Today's Hottest Red: Malbec


When I asked Madison restaurant wine directors to share favorites from their wine lists for this issue, I also asked them what’s been hot recently. Red wine made from the Malbec grape was at the top of the list for both dining out and retail. What happened? Just thirty years ago the grape seemed on the verge of extinction. Malbec is one of the five grapes allowed in the production of red Bordeaux, but wine makers there are using it in lesser and lesser quantities. In California, where it was known as Mataro, older vines planted before Prohibition were replaced with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. What saved Malbec is Argentina, where it flourishes in high altitude vineyards with a long, dry growindg season. There, its tannins are rendered silky and fine, and its characteristic dusty black fruits shine. It is arguably the finest wine with grass-fed beef, an Argentinean specialty. Best of all, it’s a great value and more versatile with food than all but a handful of red wines.


Argentina 2006 $7.50
Deliciously dry and focused. Not especially complex, but a tremendous value for a wine that’s so nicely round and sappy.

Clos la Coutale

Cahors France 2006 $16
Smoky, licoricy nose gives way to a supple texture with pronounced black cherry notes. Lovely with cheese, especially Alpine styles such as Gruyere or Wisconsin’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve.

Cueva de los Manos

Argentina 2006 $15
The fruitiest of the bunch; a real charmer with a juicy texture and hints of saddle leather and blueberries. A versatile wine at the table—try with snapper in a Mediterranean preparation.


Mendoza Argentina 2006 $22
Cabernet-like aromas of cassis and cigar on the nose. Pure and firm, with textbook flavors of black fruits and earth. A classic with grilled ribeye steak.

Dona Paula “Selección de Bodega”

Argentina 2005 $41
Powerful and ripe, the palate explodes with ripe tannins, a chewy texture and bacony sweetness. A wine for special occasions and special foods. Decant a good two hours before serving and beware the unusually heavy bottle. The featured vintages are available at Madison’s finer wine stores. If unavailable, most purveyors will special order from their wholesalers if requested.

Michael Kwas is wine director at L’Etoile restaurant. He writes this column monthly.

Madison Magazine - October 2008
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