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Behind the Grapes: Malbec

Behind the Grapes: Malbec
April 12, 2021 Ty Caton

This year, we’re taking you on a journey through the Caton Vineyard to discover each of the five grapes we grow in the Mayacamas Mountain Range. This time, we’ll be diving into the background and history of one of the world’s most underrated grape varietals: Malbec!


Malbec 101

Malbec is best known as the iconic red grape grown in Argentina. It’s also one of the six grape varieties allowed in Bordeaux blends and the dominant red grape variety in Cahors in Southwest France. It’s a thin-skinned grape that needs more sun than it does heat and tends to ripen mid-season. In blends, it can bring deep colors, beautiful tannins, and plum notes. Though Argentina is home to almost 70% of all Malbec plantings in the world (mainly in Mendoza), it’s also grown in France, Chile, California, Washington State, Southern Oregon, and New Zealand.

Map of where Malbec grows in the world

Origins of Malbec

Malbec’s origins can be traced back to northern Burgundy, France where it was known by its original name, Côt. In 1956, frost wiped out 75% of the Malbec planted in France, and most wineries chose not to replant it except in Cahors. 

In the mid-19th century, Argentine governor Domingo Faustino Sarmiento asked French agricultural engineer Miguel Pouget to bring Malbec cuttings from France to Argentina, which were then planted in Mendoza. The vines thrived in the hot weather and high altitude, and the iconic Argentinian Malbec was born.

In California, Malbec was widely planted and used in bulk wine blends before Prohibition. After Prohibition Malbec’s popularity declined, but in the mid-1990s, it rose again in correlation to the rise in popularity of the Napa Valley Meritage, California’s take on the  Bordeaux-style blend. Plantings have continued to grow across the state, and the grape is still widely used for blending today, though we choose to bottle it as 100% Malbec.


Tasting Profile

Wine Tasting Profile of Malbec

Recommended Pairings

Malbec is a beautifully diverse wine. It’s not heavy; it’s not light – it’s just right for all kinds of dishes. It tends to do well with leaner meats like chicken, lamb, and even ostrich. Malbec is also an excellent choice for funkier flavors like blue cheese, mushrooms, and cumin-spiced dishes. And finally, for dessert, you can drink it on its own or pair it with a decadent flourless chocolate cake.


Now that you’ve learned all about Malbec, it’s time for you to have a glass for yourself. Our 2018 Estate “The Ridge” George’s Malbec is a true California Malbec with inky black, magenta colors and classic aromas of plum, blackberry, white pepper, and delicate floral components. You can stock up here or visit us at our Tasting Room in Kenwood. Reservations are recommended and can be made here

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