“When you can’t handle the heady concoction of wine and women, it’s time to pack up your bags and quit" – Anurag Shourie.

If you’re under 40 (or, as I like to call it these days, "pre-arthritis") you probably won’t remember the dark days of Malbec when you had a 50-50 chance of opening something that would be as rough as sandpaper on your palate.

These days, the grape has been tamed by the South Americans and latterly the South Africans and Aussies, but if nostalgia floats your boat or you are just into wine masochism, there’s still a few gambles to be had in the south of France. Ironically in Bordeaux, it’s one of the grapes allowed in their illustrious reds but nearly always as one of the minor parts of the cepage.

It’s the Argentinians who turned the fortunes for the grape and in the process, forcing the wine world experts to sit up and take notice of what up until then was a giant but not very noticeable industry. The vines they use are different from the French varieties, even though the original cuttings came from there in the 19th century which suggests that the variety they were sourced from originally is now extinct in Europe.

Malbec itself is a dark, rich grape with very thick skin so it needs a lot more exposure to the sun than Merlot or Cabernet, which explains (in part at least) its success in the New World. In cooler vintages, the already generous tannins can be a tad brutal but with enough of a tan they pair superbly with the fruit to give a really generous mouth feel on the palate which can make even the lower-priced wines taste so generous and luxurious.

The best Malbec in my view is still being produced in Argentina, and with their unique variety I can't see that changing for quite a while. But with the Aussies and South Africans experimenting more and more, the future looks really exciting for this former bad boy of the Cahors.


  • Hermandad Malbec, Argentina: A rich full-bodied wine with red cherries, warm plums and hints of violet. An absolute corker of a wine. Richardson's of Whitehaven, £22.95.
  • Tesco’s Finest Malbec, Argentina: I do my best to hate supermarket own-label wines but every now and then one like this comes along and I have to swallow my pride. Blueberries and cocoa on the nose with dark autumn fruits, vanilla and spice on the palate. It’s gorgeous, what else can I say? Tesco, £8.00.