Malbec rose to prominence in its native France, where it is one of the six noble red grapes of Bordeaux.
Yet here in the New World, we tend to associate the bold, dark wine with Argentina, where about 100,000 acres of malbec are planted from the valley floor to 10,000 feet into the Andes foothills. These high-elevation malbecs from Mendoza are some of the most interesting wines coming from South America.
Malbec has become an important grape in Washington, where it thrives under the perpetually sunny skies of the Columbia Valley. Here are six delicious examples of Washington malbec from our recent blind tasting for Wine Press Northwest magazine.
It is worth noting that April 17 is World Malbec Day. While this is a promotion of the Argentine wine industry, that doesn’t mean you can’t pop a cork of a local favorite. Ask for these at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Fielding Hills Winery 2014 Riverbend Vineyard Estate Malbec, Wahluke Slope, $42: A theme that’s dusty, dark and smooth opens the conversation about Mike Wade’s work with his Riverbend Vineyard, an hour downstream on the Columbia River from his original winery in East Wenatchee. This year, 2014, is when Wade moved into his gorgeous facility on the south shore of Lake Chelan. Riverbend is the only vineyard used in the production of Fielding Hills red wines, and this malbec brings thoughts of blackberry syrup, bold plum and mint that play deliciously with its mild tannin structure and finish of baking spice and cocoa powder. A product of 19 months in 70 percent new oak, it was straight-up gold across the judging panel and went on to become the highest scoring wine among the 130 entered in our “Bordeaux Gems” tasting.
Mercer Canyons 2015 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $17: The legacy of acclaim continues for the wines Jessica Munnell produced for the Mercer family, whose teamwork led to their award as Washington Winery of the Year in 2016. Rose petals, fresh plums, Baker’s chocolate and tarragon are presented in a balanced structure with dusty tannins that yield to a finish of blackberry.
Farmhand Winery 2016 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $28: A farm kid growing up in the Columbia Valley, Steve Sauer has taken his decades of experiences in orchards and established young vineyards near Kennewick and Leavenworth. He planted malbec at both sites, but perhaps it’s no coincidence that this young release is reminiscent of chocolate-covered cherries because of the four varieties of cherries he grows at his Kennewick estate. An easy drinker, it offers a steady stream of fruit akin to blueberry and elderberry, with lingering notes of vanilla and blackberry juice. Sauer also operates three-suite Cherry Chalet at his winery not far from Columbia Center.
Isenhower Cellars 2016 À Bloc Malbec, Columbia Valley, $38: Walla Walla winemaker Brett Isenhower leaned on a pair of Washington’s top vineyards — historic Champoux in the Horse Heaven Hills and Olsen Ranch in the Yakima Valley — for this malbec. The theme of black cherry, blackberry, cocoa powder and tobacco are presented amid a supple structure that’s backed by a smoky vanilla finish. It’s named after a cycling term pronounced “ah block.”
Nodland Cellars 2014 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $35: Spokane attorney Tim Nodland closed down his downtown jazz club in the old Chronicle Building and transitioned his winery into a club-only enterprise. This malbec from the Walla Walla Valley earned him praise at last year’s New York International Wine Competition, and the beat goes on. Its Old World approach appealed to those East Coast judges and those who gathered this winter in the Columbia Valley, presenting a tune of dark-blue fruit, coffee and exotic spices with a savory note of black olive and a Graham cracker snap.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.