Malbec is synonymous with Argentina. Hailing from Southwest France in the appellation of Cahors, Malbec’s origin is French. In fact, Malbec once played an important supporting role in Bordeaux. However, those days are gone. And although Malbec still shines in Cahors, it holds little similarity to its Argentinian counterpart. Due to Malbec’s tremendous Argentinian success, Wines of Argentina launched Malbec World Day in 2011 in honor of their beloved grape.
Malbec is a full-bodied red wine. Deep ruby with a purple hue and characteristics of black cherry, black berry, black plum, chocolate, violets, leather, sweet tobacco, and vanilla are typically present in the wine. It tends to be lush on the palate, silky, with medium tannins and acidity. New world Malbec does not have a long finish and although it is heavy it tends to lack pronounced structure. For these reasons it pairs well with lean red meats and earthy cheeses and herbs.
Malbec found its home as Argentina’s flagship variety – Argentina has the largest plantings in the world. Once an over-extracted, concentrated wine, winemakers are now taking a more modern approach with gentler extraction technics, creating a more elegantly styled wine. Most high quality Malbecs are aged in new oak, creating the characteristic spicy notes in the wine. Because Malbec is grown throughout Argentina regional differences are found in the wines. Generally, wines made from fruit ripened at lower altitudes are fuller-bodied with richer, black fruit. Higher altitude wines demonstrate more elegance, with fresher floral aromas.
Malbec accounts for 36% of vineyard plantings in Argentina, but comprises over 50% of exports.
Most of Argentina’s vineyards are in proximity to the Andes Mountains. It is a region that is defined by its altitude, with many vineyards lying 1000 meters above sea level. In the Andes rain shadow rain fall is low; however, water can be drawn for rivers flowing down the sides of the mountains or from subterranean aquifers. Flood irrigation was widespread but today drip irrigation is more common. Some vineyards utilize dry farming. Spring frost is an occasional issue, but hail is the main weather hazard. Some producers use netting to protect the grapes; others own vineyards throughout the region to fill in the losses from a potentially damaging localized hail storm.
Because the climate is so dry rot, mildew, and pest issues are low. Argentina is an important producer of organically grown grapes.
Did you know the parents of Malbec are two old varieties – Prunelard and Magdeleine Noire des Charentes? These are also the parents of Merlot.
Patagonia is dry with sunny days, cool nights, and endless wind. Desolation reigns. Rocky soil. Melted ice and Neuquen River provide irrigation. Alpataco is a thorny bush embodying the resilient spirit required to prosper in Patagonia.
2017 Schroeder Wines Alpataco Malbec Patagonia Argentina ($14.99): Deep purple; medium aromas of dark ripe fruit, baking spice, dried herbs, charred oak, cocoa, black licorice; full bodied wine with pronounced tannins and medium+ acidity, dark and earthy, rustic, long finish
Over 70% of all vines are planted in Cuyo and Mendoza. Mendoza’s proximity to the equator and the Andes Mountains results in a continental climate. It’s latitude of 35 is a Northern Hemisphere equivalence to Dallas. The average rainfall is 200 mm annually. Without the snow and a few key rivers Mendoza would be a desert.
Uco Valley is named for a Pre-Columbian Amerindian chief who introduced irrigation to the region. The area is surrounded by natural barriers – a desert to the south, dry flat lands and former riverbeds to the east, hills to the north, and the Andes to the west. The vineyards sit at a higher elevation than those to its north. Tupungato is at the northern end of the Uco Valley.
2012 Flencas de Los Andes Gran Corte Argentina ($45): 60% Malbec, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Syrah; Deep ruby with violet hues, intense aromas of baked black fruit, candied red floral notes, baking spice, dark chocolate, black pepper; rich and round, full body, silky on palate
2015 Susana Balbo Wines Signature Malbec Argentina ($19.99): 95% Malbec 5% Petit Verdot Deep purple; rich aromas of black fruit, red floral notes, raspberry liquer, baking spice, dark chocolate, licorice, tobacco, vanilla; full bodied, long finish, silky palate
2015 Domaine Bousquet Grand Reserve Malbec Argentina ($24.99): 85% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah; Deep ruby with violet highlights, baked and dried dark fruit, spice, dark chocolate, black pepper, tobacco, vanilla; full body, med+ tannins/acid long finish; organically farmed
Lujan de Cuyo was the first region in Argentina to be recognized as an appellation in the early 1990’s. It lies within central Mendoza, close to the city, and is known for its top quality wines. It contains a large percentage of old vines.
2012 Alta Vista Single Vineyard Alizarine Malbec Argentina ($50): 1st Arg winery to produce single vineyard wines; deep ruby; dark fruit, spice, chocolate, tobacco; full body, rich and powerful on palate, long finish, dazzling & high quality
As you head to your local wine retailer to grab a bottle of Malbec to join in the celebration consider one of these lovely wines.