Malbec is best known as the signature black grape of Argentina, making big, powerful, fruity red wines that partner well with red meat. Its original home is in France, where it is still grown in the Loire, Bordeaux and the South West. Until French vineyards were ravaged by disease, pests and frost in the 19th Century, Malbec was much more commonly grown than today.
Some farsighted Bordeaux Châteaux (such as La Haye of Saint-Estephe) are now increasing their Malbec plantings in anticipation of global warming. Its real French heartland is in Cahors in South West France, famous for its “Black Wines” made up of at least 70% Malbec, with Merlot and Tannat also permitted.
I was recently delighted to attend a tasting of the wines of Château Vincens presented by winemaker Philippe Vincens and Bren Smith of Mackenway Wines, and since we’re celebrating Malbec World Day this 17th of April, the occasion is perfect to share them.
100% Malbec, 13.5%, RRP €14
No oak is used for this entry level wine, as it is fermented in stainless steel then aged in cement tanks. It’s unmistakably French, with lots of fresh red and black fruit and round tannins.
A lively party wine with amazing purity. Would be fab with charcuterie, even served lightly chilled at a barbecue (remember those?!).
95% Malbec & 5% Merlot, 13.5%, RRP €17 – €18
This is probably the best-selling Château Vincens wine in the Irish market, and having tasted a few vintages of it I can see why. It’s matured in oak, but as only 20% of that is new, it doesn’t taste overtly oaky. The 2013 vintage suffered from a wet spring, so yields were down and the final wines lower in alcohol.
Freshness and acidity are the key for this year, not as close to the Argentine style as Origine 2011, for example, but it’s still more modern and easier to drink than many traditional Cahors wines.
100% Malbec, 15.0%, RRP €25 – €30
1995 was the first vintage of this cuvée, a selection from the best old vines in the vineyard. Now at 40 – 45 years old the yields are low, with only three clusters (all hand-picked) per vine, so flavours are intense and concentrated. As befitting its premium status the wine matures for two years in new French oak. At four years old the oak is still very evident – if you’ve ever been in a Médoc Chai, or failing that a carpenter’s workshop, the smell will be very familiar.
For me this isn’t something I would choose to drink on its own right now, but given another few years for the oak to integrate with the dark black fruit it will be something special.
100% Malbec, 15.0%, RRP €40
La Parcelle Oubliée means the forgotten plot, or block of vines within a vineyard. It wasn’t totally forgotten, just picked later than the other vines and so looked like it had been left behind…in fact I was tempted to bend the translation and say that “someone lost the plot”. But I didn’t.
The idea behind picking grapes later is that it allows them to develop even more sugar and flavour, creating a bigger wine. Fermentation is done in open topped 500 litre oak barrels, with “punching down” to extract as much colour, flavour and tannin as possible.
Phillippe kindly showed two different vintages of this wine – the 2009 which was lovely, but the just released 2011 was even more spectacular – Marvellously Mahoosive – and my favourite of the tasting!
Château Vincens wines are available at most good independent wine merchants.
Frankie caught the wine bug living in France in the 90s and has been sharing his love of wine ever since. He also writes for his own blog Frankly Wines, Glass Of Bubbly magazine and he runs private wine tasting events.