Malbec is a red wine of French origin, often used in the official Bordeaux blend, and appreciated the world over in its single varietal state. Although it began life as a French and Burgundy wine, in Europe at least it is cultivated less and less. Many growers put this diminishing interest down to the severe frost of 1956, when three quarters of the Malbec vineyards were wiped out. In more recent years, it has been most successfully grown in Argentina, particularly at high-altitudes. Due to the success of this country, many other South Hemisphere states have become interested in growing the fruit, and South Africa is no exception.
Malbec grapes are noted for their large amounts of tannin, and the deep purple colour of the juice, making the wine ideal for blending with other reds, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Experts consider the Malbec grapes to be rather softer and more fruity than Merlot, making the pair ideal companions, although the colour and tannin levels of the grape can vary from region to region, making it rather inconsistent. Some also consider that Malbec grapes grown in the Southern Hemisphere have a noticeable lack of acidity, which may result in a rather flabby and watery wine. However, when carefully blended with other wines, or with particular fruits and spices, it can become an exceptional wine.
South Africa was first exposed to the Malbec grape in the 1920s, and it has been grown consistently, if not enthusiastically, since then. The main vineyards centre around the Stellenbosch and Paarl regions, where it was first planted. The rich and heavily fertilized soils there help to create the ideal ground in which to grow Malbec, giving it an earthy and slightly acidic taste that would otherwise be missing. The warm climate coming from the Indian Ocean and False Bay also helps to ensure that the Malbec vines produce stunning fruit year after year.
The wine is blended with fruits that can give it a slightly acidic edge, so drinkers can expect tastes such as plum, raspberry and dark cherry in the aroma and taste of the wine. More rustic wines will also mix a blackcurrant or black berry fruit flavour, in order to give a type of ‘hedgerow’ taste to the wine. Some makers will take care to ensure that the wine is not overpowered by the fruits through the addition of spices and the ever-present oak.
One wine maker who consistently turns out good Malbec wines is Fairview. Their grapes have a sparkling vivacity which, coupled with the mildness of the tannins, allows the wine to be drinkable within a year or two. Their La Capra Malbec is probably one of the best known of the South African Malbec single varietals, as the blending here increases the complexity of the wine without removing its capacity to be drunk early. The company also use their Malbec wines in a number of blends created by their winemakers, so this wine really has become a Fairview standard.