Malbec has become the red wine of choice in the last 6 or 7 years. Sales are booming in the UK, USA, Canada and even in beer crazy Brazil. However in Argentina the grape is far from being a novelty, in fact 2017 marks 164 year since the French grape arrived in Argentina.
Chosen by many for it’s soft tannins, aromatic notes of plum and violets and its medium to- full- body. Many Malbecs, particularly the more economical ones are popular for being easy drinking and a sold at a good price. That said, there are many different styles of Malbec to be discovered. From light and fruity versions suitable for an after work drink, to rich, full-bodied and incredibly complex wines which can age for at least a decade.
Malbec, however hasn’t always been that smooth, easy-going fellow that many of us know and love today, quite from it. The home of Malbec is Cahors, South-West France, not far from Bordeaux, where more often than not, it is called – Cot. In its homeland it has a very different personality: tough, tannic and unapproachable without many years of ageing. The weather is colder, wetter and less predictable than in Argentina. Malbec is an early ripening variety due to its thinner skin, so in the wet, chilly weather that can pass through the south-west, Malbec grapes are often susceptible to rot and have to be thrown away.
These factors mean that Malbec (or Cot) never became quite as popular as its fellow countrymen – Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.
The 6935 mile Migration
Just as the potatoes, corn, tobacco and chocolate were taken from South America to Europe, Lemons, limes, cattle and grapes were taken to South America. It was the Spanish that first introduced grapes to Argentina in 1552 and with the help of the Jesuits winemaking took place in every Spanish stronghold capable doing so. However it was the immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries that brought the grapes varieties that we recognise in Argentina today.
The story of Malbec and Argentina begins in 1853 went French Agronomist Michel Pouget. set off from Santiago in Chile, crossed the Andes mountains and arrived in Mendoza, Argentina. Pouget was invited to Argentina by statesman and future president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento. (pictured on the 50 peso note). He was a wine lover and desperately wanted to improve the state of Argentine wine.
Life before Malbec - Sarmiento looking grumpy
In this period, most of the grapes in Argentina were the low quality ‘Criolla’ varieties that the Spanish introduced 300 years previously. Sarmiento wanted Argentina to produce fine wines to European standards, made from the best French varieties. Upon arrival Pouget founded the Quinta Normal in Mendoza. The Quinta Normal was agricultural centre of experimentation, not just growing grapes, but also trees, olives and figs, amongst other plants. One of Pouget’s successes was the grape variety; Malbec. The variety which can be temperamental and tough in France, flourished in the dry, hot days and cool, fresh nights of Mendoza. It developed a thicker skin, to protect itself from the strong UV rays, giving a wonderful deep-purple colour to its wines. It was much more aromatic than the French equivalent and the tannins rounder and softer. Before long, many grape growers and winery owners were buying Pouget’s cuttings and planting their own Malbec vineyards.
Today Malbec is Argentina’s most planted variety making up 35% of vineyards and has become synonymous with its adopted homeland.
So here's to Sarmiento, Pouget and the national treasure - Malbec!