Malbec: The Budget Red that Loves Steak

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Malbec: The Budget Red that Loves Steak

A Bordeaux native now loving life in Argentina, heat-seeking Malbec is basically the wine equivalent of a well-worn leather jacket. Wines made from Malbec are robust, inky purple, and quite tannic. In France, it’s often blended with Merlot and the blend makes a lot of sense: One’s rough, one’s velvety; both have a through-line flavor of plums. The other fruit characteristics of a typical Malbec usually include cherry, blackberry and pomegranate-chocolate, leather, mocha, tobacco, stone and green herb notes also come up. (French Malbec is much less fruit-forward than its Argentine cousins.) It can be rustic and a little gruff, or it can be relatively refined.

Malbec is a great value compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, so it’s a good varietal to have on your radar if you are a person who enjoys a steak. I mean, there’s no reason not to pair it with mushrooms or roasted potatoes if that’s what you like, but for what it’s worth, this varietal tends to prefer meat, especially the red kind. If you and it are on the same page about that, varietal Malbecs from Argentina, Chile, California, Oregon and Washington are very easy to find, and French wines that say “Cahors” or “Pressac” are likely to be Malbec based. Have fun.

8 Bottles to Try


Amalaya (Argentina, $16)

Amalaya’s Malbec is on the lighter end of the spectrum for the varietal, more “ruby” than “inky” and more clear, snappy raspberry than dark musky blackberry, but it’s definitely still Malbec. Peppercorn, vanilla, violets, raspberry, oak.

Browne Malbec (Washington $33)

For me, “refined” is a word that seldom comes up with Malbec-that might say more about my price tier than about the varietal, but in general there seems likelier to be something rough-and-ready about the stuff. To the extent there is an exception there’s this bottle, a wine with markedly silky tannins and great litheness. Plum, crème de cassis, cacao, basalt, milk chocolate, coffee, pomegranate (or rhubarb? I think pomegranate).

Colome (Argentina, $30)

Century-old vines produce the fruit for this stuff; it’s fairly crisp but no one would call it “light.” Cassis, blackberry, a hint of fig; mocha, clove, gravel.

Hendry Malbec (California, $30)

Hendry’s Malbec has a strong cedarwood note that might make you think it was a Washington wine if you were blindfolded. Definitely on the ink-smoke spectrum, with prominent plumminess and some chocolate, mocha, tobacco and a meaty quality. Persistent finish.

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Intrinsic Wines Red Blend (Washington, $23)

Malbec is blended here with Cabernet Franc. The result is a complicated aromatic situation; plum and blackberry, mocha and stone, raspberry and baked figs, dark chocolate and herbs (I get lavender and enough mint to suspect eucalyptus trees near the vines). Super smooth.

Maryhill Malbec 2014 (Washington, $27)

The multi-taskin’ fools at Maryhill nail yet another varietal. This Malbec has aromatics of cranberry, leather, nutmeg, clove, violets and marionberry. Suave chocolatey finish.

Nine Hats Malbec (Washington, $25)

In a word, this stuff is “burly.” Dark and a bit imposing, with a smoked meat character. Blackberry and black plum dominate; secondary flavors and aromas include baking spice (nutmeg and clove) and a little coffee or mocha.

Terrazas Malbec Reserva (Argentina, $16)

Big. Big big big. Dark with strong tannins, this wine has a dried fruit character (raisins, prunes) and violet, vanilla and clove traces. The finish is a little smoky, a little chocolatey, with a hint of black cherry. A classic grill wine.