Malbec – The Dark Horse
Due to recent press of this grape from the celebrated wine region of Mendoza, Argentina, Malbec has become one of the most popular red wines among both connoisseurs and novices. It wasn’t always available on the shelf, never mind in different styles ranging from juicy and silky or bold and spicy. Malbec is indeed making a comeback. Comeback you say? What if I told you that the dark, mouth-filling, robust and hip wine, known for its power and uniqueness has a sordid past? That its beginnings were in old world soil, and that it struggled to have an identity of its own?
Malbec had its start in Bordeaux, France where it is known as “Cot or Pressac” and is one of six original grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Carménère permitted in red Bordeaux wines. Malbec’s thin skin and dark fruit wasn’t able to produce rich wines in Bordeaux, so its traditional use was to provide color and tannins. After a bad frost in the mid 1950’s destroyed 75% of the Malbec vines in Bordeaux, usage has continued to dwindle. Its main home in France is now the warmer southwest region of Cahors, where it thrives as Auxerrois (not to be confused with Auxerrois Blanc) as well as a small presence in the Loire Valley. If you haven’t had a chance to try Malbec from either of these regions, I highly recommend you do so. The Cahors version is so dark and tannic that it’s known simply as, “black wine,” and has great character and potential for aging. In the Loire Valley, Malbec takes a lesser role to Gamay and Cabernet Franc, producing elegant and food friendly reds.
Despite its early plantings in Argentina in 1868, Malbec lay virtually unknown for over a century to the rest of the world. In Argentina, the combination of warm sunshine, the long growing season and irrigation from the Andes was a natural climate for Malbec. Combined with the high altitude of Mendoza, (Argentina’s flagship region) Malbec was able to flourish and finally become harmonious with a region it could call home, with its new incarnation being an inky, velvety and rich wine.
Oh what a difference a century makes. Malbec has become one of the most buzzed about grapes in the modern wine age. Not only is it the benchmark of quality wines from Argentina, Malbec is currently produced all over North America, including 60 appellations spread throughout 12 states & Canada, along with plantings in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Chile. It’s still rare to see 100% Malbec wines outside its native France or it’s adopted home of Argentina, but there is no doubt its influence on our wines today. Take a look at the next red blend you drink. Don’t be surprised if there is a little Malbec in it, bringing character and firmness to wines as it has for so long. Malbec has had a long journey, mostly in obscurity. Who doesn’t like a good comeback? I’m putting my money on the “dark horse” to become a world-class competitor!
Come taste Malbec at one of our upcoming tastings: Argentina Tasting Wednesday, March 18th or Loire Valley Tasting Friday, March 20th (line-up includes one Malbec from the Loire)
Click here for available Malbec wines from our website.
Contributor: Gina Gregory