Remembering Denis Malbec
The entire wine world was shocked to hear of the passing of
Denis Malbec in a car accident a few days ago. Malbec was just 46 years old.
Born into a winemaking family, Malbec spent his early years in France, most
notably at Château Latour, before moving to California with his wife and partner, May-Britt.
Denis Malbec was literally born at Château Latour, where his father
and grandfather had held winemaker positions going back to the 1920s. Malbec
took over the winemaking reigns in 1994, but the allure of California
ultimately proved impossible to resist. In 2000, the Malbecs moved
to Napa Valley, where they set up a consulting business along with their
own brands, including Notre Vin and Aliénor.
Malbec achieved his greatest successes with the wines he made for Claude and
Katherine Blankiet and the Kapcsándy family. “Denis made my two favorite Merlot-based wines in the Napa Valley, which means two of the very best from anywhere off the Pomerol plateau,” Steve Tanzer told me.
I first met Denis Malbec in 2011. I remember going to
Blankiet in the middle of harvest. It was a typical October morning that year;
cold, foggy and damp. The fruit was coming in fast and the sorting tables were
humming with activity. As Napa Valley fans know, 2011 was an extremely
challenging vintage. Botrytis was spreading across the valley floor with a pace
few, if any, California winemakers had ever seen. Many producers were understandably
stressed out when I visited them. But not Malbec. He had a cool “been there,
done that” demeanor that governed all of his decisions. There was no stress and
no tension, just concentration and a sense of purpose.
I tasted with Denis Malbec 4-5 times a year. He was always
immensely proud and enthusiastic about his work. I remember many barrel
tastings at both Blankiet and Kapcsándy going through lot by lot, sometimes
even cooper by cooper, as Malbec explained the subtleties and nuances about
Napa Valley is an extremely competitive place that can, at
times, bring out quite a bit of fire and ego. Denis Malbec had none of that. He
was quiet, humble and unassuming, yet supremely confident about his work. It is
those qualities I will remember most. All of us at Vinous would like to extend
our deepest condolences to the Malbec family.
More on Denis Malbec
Multimedia: The 2015 Vintage at Kapcsándy, Oct 2015
Multimedia: Blankiet with Claude Blankiet and Denis Malbec, Oct 2014
Multimedia: Kapcsandy with Lou Kapcsandy, Louis Kapcsandy and Denis Malbec, Nov 2013
Multimedia: Blankiet Estate - Harvest 2011, Oct 2011
-- Antonio Galloni