The best wines offer aging potential and take meals to another level. This is where Malbec excels. This big, bold wine is expressive and delicious, and it makes an ideal candidate for both cellar aging and dinner pairing. The right pairing with Malbec delights the senses, leaving you eager to explore other combinations with this fantastic varietal.
Malbec Around the World
Before delving into the best way to pair Malbec with food, it’s important to know a bit of history about this wine.
This thin-skinned, dark purple-black grape is native to southwestern France, where it has been a local favorite for centuries. During the medieval age, Malbec was known as the black wine of Cahors, where it drew wide appeal for its inky color and bold taste. In fact, it was was such a favored wine that it earned numerous names. You might have called it Cot, Auxerrois, Cote Rouge, Jacobain, Pied Rouge, or Cahors.
Over time, the grape arrived in Bordeaux vineyard plantings, where it became one of the five main varieties in Bordeaux blends. Two chateaux—Pressac and Malbec—brought greater range to this inky wine. Their bottlings generated two more names for the wine, Noir de Pressac and Malbec. Today, Malbec is the most internationally recognized version, although many places in France still know the wine as Cot.
The 19th-century phylloxera epidemic almost wiped out French Malbec plantings, but luckily, some acreage survived. You’ll see about 15,000 vineyard acres devoted to this variety, primarily around Cahors. By the 1850s, Malbec rose to greater heights elsewhere. In the drier air, higher elevations, and warmer, sunnier climate of Argentina, grapes burst forth with renewed vigor. Today, Argentina outproduces France for Malbec grapes, growing about 109,000 vineyard acres.
Fun fact: April 17 is designated International Malbec Day.
What Malbec Tastes Like
To select the ideal bottle, you need to decide on where in the world it will come from. Since Argentina and France produce the most bottlings, they have the most distinctive and notable flavor profiles.
Most Argentinean wine grows in and around Mendoza, the traditional wine region accounting for about 86 percent of all production. Malbec from this central region, including the Uco Valley and Lujan de Cuyo, has moderate tannins and acidity. It is stronger in blackberry, black plum, and black cherry notes, along with florals, tobacco, warm spices, minerals, and a chocolatey finish.
Patagonia Malbec to the south has more minerals and red fruit notes along with slightly lower alcohol content. Malbec in Salta and La Rioja to the north has riper red and black fruits and an ABV approaching 15 percent.
French Malbec reveals tart currants and less ripe blackberries, plums, and raspberries. It has a stronger savory presence mixed with grippier tannins and higher acidity due in part to the limestone soils of Cahors.
Tips for How to Pair Malbec
Pairing food with Malbec is simpler than you might think. Since the wine has a fuller body, it's an excellent match for stronger-flavored and richer foods. Avoid pairing it with delicate or subtle flavors, which will lead to the wine completely overwhelming the dish.
Interestingly, the more moderate tannins in this wine lend themselves to a wide range of meats, where leaner cuts work equally well. You’ll find Malbec a great match for steak, pork, and lamb, as well as fattier fish like salmon and poultry with dark meat. Game meat—like bison, ostrich, and venison—are also a safe bet.
In addition to meat pairings, consider foods with richer sauces or more vibrant flavors. Avoid bitter vegetables or vinegar dressings, though, which can create bitter or metallic notes in the wine.
Here are some categories to consider:
Sauces and Spices
- Barbecue sauces
- Rustic and hearty sauces
- Asian spices
- Blue cheese
- Goat cheese
Pairing Malbec with a Variety of Dishes
Here are some of the main course dishes that pair exceptionally well with Malbec.
1. Blue Cheese Burger
Blue cheese burgers have a bold flavor, but they make an excellent pairing with an Argentinean variety. The wine offers a dark fruitiness that complements the pungent blue cheese, while its moderate tannins are a match for the richness of the burger and cheese. You’ll enjoy how the charred meat lends a smoky taste that complements the sweet tobacco notes in the wine.
2. Roasted Lamb and Mint
Lamb and mint is an exceptional pairing, so it’s only natural to add an Argentinean bottle of Malbec that further enhances the match. Remember to avoid mint chimichurri, which contains vinegar, and opt for a mint marinade that brings out fresh florals and fruitiness in the wine.
3. Marinated Flank Steak
Malbec marries well with a leaner cut of beef like flank steak. Marinating that steak in a French Malbec creates an even deeper connection to the meal, and helps to tenderize the meat. You can grill the steak and cook it with shallots or red onions to give the dish a sweet taste.
4. Mushroom Stuffed Peppers
French Malbec is the perfect complement to the savory notes in mushroom stuffed peppers, offering its own savory flavors along with red and black fruits. This pairing is proof that Malbec isn’t just a match for meat-based dishes. To bring out the best in this pairing, add a richer cheese like Gorgonzola to the stuffed mixture.
5. Thai Barbecue Chicken
Malbec goes well with barbecue sauce of nearly any kind—sweet, spicy, tangy, or a combination of all three. Thai barbecue sauce has plenty of contrasting flavor notes thanks to ingredients like garlic, ginger, honey, and lime. These flavors just happen to suit the wine’s often-spicier profile. Marinate the chicken, grill it, and enjoy it with a glass of this smoky red.
6. Teriyaki Pineapple Salmon
You can also pair Malbec with salmon because it offers a richer, fattier taste. Teriyaki pineapple salmon has a sweet and tangy mix thanks to the pineapple and soy sauce, making it well suited to the complexity of Malbec.
By now you’re likely eager to try out these Malbec wine and food pairings. We can help you pick the perfect Malbec to enjoy now, or even one you’ll enjoy after some cellar aging. Visit our online catalog to view our Malbec wine collection, or to discover another wine you love. You can also receive one-on-one assistance with JJ Buckley Fine Wines consultancy services.