A Vanishing Breed: Guy Allion Malbec Le Poira 2009

Raise your hand if you’ve heard of  Malbec.

Now raise the other hand if you think it’s a wine from Argentina.

If you’ve got both hands in the air, you look like a lunatic and you’re only half right.

While Argentine Malbec is taking up more and more space on wine store shelves, the grape actually originated in France, where it was one of the six blending grapes used to create Bordeaux. In 1956 a killer frost took 75% of the Malbec crop in France, and while a small region called Cahors replanted, Bordeaux did not. Nowadays, you’ll find a little Malbec in Cahors, and even less in Touraine, a district in the Loire in northern France.

I found a bottle called Guy Allion Touraine Malbec Le Poira 2009, and I was too intrigued to ignore it. French Malbec is, after all, a vanishing breed, and the researcher in me was keen to see how the flavor profile of this Old World wine would compare to Mendoza’s New World Malbec.

My research showed me, first of all, that Malbec is a thin-skinned grape that ripens even more slowly than Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Holy Cow! How could it thrive in the cool climate of northern France? Just imagine how happy the grape could be in the foothills of the Andes mountains, where higher elevations produce tons of radiant heat, warm sunny days and cool nights to develop structure..

So back to my French Malbec. I was familiar with the producer, Guy Allion, for their very good (and good value) Touraine Sauvignon Blanc. I poured out the 2009 Malbec and was impressed with the intense, inky color (this is one of the traits that made Malbec a valuable blending grape).

The nose showed lots of ripe fruit right off the cork –  way more than I’d expected in a French red. But this was the 2009 vintage, which was relatively warm. Pretty soon the black cherry aromas were dancing around some sharp mineral notes,  with maybe a hint of smoke or wet wood.

When I sipped, I got the Old World style I’d expected. There was still a lot of tart cherry, but it was joined by mineral and flinty notes. The palate dried out pretty quickly, and finished with a little spice and lots of acidity. This was clearly a reflection of the terroir,; a natural product of the soil and climate of the Loire.

Like all Europeans wines, this Malbec is clearly a food wine, and would be a good accompaniment to the right dish. Unfortunately, I messed up the food pairing: I had a grilled salmon patty, which should have worked decently, but I’d topped it with sweet and spicy Sriracha sauce. Not a good idea…

Argentine Malbec, on the other hand, is becoming a New World Everyman’s wine. The fruit is rich and the finish soft and approachable, and any Malbec under $15 wouldn’t be a bad match with almost any food.  I have to admit my prejudice for the Mendoza style, but it was fun being my own focus group. Try it yourself sometime, and Cheers!





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