Malbec. It goes by another name in my wine group. Okay, maybe I’m the one that calls it by that name. Have you ever blind tasted a Malbec and thought it was a Cabernet Sauvignon, or maybe a Zinfandel, or maybe a Merlot, or maybe a Syrah? No, when the bag comes off, it turns out to be a f@#%ing Malbec.
Malbec can have all three fruit colors, red, black and blue. But so can Zinfandel. Malbec can have a purplish hue, but so can Syrah. Malbec can have notes of bell pepper, but so can Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It’s a chameleon that likes to impersonate other wines. But what are the qualities of Malbec?
Originating in France, Cahors and Bordeaux, most of the Malbecs we see now are from Argentina. It is a thick skinned grape usually with new oak aromas such as smoke, toast, vanilla and spice. It can have some bell pepper aroma, but it won’t be as strong as in a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Merlot. It may have a purple hue and aromas of red, black and blue fruit but it won’t have the black pepper aromas of Zinfandel and Syrah. The Malbec grape has a phenolic aldehyde called vanillin. It’s the same vanillin that is found in oak, the phenol that gives wine a vanilla flavor. Some people, including the wine-whisperer in our group can taste the difference between vanillin from grapes and vanillin from oak. The vanillin from grapes has a more candied quality to it.
So if it tastes like a Cabernet Sauvignon, but not quite, or tastes like a Syrah, but not quite, or tastes like a Zinfandel, but not quite, or tastes like a Merlot, but not quite…and has a candied vanilla flavor…it’s a f@#%ing Malbec! It fools me every time.