The Malbec grape is a thin skinned grape and needs more sun and heat than either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot to mature. It ripens “midseason” and it can bring very deep color, ample tannin, and a particular plum-like flavor component to add complexity to claret blends. Sometimes, especially in its traditional growing regions, it is not trellised and cultivated as bush vines (the goblet system). Here it is sometimes kept to a relatively low yield of about 6 tons per hectare.
The wines are rich, dark and juicy. As a varietal it creates a rather inky red (or violet), intense wine, so it is also commonly used in blends, such as with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to create the renowned red French Bordeaux “claret” blend. Other wine regions use the grape to produce Bordeaux-style blends. The grape also needs a high differential between day and evening temperatures, a minimum fluctuation of 27 degrees Fahrenheit in a day. The varietal is sensitive to frost and has a proclivity to shatter or coulure. The grape is also blended with Cabernet franc and Gamay in some regions such as Loire Valley. Called Auxerrois or Cot Noir in Cahors, called Malbec in Bordeaux, and Pressac in other places, the grape became less popular in Bordeaux after 1956 when frost killed off 75% of the crop. Despite Cahors being hit by the same frost, which devastated the vineyards, Malbec was replanted and continued to be popular in that area where it was mixed with Merlot and Tannat to make dark, full-bodied wines, and more recently has been made into 100% malbec wines there. Despite a similar name, the grape Malbec Argente is not Malbec either but rather the southwestern France grape Abouriou. The grape is also confused with Auxerroirs blanc, which is an entirely different variety.