SEVERAL YEARS AGO, I fell in love with Malbec, a grape often considered minor in its native Bordeaux. I became entranced by examples made from grapes grown under the warm, sun-soaked skies of Washington’s Columbia Valley.
My interest eventually turned from, “That’s interesting,” to competing with my deep interest in petite sirah, to something resembling an obsession. Any opportunity to try a Malbec is never refused, and my friends and neighbors now are often extolled with the virtues of Malbec, usually over a glass.
April 17 is World Malbec Day. I usually pay little attention to such made-up promotional days, but for Malbec, I’ll make an exception. While World Malbec Day is an invention of the Argentine wine industry, it turns out to be pretty accurate, as the grape travels well.
In the Pacific Northwest, I’ve tasted delicious examples stretching from the California border into the interior of British Columbia, and I’ve found astonishing wines in Idaho’s Snake River and Lewis-Clark valleys.
Typical international Malbecs come from Argentina and France’s Cahors region. But among the most memorable wines I drank last year was one from South Africa’s Western Cape. Examples can also be found from Chile, Italy, Australia and Israel. Bring them on. My love of Malbec has no borders.
Why love Malbec? Typically, the inky red wine is loaded with ripe flavors of red and black fruit, backed by spices such as black pepper and cumin. It’s supported by mild tannins, relying on refreshing acidity for structure, which often invites a second glass. My tannin-averse wife prefers Malbec over other wines.
The wines tend to pair well with grilled meats, rich Italian dishes, mushroom stews, lamb and roasted vegetables.
The acidity and the fruit lead to better balance; Malbec often offers a better opportunity to age into graceful and interesting wines. I’ve tested this theory with some 15-year-old Northwest Malbecs that were nothing short of extraordinary.