In my last post, I listed some of the premium grape varieties currently being grown in Mendoza. While all of these varietals are finding their “niche” so to speak throughout the region, it is in fact malbec, which seems to have hit its stride and thrive beautifully in this part of the wine world. In terms of wine, it is truly Argentina’s superstar.
Species: Vitis Vinifera
Origin: Southwest France
A.K.A. Côt, Auxerrois
Sensitive to: Coulure/Shatter (failure of grapes to develop after flowering), frost, downy mildew
Notable Growing Regions: Cahors (France), Argentina (Mendoza) Southwest France, Loire Valley (France), Chile
Malbec’s viticultural origins are deeply rooted in southwest France. As early as 50 B.C., vineyards were being planted by the Romans in and around the Lot River valley in what is now the area of Cahors. So deeply colored and intense was the wine produced from malbec that throughout the middle ages, it became known as “the black wine of Cahors”.
Perhaps not surprisingly, these wines were also used to “fortify” the more insipid wines being produced down the river in another wine region called Bordeaux. Unfortunately, the phylloxera epidemic that afflicted so much of winegrowing Europe in the mid 19th century was not kind to southwest France, Cahors or malbec. However I’ll save this particularly fascinating story of resilience, reclamation and renaissance for another time.
Suffice to say that during this tumultuous period in French wine growing history, a new opportunity presented itself. Malbec was about to spread its wings and find a new home across the Atlantic Ocean. At the request of a provincial governor named Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, malbec cuttings were first brought to Argentina in 1868 by Miquel Aimé Pouget, a french agricultural engineer. In this “new world”, the varietal seemed to find an almost immediate affinity for the loose, sandy soils and arid, sunny climate of Mendoza. And it has thrived here ever since. Today, and unlike its European counterparts in southwest France and the Loire Valley, virtually all Argentine Malbec is planted on its original rootstock. Why? Sandier soils, flood irrigation, and some experts believe a weaker biotype found here than in other parts of the world are significant reasons. Presently, there are around 22 different clones of the varietal planted in Argentina.
Stylistically, a range of Argentine malbec wines are produced today. From lighter more immediately quaffable reds with supple tannins and little or no oak, to intense, age worthy reds, there is truly a malbec for just about any type of wine drinker out there. Additionally, malbec can work beautifully as a component in a blended wine (think Bordeaux). In the following posts, I will introduce you to wines that adhere to these styles and all points in between.
Next: Bodega Mendel in the Luján de Cuyo