Malbec on the rise - Old Bridge Cellars

Malbec on the rise

Jul 04, 2022Meg David

Malbec on the rise

The popularity of wines made from Malbec has increased progressively in Australia over the last 15 years.  In view of the outstanding quality and value of many of these delicious red wines, and their approachability when young and ability to develop with bottle age, this progress is bound to continue.

Malbec has had a chequered history. It originated in Bordeaux where it is blended with Cabernet Franc and Merlot and makes an important contribution to the great wines produced on the right bank of that region. Unfortunately, however, this grape variety is particularly prone to coulure (poor fruit set) and the effects of pests and frost. Consequently, wine makers in Bordeaux reduced the plantings of Malbec after their crops suffered catastrophic losses in 1956 due to very severe frosts. New clones and improved vineyard management have helped improve the viability of Malbec in Bordeaux where its quality is recognised in its status as one of only six grape varieties permitted in that premier wine region.

Malbec is known under a variety of names in France, generally related to the region in which its vines are planted. These names include Cot and Auxxerois, as in in Cahors in south-western France,  the current main home of this variety in France. The importance of Malbec in Cahors is reflected in the appellation rules for that wine region stipulating that its red wines must contain at least 70 % of the long-lived Malbec, supplemented by the tannic Tannat and/or the supple Merlot.

The current widespread popularity of Malbec was due to the discovery in Argentina of several indisputably world-class wines that were made from this grape variety. The first vines were planted in Mendoza as long ago as 1868 by a French botanist at the order of the local mayor! Little did they realise that Malbec would eventually constitute 75% of Argentina’s large total wine production!

In Argentina, the best Malbec wines are typically produced from vineyards planted at a substantial height in poor soils of the foot hills of the Andes. The potential problem posed by the very low rainfall in those localities is overcome by the pure water produced by the melting of the prolific winter snows in the high Andes, which supply the irrigation systems on which the vines depend.  Furthermore, the air is dry and unpolluted, reducing the chances of fungal diseases and avoiding the use of frequent spraying and facilitating an organic approach to viticulture.

In Australia, Malbec is best suited to regions with a moderate and maritime climate, such as Langhorne Creek and the Clare Valley to the east and north of Adelaide, respectively, and to Margaret River. In warmer regions, it tends to produce weak and undistinguished wines.

The remarkable rise in the popularity of Malbec in Australia owes much to the consistently high quality of the wines produced by Bleasedale and Bremerton in Langhorne Creek. In that region, Malbec thrives on the benefits derived from the rich alluvial soils, which are deposited in the vineyards of that region by the annual flooding of the Bremer River, and to those produced by the cooling winds emanating from the Southern Ocean.

The genius and devotion to Malbec by Serge Hocker, the chief wine maker at Bleasedale, have played the major role in the emergence of Malbec as a top-flight red wine in Australia. This would have contributed to the selection by James Halliday of Serge as his  Winemaker of the year in 2018. In an earlier newsletter, we promoted the Second Innings Malbec, which has proved very popular, and in this newsletter we follow this up with the Generations Malbec. 

Bleasedale Generations Malbec 2019 BUY NOW

The name of this wine recognises that Bleasedale is still run by the Potts family, a lineage that extends back to its founding by Frank Potts in 1850, which makes it the second oldest family-run winery in Australia. The 2019 Bleasedale Generations Malbec was made from fruit produced on separate blocks. After crushing, the most appropriate blend was then selected for maturation. This rich and generous premium wine has a deep red colour with a brilliant dark crimson/purple meniscus. The complex bouquet combines plum and blackberry aromas that flow on to the rich, refined and flavoursome palate, which is backed by soft tannins.  Wonderful drinking now but it will continue to develop for years.

Bremerton Battonage Shiraz Malbec 2019 BUY NOW

The exceptional quality, consistency and value of the Bremerton wines, under the astute and talented hands of Rebecca Wilson (winemaker), assisted by her sister Lucy Wilson (marketing manager), fully justify James Halliday’s five-star rating of this winery. As with the Shiraz Malbec made at the great Wendouree winery in the Clare Valley, this Bremerton Batonnage Shiraz Malbec demonstrates that Malbec not only produces superb wines on its own but is also an excellent grape for blending with other varieties, such as Shiraz or Cabernet.

The 2019 Bremerton Batonnage Shiraz Malbec was fermented and matured in high quality French oak for 16 months. The Malbec was lees-strirred (batonnage), thereby tempering the presence of any excessive tannin. This process has softened the wine and highlighted its attractive black fruit and spicy characters. The palate is concentrated and perfectly balanced. Drinking superbly now but is certainly worthy of cellaring for a few years.  

Beneath the Kite Malbec 2018 BUY NOW

This was the first time that we have had the opportunity to taste this Malbec, which was produced under the new label entitled “Beneath the Kite”. We were not disappointed! The wine is a supreme expression of how well Malbec performs in Margaret River when made by a winemaker who fully understands the characteristics of the region and its grape varieties. This Malbec was made by Mark Messenger, one of the most experienced and talented winemakers in the Margaret River wine region and currently senior winemaker at the highly respected Juniper Estate. The name “Beneath the Kite” was the fictitious name of a winery in a novel written by Mark’s wife Vicki.

The 2018 Beneath the Kite Malbec was made solely from Malbec grapes produced on a single vineyard in the prime northern area of Wilyabrup. The fruit was fermented in open barrels using wild yeasts  , with 10 % comprising whole bunches to add extra spiciness from the stems and juiciness. The wine was matured for 15 months in oak barrels, of which 20 % were new.

This Malbec has the classic almost opaque inky red colour and brilliant purple meniscus that characterise this variety. The intense and rich  plum, mulberry and chocolate characters on the bouquet extend on to the palate, which is full-flavoured, complex and long and  leaves delightful lingering flavours.  

Catena Malbec 2019 BUY NOW

No selection of Malbec would be complete without a first rate example of Argentinian Malbec and for this reason we have selected the 2019 Malbec from the very highly regarded Catena winery. This winery was established in 1902 by Nicola Catena, an Italian immigrant, and is now run by the fourth generation of the Catena family. The fruit for this wine came from three vineyards in the Mendoza region in the foothills of the Andes.  Each vineyard is planted on different types of loamy soil that overlie rounded rocks and which are located at different altitudes, i.e. 920, 1090 and 1450 m. These variations result in the production of fruit with different characteristics and thus, after blending, to a wine of increased complexity.

The fruit for the 2019 Catena Malbec was fermented using wild yeast and  matured in a mixture of 1,2 and 3 year old oak. The enticing bouquet of this wine contains an attractive combination of intense plum, dark berry fruits and chocolate. These flow through on to the medium weight and flavoursome palate whose structure and balance is ensured by the backing of excellent soft tannins. This very attractively priced Malbec, from the excellent 2019 vintage in Mendoza, is drinking superbly now and has a great future over the next 10 to 20 years.  No wonder that Matt Kramer, writing in the prestigious Wine Spectator in the US, asserted that Argentinian Malbec is the best value red wine in the world!

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