French Malbec: France’s Answer To Argentina’s Most Famous Wine

A French Malbec vineyard could look like this.
A photo of a Malbec vineyard in Argentina (couldn’t find one from France!)

French Malbec is a red wine grape variety grown in wine regions such as Cahors, a wine region in southwest France. While it is not as well known as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, it is a quality French wine that can be enjoyed at an affordable price.

French Malbec: What Does The Wine Taste Like?

Wine writers and reviewers generally focus on a few attractions of the best Malbec wine when discussing French Malbec.

  • Fruity Flavors: Red plum and blackberry are typical in French Malbecs. Dark fruit flavors are dominant.
  • Secondary Flavors: Oak aging adds flavors like dark chocolate, vanilla, and tobacco.
  • Tannins: French Malbecs have a moderate level of tannins.
  • Alcohol Levels: Malbecs usually have a medium-high alcohol content (i.e., 13-5-14.5% alcohol by volume). Keep this alcohol level in mind so you can moderate your alcohol intake.

In terms of French wine regions, French Malbecs are mainly produced in the Cahors wine region (southwest France). The limestone soils of this region give the grapes serious tannin and dark fruit flavors. If you are looking for a bottle in the wine shop, ask for “Cahors Malbec.” Most wine writers consider Cahors to be among France’s best warm regions for wine production.

Tip: Want to get specific at the wine shop? Look for on the “Appellation D’origine Contrôlée” on the Cahors Malbecs wine label. This designation means that the wine must contain at least 70% Malbec wines. Don’t expect 100% Malbec in Cahors Malbec. The French approach in this wine region tends to favor blends of different red wine grapes.

What is the Difference Between French Malbec and Argentine Malbec?

Argentine Malbec is more widely known than its French counterpart. There are a few reasons for this difference. First, Argentina grows much more Malbec (i.e., over 25,000 hectares in Argentina for Malbec vs. approximately 6100 hectares for French Malbecs). Second, the Argentine wine industry has emphasized Argentinian Malbecs in their marketing and exports for a more extended period. Third, Malbecs grown in the Mendoza region of Argentina get a tremendous amount of sunshine. As a result, Mendoza Malbecs are rich and riper. As a result, this type of Argentinian wine is usually seen as a relatively fruity wine.

In terms of flavors, Argentinian Malbecs have some similarities to their French counterpart. In your wine glass, you will notice black cherry, black plum, and blackberry. A Mendoza Malbec may be a good choice for wine drinkers who prefer a riper fruit style in their wine.

In terms of price, there are differences between Argentina Malbec and French Malbecs. If you want the least expensive possible Malbec, Argentina is your best bet for bulk wines. Setting aside bulk wines, let’s see the range of prices.

French Malbecs at Wine.com: At the time of writing this post, Wine.com had 16 French Malbecs available.  You can find highly regarded wines like Crocus Malbec de Cahors (i.e., retail price of $45). There are also several French Malbecs selling for less than $20. In terms of producers, Georges Vigouroux Malbec is a good entry-level French Malbec.

Argentine Malbecs. At the time of this writing, Wine.com had more than 100 wines from Argentina. In terms of regions, Mendoza is the biggest producer, but there were 31 from the Uco Valley. There is a handful of Argentine Malbecs over $100. However, there are many options under $25, including wines that have received good scores from Wine Spectator and other wine writers. Since Argentina produces so much Malbec, Argentinian producers are known for their bar-setting Malbec. Look out for the black plum flavors in Argentine Malbecs.

What Food & Wine Pairings Work For French Malbecs?

One of the most incredible benefits of wine is how it can enhance a meal. If you are planning a meal featuring cuts of beef, Malbec is a good choice.

Red meat is the traditional food & wine pairing for Malbecs. More specifically, ask for lean cuts of beef like a flank steak or a top sirloin. Avoid relatively richer cuts of beef like filet mignon. Malbec wine may be overwhelmed by richer cuts of beef or rich sauces.

French Malbec: Frequently Asked Questions

At this stage, you might have some further questions about Malbec. Before you head to your wine shop, find out more.

What is sweeter, Malbec or Merlot?

Alas, there is no simple answer to the question. In general, Malbec and Merlot are both made in a dry style. However, tannins can change your experience. Tannins, also found in tea, tend to give red wine a mouth-drying sensation. Some people experience tannins as ‘sour’ or counteracting sweetness. If you are looking for Malbec with plenty of fruity flavors, Argentinian Malbecs are a good bet. Likewise, you might prefer a new world Merlot.

On the other hand, French Malbecs tend to give a different powerful wine experience. Some wine writers note that French Malbecs have savory flavors.

Are Malbec and Merlot the same?

No, they are different red wine grapes, but they share a common origin. Merlot comes from the Bordeaux region and southwest France. Today, Malbec wine in France mainly comes from the southwest of France. That said, French producers often favor wine blends. In Bordeaux, many red wines are made from a blend of multiple grapes, including Malbec. In Cahors, wine is typically made with at least 70% Malbec. If you regularly drink red wines from France, it is more than possible that you have enjoyed a blend of Malbec and Merlot together!

Aside from that shared history, there are significant differences.

  • Argentina is the number one producer of Malbec (i.e., 84% of global Malbec production), while France is the second-largest producer of Malbec. There is also some Malbec made in the US (e.g., Washington Malbec).
  • Merlot is produced around the world. Currently, the USA is the number one producer (51% of global production). France is the third-largest producer of Merlot.

What is Malbec called in France?

Generally speaking, French wine labels do not show the grape varietal on the label. Instead, you will usually see the name of a wine region or place. In this case, it is best to look for “Cahors” or “Cahors Malbec” on the wine label.

How To Serve Malbec Wine?

Serve Malbec wine at temperature of 60-65F (15-18 C). Chilling Malbec wine in your wine refrigerator for 15 minutes is more than enough in most circumstances. If you are drinking the wine on a hot day, you might want to keep the wine cool for longer.

In addition to serving temperature, meat pairings are the most popular. Most people choose dishes rich in beef. You can also enjoy salmon and poultry with dark meat with your glass of Malbec.

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French Malbec: France’s Answer To Argentina’s Most Famous Wine
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