SIPS: A tale of two malbecs (and you thought malbec only came from Argentina)

After a long conversation about business with a friend, I  reminded her that, among other things, I write about wine. She responded by noting how she had recently been enjoying malbec. She quickly confirmed my hunch that she was  referring to malbec from Argentina, which has become an “it” red wine of late. I wasn’t surprised that she had no idea that malbec originated in France, as a blending variety in Bordeaux, where it has all but disappeared, and, more importantly, in Cahors in the southwest, where it remains the centerpiece of that appellation. More on Cahors in a moment.

But first, Argentine malbec can be stunning. One has only to  spend an evening luca malbecwith a wine like the 2008 Malbec from Luca Vineyard and Winery in the Uco Valley of Mendoza to get a sense of the variety’s depth and range in the sun-drenched region. This limited-production wine, which is priced at retailers on wine-searcher.com at anywhere from $25 to $37, has a refined, Bordeaux-like elegance with sweet and concentrated blackberry and plum tastes joined by earth and coffee notes, all supported by a fine tannic structure. Alcohol is 14 percent. Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, California.

Based on a sampling of several Cahors releases, the French wines deserve more attention than they are getting. Compared with malbecs from Argentina, their style is a bit less fruit forward and more lean, although I found good concentration and lots of complexity.  I also found the popular notion that they be somewhat coarse and unrefined to be overstated, at least in ‘06 and ‘07 vintages.

My favorite was the 2007 Cahors from Chateau de Gaudou, a ready-to-drink blend of 80 percent malbec, 15 percent merlot and five percent tannat. It has relatively soft tannins, blackberry and blueberry fruit and notes of mlk chocolate, herbs and black pepper. I was shocked at its $10 price. Alcohol is 13 percent. Imported by USA Wine Imports, New York.

Also worth trying is the 2006 Cahors from Chateau de Haute-Serre, which is well balanced with beautiful fruit, mainly blackberry, along with earth and tobacco notes. It’s listed on wine-searcher.com at at between $17 and $22. The blend is 80 percent malbec, 10 percent merlot and 10 percent tannat. Alcohol is 13 percent. Imported by Baron Francois, New York.

Notably, and with good reason, the varieties are listed on the labels of these wines.  This represents a welcome loosening of the strict French appellation and labeling laws that will allow the wines compete  more effectively with their New World counterparts. The average wine drinker will know that France, as well as Argentina, produces first-rate malbecs. Wines received as press samples.

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