Malbec: blind tasting tips

Malbec is one of those varieties that can be hard to spot just because it’s yet another full bodied, tannic red.  How do you distinguish it from Cabernet or Shiraz or more powerful styles of Tempranillo?  The good news is that when you know what to look for, Malbec is relatively easy to spot.  

The first thing to say is that while the tips below are valid across different regions of origin for Malbec, if you have a French example from Cahors, you can generally expect a more savory profile than in Argentina. Cahors is one of the most savory of all French reds.

As usual, the most reliable way of identifying Malbec is via its tannic structure.  Malbec is almost always a variety which shows high tannin.  What else can we add?

  • The tannin is powerful, rustic and is often rather coarse

  • Because Malbec is a Bordeaux variety, the tannin is felt around the edge of the mouth

  • More specifically, the tannin is felt on the hinge of the jaw

  • A classic sensation with young Malbec is the ‘lockjaw’ sensation: it’s hard even to open your mouth after swallowing because the tannins glue themselves to the jaw so much

Other noteworthy attributes of Malbec:

  • You expect a wine of this weight and concentration to be black fruited.  But often Malbec is RED fruited, specifically with a raspberry scent

  • In spite of that sweet red fruit on the nose and on the front of the palate, it finishes very dry.  A sweet start with a dry finish is quite unusual and distinctive, especially when the wine is not from Europe

  • There is a distinct dried tobacco note on nose and on finish

Ultimately, Malbec is (was) a Bordeaux variety. That means it’s built on tannins. Focus on that and you’ll improve your chances of spotting it correctly.