and now widely available on our supermarket shelves from a range of sources. This is by no means a new arrival, however: it was noted in the 1780s as being planted in Bordeaux, where it was originally called the Lutkens, after the doctor who introduced it.
In Cahors, where it must account for a minimum of 70 per cent of the composition of the wine, it has been called variously the Auxerrois, or the Cot. It is also grown under the same name to a limited extent in Touraine. In both these areas, the wines generally are described as being made from the Malbec, as, thanks to the popularity of their South American cousins, they are more easily recognised.
Historically, the wines of Cahors were described as “black wines” because of the intense depth of their colour. Nowadays, they are more approachable. A good example is the Jean-Luc Baldès Malbec du Clos Cahors 2014 (Waitrose, £8.99). It is suggested that the ideal accompaniment for this is a cassoulet; but I would suggest that it goes well with any hearty stew.
From the same store, and at the same price, it would be interesting to compare it with the Chilean Luis Felipe Edwards Malbec 2017. This is somewhat softer, and has the distinct taste of ripe fruit.
Marks & Spencer is a chain that seems to have taken the Malbec to its heart. Two examples are the Quetzal Malbec from the Guadalupe Valley in Mexico’s Baja California (£9), and the high-altitude Campos de Solano blend of Malbec and Tannat from Tarija in Bolivia (£11).
Other Malbecs on the shelves of their larger food stores include Louis Esterhuizen’s Weather Station 2017 from the Western Cape in South Africa (£7, a case of six reduced to £36); the organic Santa Emiliana from the Rapel Valley in Chile (£9.50); from the South Island of New Zealand, a Nelson Malbec 2016 (£9, a case of six reduced to £54); and Australia’s Clare Valley Peacock’s Fan Dandelion Vineyard 2015, at £12 (a case of six reduced to £72). It would be interesting to have a comparative tasting of these.
Majestic Wine Warehouse is rather more conservative in what it offers, but it has a full range of Malbecs from Argentina, starting, price-wise, with Santa Ana 2017 at £5.99. (All Majestic prices I quote are based on their Mix Six rate. For single bottles, the prices are generally £2 higher.) Then come Las Maletas 2017, which has spent nine months ageing in barrel, for £6.99; a Kaiken Selección Especial for £7.99; and, finally, my choice, the Catena 2015 at £11.99.
While Argentina may now be the flag-bearer for the Malbec grape, it has plenty of followers at its heels. It is not just in the hotels of Khartoum that its fans can be found.