Malbec, the Summer grilling wine

By John R. Fischer, MD–Council Bluffs, Omaha

(Originally appeared in Wine, Food & Friends, Issue #90, Summer 2009)

Summer is here, and it is time to fire-up the barbecue. If you are looking for an inexpensive, ready-to-drink wine that is a perfect match for a Summer barbecue, try an Argentinean malbec. The common saying that the foods of a country evolve around its wines could find no better expression than that of the cuisine of Argentina. The locals’ love of beef is exemplified in their most famous daily staple, parrillada mixta, a grilled combo of beef cuts and saus age. Beef is cooked over an open flame, glazed in a garlicky chimichurri sauce, and topped with a fried egg.

Argentina is the only place, with the possible exception of the Cahors region in France, where malbec is the dominant varietal. How ever, in recent times, many Argentinean vintners are removing malbec wines and replacing them with more prestigious vines, such as cabernet sauvignon. In Bordeaux, malbec is used in small amounts to round out the character of their blend. However, even in Bordeaux, the use of malbec is declining. In spite of this, it is unlikely that the apparent winnowing out of this excellent varietal will result in its demise. Malbec is the wine of Argentina. Some of the best malbec wines in the world come from this country, and it is unlikely that the country will give up this heritage.

Malbec is not a refined, sophisticated varietal, but rather it is a rich, hearty, and satisfying wine that can often be a very fine value. A good quality malbec will be rich, beefy, and full-bodied. Tannins are soft, and acids provide sufficient tartness to round out the balance. Some of the better wines can be of surprisingly high quality. These are forward wines with bright, plush, juicy flavors, which foretell its relatively short longevity. Most Argentinean malbec wines should be consumed within three years.

Malbec is gifted with an array of complex flavors. Look for dark colored fruits such as plum, blackberry, raspberry, black currant and black cherry. However, the tie-in with barbecue comes from its smoky, charcoal scents and flavors that are seasoned with just a dollop of oak. The wine’s rich full body, combined with its other sensory characteristics, neatly complements the character and richness of Argentinean cuisine.

The rich and hearty character of the wine together with its fresh, vibrant fruit makes this drink a great match for big, full-bodied dishes such as game, grilled meats, pot roast, sausage, roast pig, pulled pork, and other similarly styled dishes. It is a best suited to a casual setting such as outdoors barbecue, and picnics, but is not out of place in a more formal ambiance.