4/17 is World Malbec Day!
The origin of Malbec can be found in the southwest of France, where they’ve been cultivating the grape and making wines with the appellation of Cahors since the days of the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages, this wine grew in popularity, and this has only increased in modern times.
Malbec-based wines were so prized for their depth of flavor and color that finished wines were shipped to Bordeaux in the west of France for blending, especially in poor Bordeaux vintages. The grape became so popular that Malbec was planted extensively in Bordeaux.
Though Malbec originated in Europe, the grape emigrated to South America, finding a permanent home in Argentina. Today, the country accounts for 70% of the world’s Malbec vineyards. Malbec has become synonymous with this beautiful, richly cultured country, and Argentina has become synonymous with this lush, fruity wine.
Malbec first alighted in Argentina in the 19th century. A visionary, later to become president, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento took an interest in grapes, having grown up in San Juan’s vine country. Sarmiento asked French grape specialist Miguel Pouget to bring French grapevine cuttings to Argentina. Among others, Pouget brought Malbec, an act that forever changed Argentina’s destiny.
April 17, 1853 was the day local officials in Mendoza approved the region’s first agronomy school. The purpose: to study noble European grapes, including Malbec.
In the late nineteenth century, with the help of Italian and French immigrants, the wine industry grew exponentially and with it, Malbec, which quickly adapted to the various terroirs, and developed with even better results than in its region of origin. Over time, and with a lot of hard work, Malbec emerged as the flagship grape of Argentina.
By the early 20th century, Malbec had established a foothold in Argentina’s wine industry. The country’s arid, warm climate allowed Malbec to thrive from top to bottom. In fact, the distance between the northernmost vineyards in Jujuy to the southernmost in Chubut is 1430 miles, the distance between Edinburgh and Marrakech. Malbec grows at elevations ranging from 1900 feet up to an astonishing 10,921 feet in Jujuy province.
Today, Mendoza, San Juan, and Salta are considered the three main growing regions, though most consumers know the styles of Malbec from Mendoza. Mendoza’s hot and dry climate moderated by elevation and the Andes Mountains, lets Malbec live its best life. Without worries of disease or failure to ripen, especially around Argentina’s original appellation Luján de Cuyo, the grape blossoms into a spicy, velvety wine packed with flavor. Easy to love, Malbec won the hearts of global wine drinkers. The Uco Valley sits an hour south of the city of Mendoza but feels a world away. Beautiful wineries set to the backdrop of the magnificent Andes produce wine from cooler, higher-elevation vineyard sites. The resulting wines are stylistically different, capturing more acidity and floral aromas, and developing firmer tannins, beneficial for aging. Malbec, like the culture of Argentina, has many faces. The grape, however, reflects the best of the country’s personality. From the sensual dance of tango, the rough-and-tumble sport of football (soccer), to delicious hand-pinched empanadas and the social open-fire barbecues called Asado . Malbec may be deeply Argentine, but it’s a wine that’s universal, enjoyed worldwide on many occasions.
Malbec is now better known to most consumers as an Argentinian grape, and there is five times more Malbec planted there than in France (62000 acres vs 12000 acres). Argentine Malbecs tend to be less tannic and softer than their French counterparts, which probably accounts for Argentine Malbecs being so popular in the USA.