Author mug

By The Glass


Dark, blueberry-nuanced
Malbec rivals other reds

Recently more and more Malbec wines, specifically from Argentina, have been finding space on U.S. store shelves and wine lists.

What is Malbec?

Malbec is a grape variety that traditionally assumes the support role in red-wine blends, especially in Bordeaux. Because of its thick skin, Malbec adds color, structure and a wonderful dark berry character to a blend. But on its own the varietal has not experienced the marketing success of Merlot or Zinfandel.

In Hawaii you don't have many opportunities to taste wines exclusively produced from the Malbec grape. But recently I had the rare chance to try two, side-by-side.

The first wine was dark and deeply purple, opulent and supple on the palate with an extraordinary concentration of blueberry fruit flavors.

It was complemented with tons of wood -- so much, that I pulled splinters from my mouth. The wine had a real "oaky" edge, both in smell and taste. I initially thought it was a high-end California Merlot, or perhaps Cabernet Sauvignon. To my surprise it turned out to be a Malbec-based red from the Mendoza region of Argentina.

It was tasty, well made, clean, pristine and technically perfect. It was, however, missing something that I could not put my finger on.

The second glass of wine was also very dark and inky, but not as heavy or bitter. It had similar blueberry flavors with additional nuances of violets, cedar, tobacco and an intriguing hint of rustic, Old World "funk" that made my eyes open wide in wonder. For my palate, "funk" like this is a great bonus and is what generally separates Old World wines from New World wines, providing an important sense of place.

A wine with a true sense of place exhibits character reflecting the uniqueness of where it was made, the soil, the people and their traditions. In this case, it made the second wine much more interesting than the first. This wine had soul.

The wine was from a small appellation in southwest France called Cahors and was also produced from the Malbec grape. Nicknamed the "Black Wine" for its deep, dark color, it is as interesting and tasty a wine as I have found, and at a reasonable price.

It is this wine that makes me think Malbec has tremendous potential. For time being, however, you have to be very selective to find the right one. My recommendation is the Cahors from Clos la Coutale ($22). Call around and see if you can find a bottle to try it for yourself.

Mark Shishido is restaurant manager for Alan Wong's restaurants.

This column is a weekly lesson in wine
pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals.
Write to

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin