The Rise and Rise of Malbec


The Rise of Malbec

Malbec is 'hot property' in the Margaret River right now with demand exceeding supply.

Malbec wine is ‘hot property’ in Margaret River right now with demand exceeding supply. Fergal Gleeson spoke to three winemakers in the region about this ‘trending’ grape.

A brief history of Malbec

Malbec goes right back to the start of the Margaret River winemaking story. It was blended with Cabernet in the region’s first red wine made by Tom Cullity of Vasse Felix. In a nice piece of symmetry Vasse Felix’s current Winemaker Virginia Willcock has reintroduced Malbec into the blend with Cabernet in their greatest red ‘Tom Cullity’.

It’s origins are in the southwest of France. In Cahors it makes rustic, tannic wines that require ageing.  In nearby Bordeaux, it is rare and is used as a blending grape.

Today it’s the fourth most widely planted red varietal in Margaret River after the ‘big three’ of Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot.

Juniper Estate Vintage

Juniper Estate

Experienced Juniper Estate Winemaker Mark Messenger has seen the rise in interest in Malbec. “There is a real appetite for different varietals and Malbec ticks a lot of boxes with its approachability yet also its ability for a dense, rich, ripe red too,’ Mark tells me.

Juniper Estate released their first single varietal Malbec in 2014 as a cellar door release to gauge consumer response. It was overwhelmingly positive. Mark now makes three different Malbecs. He jokes, “So you could say I am strongly committed to Margaret River Malbec!”

“The Juniper Estate Malbec is a serious style with structure and will age, but we have introduced an easy early drinking style under our Higher Plane label which is made using carbonic maceration (whole bunch ferment) and is bottled shortly after vintage for immediate drinking being a soft, juicy and spicy style. I also make a Malbec under my own label, ‘Beneath the Kite’”.

Mark tells me that its known as a versatile grape with winemakers as it can be blended with any of the Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot) and also Shiraz,

“Recognition of this wonderful variety is still growing,” Mark says. “When you have neighbours (Vasse Felix) reintroducing Cabernet Malbec as their flagship wine the future for Malbec in Margaret River is assured. We are planting more for our straight varietal wines for Juniper and Higher Plane as demand is out stripping supply.”

Cullen Wines

Cullen Wines, one of Margaret River’s founding wineries also has a long history with Malbec. Cullen Wines make a ‘Preservative Free’ Malbec as well as two delicious Malbec and Petit Verdot blends ‘Red Moon’ and ‘Mangan Estate Block’.

Proprietor and highly awarded Winemaker Vanya Cullen also sees it as a varietal on the rise right across many Australian wine regions.

I ask her about why she blends Malbec with Petit Verdot.

“Malbec gives the power, unctuous fruit and flowers. Also violets, roses and mulberry. Petit Verdot gives the line and mineral acidity. They are a perfect pair like Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon”, she says.

I asked Vanya to compare Margaret River Malbec to Shiraz or Cabernet for drinkers who are less familiar with the varietal.

“Malbec is a variety better suited to Margaret River’s Mediterranean maritime conditions than Shiraz,” she tells me. The Mediterranean maritime conditions are perfect for this grape variety to grow an elegant style.”

This year, Cullen are celebrating 50 years of sustainable wine growing so it is worth visiting the winery for the milestone year. Cullen grew from humble beginnings to a world class biodynamic and carbon positive winery and has picked up countless accolades along the way.

Fraser Gallop Barrel Hall Pop-Up

Fraser Gallop

Fraser Gallop’s Winemaker Clive Otto is also very excited about Malbec. “I have always thought Malbec a bit of an unsung Hero in Margaret River,” Clive tells me. “The Violet perfume of the variety is quite intoxicating and quite different tannin profile from Cabernet, I like to say it has front of mouth tannins whereas Cabernet has back palate tannins.”

“It is more light to medium bodied (Malbec and Pinot) rather than full bodied (Cabernet) and has lovely Damson Plum flavours with a succulent mid palate.”

Fraser Gallops Malbec typically sells out within a month or two from release.

Clive reckons that we will see more and more Malbec in its own right and as a blender for Cabernet and Shiraz. “It’s becoming more popular than Merlot in Margaret River as it has more perfume and less green notes than the predominant Merlot clone we have here,” he tells me.

Food Pairing Suggestions

Mark Messenger, Juniper Estate – Grilled  mushrooms, to pasta to barbecued/grilled meats, to just a lovely glass on its own!

Vanya Cullen, Cullen Wines – Beetroot risotto lamb shanks.

Clive Otto, Fraser Gallop – The style we make here would pair nicely with duck, rabbit or game dishes.

Photo credits: Russell Ord, Freedom Garvey and Frances Andrijich.

Fergal Gleeson

Author Fergal Gleeson

Fergal Gleeson is a Sydney based wine writer who believes that wine is one of life’s greatest pleasures. He has written features for magazines including Gourmet Traveller WINE, Halliday Wine Companion Magazine, Your Margaret River Region Magazine, Marque, Found and PRIMOLife. Fergal was nominated as a finalist for the New Wine Writer of the Year Award 2016 run by the WCA and Gourmet Traveller WINE.

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