Back in my days working at Oddbins, where, in return for a pitiful wage I (wo)manhandled cases of wine and occasionally sold a few bottles of it, along with the packs of Marlboro Lights and cans of Foster's, I fell in love.
The object of my affections was rather exotic: muscular, mouthwatering and full-bodied, with a touch of Gaucho swagger and great to sit down with over a juicy steak. Aahh, Malbec (for it was he) swept into my life and seduced me with his, or its, easy charm. Full-on juicy black fruit, a whisp of tannin and a mouthwatering juicy freshness made it a great choice for food, but equally at home as a “DVD wine”. And, importantly for impecunious wine lovers, it was pretty cheap.
Malbec started its life back in la belle France, its stronghold the beautiful, hilly region of Cahors in the southwest of the country. Variously known as Cot, Auxerrois, and a string of other aliases (I fear it may have had something of a long and colourful past), it was also grown in Bordeaux – there are still small amounts of it there today. Malbec took off for the New World some time during the 19th century and made landfall in Argentina. There, in warmer, sunnier climes, the variety blossomed and captured the hearts of the local population, many of whom were Italian, French and Spanish immigrants, who brought their grape-growing, wine-making (and wine drinking) habits with them.
Back to my own vinous entanglement and here the story takes a sad turn. With hindsight it seems so obvious. I should of course have realised that I wasn't the only one who had succumbed to Malbec's easy charms. My cheap date had become the wine of choice for a certain brand of skint wine lover, but in the process of becoming more popular, as so often happens, it changed.
Buoyed by its newfound celebrity status, Argentine producers were no longer satisfied with the fresh, straightforward flavours of Malbec in the raw and succumbed to the lure of the winemaker's playthings: new oak barrels and lots of them and “premium” super cuvées with more of everything – concentration, glossy oak, alcohol, stupidly heavy bottles – and a correspondingly bigger price tag to match. Malbec had become a high maintenance WAG of a wine.
A few years back I tasted my way through a line-up of “premium” Malbecs – and what a depressing lot they were: they resembled shiny-haired, airbrushed models, surgically enhanced with silicone, pumped up with collagen and sporting a Botox-frozen expression – and they left me cold. Undoubtedly these were technically well made wines, but all that glossy new oak, those selected yeasts, the acidification and ultra-concentration had robbed them of their true identity. They could have been made from any grape variety, from anywhere. My old flame had gone out, it seemed, never to be relit.
Recently, though, a chance meeting in London fanned the flames of that first crush. I rediscovered the excitement that Malbec had stirred in me all those years ago, when I tasted wines from Argentinian producer Doña Paula. These Malbecs were fresh, lively, fruity – and oh so drinkable. Maybe now is the time to welcome my old flame back into my life with open arms – and a juicy steak maybe, or just stay in with a DVD...whatever you fancy.
Malbecs to make the heart race:
Slightly jammy black fruit aromas of cassis and juicy blackberry. Zingy fruit on the palate and a more savoury dimension with good freshness. The tannins mean it will be better with food. This has spent 10 months in a mixture of new and older French oak barrels.
Leafy, herbal notes on the nose, along with attractive, lively fruit. Plenty of layers of flavour and good freshening acidity - hints of Bordeaux there, with lacy, dainty fruit. Gentle, well-balanced tannins on the finish. Incredibly drinkable.
Le Cèdre, Château le Cèdre 2007, Cahors, France - £29.95 from slurp.co.uk, also at les Caves de Pyrène, Guildford
Back where it all began, in Cahors, southwest France. Malbec from here has never lost its fresh appeal – though at this price, as you can imagine, there is plenty of concentration too, along with the forest floor-tinged black fruit and more tannic backbone than you find in Argentina. A thoroughbred.