Where has all the Malbec Gone?

Surveying the changing Malbec landscape.


Almost fruity by design, because that’s what we know you like. The natural, slightly bitter character of Malbec is being obscured, in those examples that through clonal selection, cropping, or vintage character still display it. In its place we’re increasingly finding the fruit that consumers have grown to expect from their wines. Not enough fruit? Not a very good wine.And that’s where malbec is headed.

Hurtling towards the abyss of blackness, in grave danger of losing what was once it’s calling card. It’s not a situation unique to malbec of course, but Malbec, much like Shiraz before it is the current poster child for the dumbing down of wine.
There is of course hope and reason to remain positive about the prospects for Malbec, but as $8 bottles turn into $12 bottles, and $12 bottles into $20 bottles, the value proposition begins to slip away, and that is where the real danger lays. A fruity, easy going wine with that extra bit of fruity sweetness works at $8, perhaps even still at $12, but as it comes into competition with other wines at higher price point it runs into problems. 
Stylistic problems, simply being outclassed by wines that offer more nuance and detail, as well as problems with its value proposition. Again reference to Shiraz is valuable here. why would someone pay $20 for a big fruity wine when for $12 you can get 90% of the experience? Consumers didn’t do it with Shiraz, and unless the Malbec industry wises up they’ll be in that same boat.
And in case you’re wondering, no I’m not talking exclusively about Argentina here. Today’s tasting included wines from Washington, California, France, and Chile.  In fact my two favorite wines came from France and Chile, respectively, and they displayed the nuance that malbec is capable of beautifully.  The subsequent wine all tended towards more of the fruit forward style that we’re growing accustomed to, and there is where things begin to get a little dicey. 
The question becomes “What do I want?” and to a certain extent I have difficulty articulating what I want, relying simply on the thought “ more of what the 2006 Chateau LaGrezette and the 2010 Perez Cruz Cot Limited Edition are offering.  A little less fruit, a little less oaky, a little less sweetness. That’s all I’m asking for. let the detail malbec grown in fine terroir is capable of shine through. Sure, there will always be a place for the big, bold, smooth and fruity style of malbec, but when that is all we’re left with, well then we lose sight of what malbec is all about, and it becomes all too easy to simply opt for a wine that highlights the fruity side of the variety. The $12 2012 Apaltagua Malbec Reserva does that all too well, and might just be the portent of Mlabec pricing wars coming down the pike.
I’ve been a bit too dour today. I know that, but as Yogi berra once famously said; “It’s deja vu all over again.” We’ve been down this path before. Let’s hope this time we’re taken to a different destination. 

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Top Malbec Tasted 4/14

Chateau Lagrezette Malbec Cru d'Exception Cahors France (2006)
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Perez Cruz Limited Edition Cot Malbec (2010)
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Vina Cobos Malbec Bramare Lujan de Cuyo (2011)
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Vina Cobos Chardonnay (2012)
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Kaiken Ultra Malbec (2011)
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Graffigna Centenario Reserve Malbec (2010)
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Bodega Cuarto Dominio Chento Malbec (2011)
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Apaltagua Reserva Malbec (2012)
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Sagelands Vineyard Malbec (2011)
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