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Wine

Best Malbec

Historically used as a blending grape in Bordeaux, France, Malbec has gained popularity in recent years as its own varietal. Since not much Malbec is grown in France or other Old World countries, it's relatively rare to find 100 percent Malbec, or even a primarily Malbec blend coming from this part of the world. New World wine growers, especially those in Argentina, have taken it upon themselves to make world class wines that allow the bold flavor of this grape to shine.

Malbec requires warm, dry conditions to thrive. It's susceptible to frost and mildew and tends to develop problems when grown in cool, moist climates. Because of this, production is limited to hot, sunny hillsides in some of the world's warmer appellations.

Though many winemakers in Northern California and Australia now produce Malbec, these wines are not the most popular and distribution is largely limited to local wine shops. Major wine distributors, including online stores and large retail chains, primarily carry Argentinian Malbec.

 Susana Balbo Signature Malbec '11

Susana Balbo Signature Malbec '11

With a score of 93 points from Decanter and 90 points from Wine Spectator, Susana Balbo Signature Malbec '11 isn't just our favorite Malbec for under $20, it's also a favorite with the critics. This wine has been blended with 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon for added richness and complexity. It's a deep, dark violet color with a huge fruity nose and plenty of berry on the palate. The main aromas are of blackberry, cherry, and violet, while the primary flavors include ripe plum, dark chocolate, and vanilla. In addition to this already rich, complex flavor profile, this wine also has notes of mint and oak both on the nose and the palate. This big Malbec pairs very well with any hearty meal, especially one that focuses on a flavorful meat dish.

Norton Reserva '09

Norton Reserva '09

Made of 100 percent Malbec, Norton Reserva '09 is one of our Best Picks. It's aged for one full year in French oak, and then held in the bottle at the winery for another 9 months before release, ensuring that by the time the wine is available to aficionados, it's at its best. This is a bold wine with big fruit flavors and subtle notes of mesquite and mocha. Though it's full bodied, unlike many Malbecs, this one isn't overly tannic or harsh, thanks in part to a natural malolactic fermentation that leaves behind a silky smooth mouthfeel. The '09 is ready to drink now, but will still be excellent until 2018.

Kaiken Ultra Malbec '11

A bright red Malbec that stands apart from the inky black competition, Kaiken Ultra Malbec '11 is one of our favorites. This wine is full-bodied, with soft tannins that give it plenty of body without any edginess or harshness. The flavors in this wine center around black fruits, with vanilla and toast playing back up. The aroma has lots of red and black berry flavors, as well as a hint of earthy tobacco. Scoring in the 90s with professional wine critics, this is a well-regarded wine and considered to be the best vintage to come out of Kaiken so far.

Catena Malbec

Catena Malbec

Known for making some of the best Malbec around, Catena makes an excellent, affordable Malbec for those who don't want to spend a hundred dollars a bottle. This winery's Malbec is a jammy wine with big fruit flavors and aromas. The nose has big blackberry aromas, while the palate highlights softer raspberry and blueberry flavors. In addition to this wine's fruity qualities, it also has notes of lavender and violet, and hints of mocha and vanilla on the nose, along with leather and cinnamon on the palate. The tannins are big enough to support the complexity of the wine, and the finish long and acidic, with notes of minerality.

Manos Negras Malbec '11

Manos Negras Malbec '11

Scoring in the 90's with professional wine critics, Manos Negras Malbec '11 is one of our favorite bottles of Malbec for under $20. 2011 was a good year in Mendoza, with dry, warm conditions that Malbec grapes need in order to thrive. This wine displays all the best qualities of the varietal, with lots of big black fruit on the nose and palate, as well as subtle notes of violet on the nose, and anise and cocoa on the palate. The tannins are soft, making this an approachable wine that's ready to drink right away.

Catena Zapata Nicasia '08

Catena Zapata Nicasia '08

Malbec may be new to the world market, but it isn't new to Argentina. Catena Winery has been producing Malbec for around a century and today's generation of winemakers have learned how to make this wine shine. Catena Zapata Nicasia '08 is our absolute favorite Malbec. It's very dark in color, with red and violet hues that bring to mind the dark fruit flavors and aromas that Malbec is known for. The nose of this wine has spice, oak, black cherry, and black raspberry. The palate shows off even more dark fruit, with blackberry jam and plum complemented by notes of black licorice, baker's chocolate, violet, and spice cake. This truly is a remarkable wine, and one that's perfectly ready to enjoy right now, though it will also hold for another 15 years.

Achaval Ferrer Finca Mirador '09

Achaval Ferrer Finca Mirador '09

Made from grapes taken off of 95-year-old vines, Achaval Ferrer Finca Mirador '09 is one of our Best Picks when it comes to top-end Malbec. 2009 was an excellent year for Mendoza wines and this Malbec is shaping up to be one of the best. Though it won't be at its peak for a few more years, this wine is already quite approachable, with an incredibly complex flavor profile that wine critics have been quick to praise. There's spice, sandalwood, espresso, lavender, and black cherry on the nose, and violet, raspberry, blackberry, and slate on the palate. With so many layers of flavors, this is one wine you'll want to come back to again and again.

Luca Malbec '11

Luca Malbec '11

A wine so dark it could be used as ink, Luca Malbec '11 is a powerful wine with lots of dark flavors and aromas. It has rich aromas of black cherry, cola, cocoa, and spice, and a bold, complex flavor profile that backs up the big berry flavor with espresso, mineral, and balsamic vinegar. The finish is long and well-structured, with an acidic bite at the end that helps this wine finish nice and clean. It's spent 16 months aging in French oak, 60% of which is new, which gives lots of bright woody notes to the wine. In order to get the most out of this wine, you'll want to pair it with a meal that offers equal complexity. Wild game, lamb, or a hearty steak are excellent choices.

Tikal Amorio Malbec '11

Tikal Amorio Malbec '11

Tikal Amorio Malbec '11 is a fruit forward wine that's delicious now, without any need for additional cellaring. The nose has cherry and smoke and the palate cherry, berry, and a bit of stone. These clean flavors blend together into an incredible experience, and make this an ideal Malbec for those who like the fruitier qualities of this intensely flavorful grape. A rather tannic wine, the finish is very dusty, calling to mind the hot climate and dry earth that this varietal of grape thrives in.

Chateau Haute Serre '10

Chateau Haute Serre '10

One of the top 100 wines in Wine Spectator's 2013 list, Chateau Haute Serre '10 is an easy choice when it comes to high end Malbec. This wine has violet, licorice, and oak on the nose, aromas provide the perfect back up to the big, dark fruit aroma that this grape is known for. The palate is equally well-balanced and also quite complex, with lots of fruit and an edginess coming from the tannins. Though it is quite tannic, the tannins don't overpower the fruitiness, instead providing support and structure and making this wine a great choice to pair with rich foods such as foie gras, or flavorful meats such as goat. In order to get the most out of this vintage, you'll want to wait five years so that the flavors have a chance to evolve.

Crystal Beran
Crystal Beran has spent the past 10 years immersed in the exciting and delicious world of food and drink. She has honed her cooking skills as a baker, a caterer, and a personal chef, and currently spends a good deal of her time training the next generation of young chefs. Her work as a wine steward has helped her to develop a discerning palate and a love of excellent wines from all over the world. Over the years, she has had the good fortune to visit wineries in Northern California, Tanzania, France, and Italy. In her spare time, she brews beer and invents delectable dishes to share with friends, family, and students.
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