Is Malbec Low in Tannins? Or is it Another Frustrating Wine That Could Trigger A Migraine?

There is an indefinite amount of grape immigration stories, not many like the one that Malbec tells. This red wine originally comes from Cahors in the Bordeaux region of France. 

Today, Malbec (AKA Côt in France) is a signature red vintage made in South America, specifically Mendoza, a small mountain town in the Argentinian Andes. 

The word Malbec translates to “Bad mouth.” The French way to say “bad kiss” is mauvais baiser. Ma-l-be-c could be the inspiration for the term. Other sources say it comes from the man who helped spread the grapevine in the French valley named Monsieur Malbeck.

The wine is said to have a fruity, full-bodied red wine with global renown for flavor depth and complexity. This unique wine is made of small, dark purple grapes with thick skins, which speaks to the medium tannin content. 

Vintages have an alcohol by volume percentage that ranges from 11% to 15%. 

 

Is Malbec low in tannins?

Like most red wines, Malbec has higher tannin levels than white wines. So put, Malbec has a medium tannin level compared to all wines but a relatively low tannin level compared to a Port or Merlot.

The Malbec grape has a natural thick skin, contributing to the higher tannin level. Vintages have primary flavors of red plum, blackberry, vanilla, sweet tobacco, and cocoa. 

 

Are there Brands of Malbec that are lower in tannins?

Naturally, yes, different brands are looking to produce a sweeter vintage. 

For instance, a Colomé Malbec from 2017 is made in Salta, Argentina, known for tannins. On the opposite side of the spectrum is a sweet Malbec from Alto Gualtallary, Tupungato, one of Mendoza’s highest altitude vineyards. 

As with any vintage, the cooler the climates yield, the sweeter grape wines with lower tannin counts. This grapevine grows better at higher elevations where the diurnal temperature shift is more significant (Cold nights and sunny days). 

 

How do Malbec’s tannin levels compared to other red wines?

Frontenac reds are poor in tannins; Cabernet Sauvignon is rich in tannins no matter the process. So here is a pair of lists, one for vintages with lower and higher levels of tannins. 

Lower in tannins:

 

  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir
  • Zinfandel
  • Barbera
  • Gamay

 

Higher in tannins:

 

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Tempranillo
  • Nebbiolo
  • Sangiovese
  • Tanat

 

How does it compare to white wine’s tannin levels?

White wines are distilling processes differently than red wines. At the same time, red wines ferment with grape skins, stems, and seeds, and white wines are typically not made the same way. 

Therefore, red wines almost always have a higher tannin level than their white wine counterpart. 

Here are 4 full bodied white wines:

 

  • Chardonnay (oaked)
  • Rhône whites (Marsanne-Rousse)
  • Chenin Blanc
  • White Rioja 

 

Here are 7 full bodied red wines:

 

  • Lambrusco
  • Pinot Noir
  • Gamay
  • Zweigelt
  • Cinsault
  • Grenache
  • Nebbiolo

 

Final Thoughts on Malbec

Malbec survived the late 19th-century phylloxera disaster in France and made it over to Argentina, preserving this ancient grapevine for future generations to enjoy. 

Malbec means “bad mouth,” which sources say comes from the French words for “bad kiss,” mauvais baiser. The Malbec grape grows better at higher elevations where the temperature shifts are more significant between the daytime heat and night cold.