As the temperature begins to drop, it’s time to pull out the slightly heavier red wines—maybe that bottle of fruit-forward, juicy, medium- to full-bodied Malbec. It’s easy on the palate, complements Indian food and comes in a range of prices.
“When the weather gets cooler, sales of Malbec go up,” says sommelier Nikhil Agarwal, CEO of All Things Nice, a Mumbai-based luxury spirits and wine consultancy agency. Not surprising, for Malbec adds warmth and flavour to barbecue parties and goes beautifully with succulent kebabs, spicy gravies and biryanis. The balanced tannins and palate-pleasing acidity make it a good choice for those new to red wines. And there are some fantastic options in the ₹2,000-2,500 range, like the smooth Bodega Norton, the medium-bodied Pampas del Sur or the well-rounded Trapiche Oak Cask.
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Yet it’s extremely rare to find Indian wineries that grow Malbec grapes. For it needs high elevations and aridity to thrive and the humidity in India can be a challenge. Vallonné Vineyards in Maharashtra tried cultivating the grape a few years ago, producing two batches of wine, in 2011 and 2012, before the vines were wiped out by a virus. Now, they have just 30-40 bottles from the 2011 lot, which sell for ₹10,000 each. They are not giving up on the grape, though. Shailendra Pai, the co-founder, has announced on Instagram (@vallonne_vineyards) that they plan to grow it in the future.
For the moment, even as Malbec’s popularity rises, it doesn’t figure as high in recall value as grapes that grow in India, like the Chenin Blanc, Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc. Much of it has to be imported from Argentina, which has emerged as a leader in this category. Vishal Kadakia, founder of WinePark.com, an e-commerce website for wines in Mumbai, says the grape variety, taken to Argentina from Cahors in south-west France in the 18th century, flourished in the high-altitude terroir of Uco Valley in the Andes mountain range: ample sunlight during the day, rapid drops in temperature at night, a soil fed by water from snowmelt, with wineries adopting the drip irrigation method to control water flow. It’s aged in oak barrels, which infuses it with the flavours and aromas of vanilla, chocolate and occasionally, hints of tobacco.
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Kadakia points out that India is a predominantly red wine country and is opening up to newer-style wines. Today the market is filled with options. Apart from bottles from Argentinian wineries, there are a few bottles from Bordeaux, France, and Italy, like the Paladin Malbech Gli Aceri. Among the newer wineries, Agarwal recommends Alta Vista and Zuccardi from Argentina.
While Malbec can be enjoyed on its own, there are blends that incorporate this grape. Two dark grape varieties are put together to produce well-balanced red wine blends. Malbec complements the jammy, fruit-forward Shiraz as well as the peppery notes of the Cabernet Sauvignon. The Ag Forty Seven Shiraz Malbec is a crowd-pleaser for an afternoon drink or a leisurely brunch.
At All Things Nice’s annual wine competition, the Indian Wine Consumers Choice Awards, Malbec scores very high during blind tastings, says Agarwal: “Despite the pandemic, people are interested in their portfolio. So there’s quite a bit going on at various price points; there are bottles in the ₹2,000 mark, and then you have a lot of Malbec between the ₹2,900-3,500 range, and there are a few over ₹5,000. We have takers for all of it, which is quite lovely.”
The only spoiler: There has been a delay in shipments due to the pandemic, says Kadakia.
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