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Great Northwest Wine: Bright and juicy malbec grows its audience

UPDATED: Tue., June 23, 2020

Malbec grapes are grown at Col Solare vineyard at Red Mountain in Yakima Valley.  (Richard Duval)
Malbec grapes are grown at Col Solare vineyard at Red Mountain in Yakima Valley. (Richard Duval)
By Eric Degerman Great Northwest Wine

A grape known as côt in the Cahors region of France and made famous by Argentina continues to build support in the Northwest under the name of malbec.

This red Bordeaux variety has become a rising star in many corners of our region – the Columbia Valley, Idaho’s Snake River Valley and Southern Oregon.

Growers love malbec because it ripens ahead of cabernet sauvignon, and consumers have embraced the brightness of its structure. It does not often carry the toothsome tannins associated with merlot and cabernet sauvignon. And yet, malbec offers a rich and bold drink.

As a result, malbec ranks among the most versatile and food-friendly wines that you can bring to the dining table. Tapas? For sure. Densely flavored proteins such as duck, lamb, venison, braised meats and ribs – smoked, dry rubbed or saucy. It does not matter. Malbec will marry well.

Because of its name recognition, those broad food applications and the interest by winemakers and consumers, malbec overtook cabernet franc as the fourth-most-harvested red grape in Washington state in the 2019 vintage.

Here are a few stellar examples of malbec that our panels have evaluated in recent months, and they are available at various price points. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant, or order them directly from the winery.

Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2018 The Expedition Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $17: There’s a rich history behind Canoe Ridge Vineyard, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2019, but New Zealand-born winemaker Haydn Mouat also can choose from the Benches and Alder Ridge Vineyard when producing CRV for Precept Wine.

This malbec’s provenance shows immediately with aromas of dusty minerality, blue fruit, cocoa powder and clove. There’s pleasing density and richness to the dark blue fruit flavors, which roll in black cherry for a seamless and bright package that is capped by a long finish.

Basalt Cellars 2015 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $28: This Lewis-Clark Valley producer made quite an impression at 2019 competitions, and winemaker Rick Wasem worked with Verhey Vineyard in the western edge of Yakima Valley for this malbec. The beautiful nose of blueberry and dusty violets is realized on the palate with elegance and charming structure.

Dussek 2017 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $30: Last fall at the Great Northwest Invitational, Woodhouse Wine Estates in Woodinville earned a double gold medal – a unanimous vote for gold by a judging panel – for malbec produced under its Dussek tier.

The nose is full of blackberries, black cherry, parsley, river rocks and chocolate-covered espresso beans. In the mouth, it showcases textural heft with tannins that slowly soften along a floral finish.

Weisinger Family Winery 2016 Gold Vineyard Malbec, Rogue Valley, $32: Second-generation winemaker Eric Weisinger works with Randy Gold’s namesake vineyard near Talent, Oregon, for this deep, dark, delicious and elegant malbec.

Blackberry and black cherry fruit at the core meld in harmoniously with accents of dark chocolate and spice. It is balanced and pure all the way through. Enjoy with chicken in an Asian barbecue sauce.

Seven Hills Winery 2018 McClellan Estate Vineyard Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $40: The McClellan family pioneered merlot in the Walla Walla Valley, planting 4 acres of it in 1982, and founding winemaker Casey McClellan also was the first in the valley to produce malbec more than 15 years ago.

McClellan established it in McClellan Estate Vineyard in 2008, and his oak program tucks baking spice aromas behind sweet blue fruit. It is deliciously bright and spicy with clove and white pepper from start to finish.

Rocky Pond Winery 2016 Double D Vineyard Malbec, Columbia Valley, $42: Business manager Jonathan Kaczmarek earned a finance degree at the University of Wisconsin before making wine at Seattle’s Soos Creek. The Northwest Wine Academy product now gets the chance to oversee a few small lots at Rocky Pond for the Dufenhorst family.

Kaczmarek has not lost his touch with this malbec. Fruit is dominant from the fragrant berry aroma to the opulent blueberry, blackberry and plum flavors saturating the palate. Nicely integrated oak, brown sugar and a dusting of sweet herbs completes the lovely package.

Zerba Cellars 2016 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $45: Brent Roberts has taken over the reins from Doug Nierman as Cecil Zerba’s winemaker, and his work with estate fruit continues in the tradition that helped Zerba Cellars earn Wine Press Northwest’s 2011 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year Award.

Aromas of dark fruit and hints of toast lead the way to boysenberry jam, ground nutmeg, raspberries and a smoky oak underlay. It is supple and mouth-coating as it heads to a smooth finish.

Eric Degerman operates Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.

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