Malbec... The Journey From France To Argentina
Malbec... The Journey From France To Argentina
It’s a popular misconception that Malbec is by origin an Argentinian grape. Probably because since the mid 19th century when it was introduced to Argentinian soil its production has now grown from 10000 to an enormous 40000 hectares resulting in huge production (Cyprus covers around 8000 hectares).
However the Malbec grape was cultivated in the Cahors region (Cahors is a small town on a switchback river that gently flows towards Bordeaux) of Southern France since the 12th century and was well appreciated if not undervalued by comparison with Bordeaux wines as the Bordeaux producers took priority over them in export shipments to UK and the Malbec producers were not allowed to export their Malbecs until all Bordeaux wines had been shipped, and they were also subject to higher tariffs. "(...) The Cahors growers were not allowed to use the port of Bordeaux to ship their wines whenever they wanted. But the Bordeaux producers knew how to use the full-bodied wines from the inland. Until the 18th century, or even longer, they sometimes blended their Bordeaux wines with some Cahors to give them more colour and taste before being shipped." (Malbec, The French Grape That Conquered Argentina, Per and Britt Karlsson, Forbes)
Malbec did not flourish easily in the Bordeaux region and needs to be fully mature at harvest time, even then resulting in a slightly more tannic and structured wine than its Argentinian counterpart. Historically the grape is one of the six permitted red grapes in Bordeaux planted by Monsieur Malbeck around the 1780s, so the name is coming after him.
Apart from Cahors (where Malbec has to be at least 70%, Tannat and Merlot are the permitted complementary grapes), Loire also has some excellent Malbec wines nowadays mainly in the Touraine region although it's not the greatest climate for the variety to achieve ripeness easily.
French Malbec was first of all struck by the terrible phylloxera plague in the late 19th century, it was subsequently hit by the “Great Frost” in 1956 which destroyed most of the vineyards. Cahors replanted Malbec, whilst Bordeaux replanted the vineyards with the more reliable Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc varieties.
In the meantime however, having been exiled from France by Napoleon, the Frenchman Michel Aime Pouget emigrated to South America and helped the growth of wine in both Argentina and Chile. In 1853 President Domingo Faustillo Sarmiento of Argentina appointed Malbec as the national grape variety. Being very adaptable to the terroir and climate of Argentina the growth of the grape went from strength to strength. Originally grown mainly on the plains, some talented winemakers discovered that planting the vines at even higher altitudes made it easier to retain the acidity in the wines and to produce higher quality wines, especially when oaked. So the variety had to adapt to the warmer and drier climate, but also this climate (and the way they are produced) make the Argentinian Malbec wines very distinctive from their French ones. In Mendoza, the climate is warm almost all year long, and most vineyards are located on the plains.
Most of the Argentinian Malbecs made for the mass market, but there are more and more highly regarded vineyards like Zapata's top vineyards which source the best grape for the best quality Malbecs. As the lationoleadersmagazine.com decribes: “The epic tale of the noble Malbec grape is like no other, and the label for Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino pays tribute to the variety’s history in France and its rise in Argentina. Four female figures embody different landmarks in the history of the grape. Eleanor of Aquitaine represents the birth of Malbec. She is a strong, Old World presence, lingering at the bridge in Cahors, where Malbec came into its own. Next, the Immigrant symbolizes the movement to the New World and the unknown explorers and adventurers who connected Europe with the Americas. Phylloxera personifies the death of Malbec in the Old World, which enabled its rebirth in the new. Finally, there is Bodega Catena Zapata, represented by Adrianna Catena, who depicts birth, earth, and motherhood, sharing the riches of the New World. Today, the Catena family’s fourth generation leads the high-altitude renaissance in Argentina. We are returning Malbec to the sky... where it belongs.
As it was mentioned above the Cahors Malbec (sometimes called Côt and Auxxerois in France) is a slightly bit more tannic (especially if it contains Tannat and/or Merlot up to maximum 30% as it's allowed according to the legislation) and higher in acidity than its Argentinian counterpart. Intense dark fruits, black plum, tarty blackcurrant with slight meaty/gamey notes, spicy/herbaceous aromas and a touch of savoury bitterness. Among the secondary aromas we can discover dark chocolate, sweet leather, cedar wood, black pepper and a hint of charcoal, as it ages it develops beautiful tertially aromas of cigar box, mushroom and wet forest floor like the Jean-Luc Baldes, 'Clos de Triguedina' Malbec from 2014.
As it's a New World-style, Malbec from Mendoza is more fruit-driven than the French ones. It opens up with juicy notes of black cherry, ripe black plum and blackberry with milk chocolate, cocoa powder, mocha, campfire smoke and a hint of vanilla sweetness coming from the oak. Smooth and velvety tannins, juicy and round mouthfeel, vibrant acidity, it's full of ripe, fleshy black fruits. In Argentina, Malbec is often Blended with Bonarda which can give a slight herbaceous tone to the wine.
Visit the Vino Cultura cellar, try different Malbecs and let us know which style suits you the best!
- Jean-Luc Baldes, 'Cahors du Clos', (Cahors)
- Jean-Luc Baldes, 'Clos de Triguedina', (Cahors)
- El Enemigo Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina)
- Bodega Catena Zapata 'Nicasia Vineyard' (Mendoza, Argentina)
- Bodega Catena Zapata 'Malbec Argentino' (Mendoza, Argentina)
- Bodega Catena Zapata 'Fortuna Terrae Malbec' (Mendoza, Argentina)
- Bodega Catena Zapata 'River Malbec' (Adrianna Vineyard, Mendoza, Argentina)
- Bodega y Viñedos Catena 'Historic Rows' Catena Alta (Mendoza, Argentina)
- Bodega y Viñedos Catena 'High Mountain Vine' Catena Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina)
- Bodega y Viñedos Catena 'La Consulta' (Mendoza, Argentina)
- Bodega y Viñedos Catena 'Paraje Altamira' (Mendoza, Argentina)
- Alamos Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina)