Bold in color, flavor and aroma, yet extremely drinkable, Malbec can be considered one of the stars of New World red wine production. For years this grape has been synonymous with Argentine winemaking. It may then come as a surprise to many to learn that Malbec is actually a French grape variety, brought over in the 1800s.
How Malbec Arrived in Argentina
The first Malbec vines arrived in Argentina in 1852 with French agronomist Michel Pouget. Hired by the governor of Mendoza, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Pouget was selected for his expertise in Edaphology and Pedology. The governor wanted to improve the quality of Argentine wine and was looking to find a new vine to flourish in Argentine soil. He was not let down.
The Malbec vines that Pouget brought from Cahors, South-West France, were an instant success. The grape’s popularity grew rapidly and vines spread to all wine-growing regions throughout the country. The usually sensitive varietal was thriving in its new home, and Argentina was soon producing Malbec of a quality that the French always knew was possible, though had struggled to achieve consistently.
Why New World Argentina for Malbec?
It is the Argentine climate, rather than the soil, that is so suited to the Malbec varietal. High levels of insolation help develop bold, fruity flavors and aromas. Cool night-time temperatures add a refreshing acidity and ultimately balance the wine. The dry, desert-like conditions of the winemaking regions reduce the risk of damp-related diseases that can afflict this particular variety.
These conditions are a stark contrast to the cold and damp of Cahors where grapes must be blended with other varietals to produce good-quality drinkable wine.
In France Malbec has various different names including "Cahors" (where 70% of the grapes that go into making a Cahors blend must be Malbec) and "Cot" (one of the staple varieties used in the popular Bordeaux blend). Though French in origin, none of the original rootstocks can now be found in the country, after the phylloxera epidemic of the 1860s, known as The Great French Wine Blight, and the Great Bordeaux frost of 1956. Instead one has to travel to Argentina or Chile to encounter originals. Today, 75% of the world’s Malbec is grown in Argentina
What to expect from Argentine Malbec
Starting with color, Argentine Malbec is an intense, dark, violet-red (an early indication of the full-bodied nature of this wine).
Moving on to aromas, Malbec can be identified by a heavy presence of red and black berries as well as cherry and plums. Aromas are of a fresh-fruit nature in younger wines, changing to a marmalade or compote profile in older wines - especially those where oak was used during vinification.
Finally, let's cover the flavor and texture we experience in the wine as we drink. Typically, one will discover the same fruits that are present in the aroma of the wine. In general, Argentine Malbecs present a medium level of acidity and high alcohol content, a result of the high levels of sugar produced during all those hours of sunlight. While classed as a full-bodied wine, Argentine Malbecs are well-balanced and easy to drink with or without food.
Ideal Food Pairings for Argentine Malbec Wines
As this is an Argentine red we’re talking about, it would be a crime not to recommend barbecued beef, slow cooked over a coal or wood fire as an ideal food pairing. Alternatively, Malbec can be enjoyed with some simple roasted vegetables, peppers or mushrooms, or a nice soft, white cheese.
While it has a reputation for being a good-value, accessible wine, there are $200+ bottles on the market. Examples of these more exclusive offerings include: Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Mundus Bacillus Terrae Malbec 2011 ($220) and Tiano & Nareno Travesia 2010 ($250)