Nowadays, every wine lover in the world knows about the Argentinian Malbec. However, that wasn’t the case always as the wine once had its identity crisis and suffered from anonymity.
Malbec wine wasn’t a known name until some two decades ago when Argentina introduced it to the world. It was in the late 1990s when affordable Argentinian Malbec showed on the European and North American markets. Until then, the Australian Shiraz was the undisputed king of inexpensive, yet very popular, easy-drinking red wines. Malbec was an immediate game-changer and soon started making an impact on that part of the wine market. Its sudden rise was attributed to the fact that many wine lovers have already tried French versions labeled as Cahors or Bordeaux.
Malbec’s origins are southwestern France, particularly the small Cahors region. The first records of this variety date to the 16th century when it was known as Auxerrois. The name Malbec was introduced at some point in the 1780s, most likely because Monsieur Malbeck planted it in Bordeaux.
During the middle ages, the wine was produced only in Cahors and was shipped to Bordeaux where it was sold. During the 1300s, Bordeaux was the center of the wine trade with England. The demand was huge, the British paid well, and the wine business was thriving. The local Bordeaux winemakers didn’t allow other wines to be sold before their own isn’t sold first. Shipments of Cahors were always put on hold until there is no more local Bordeaux wine to be sold. As a result, Cahors wines were sold at a lower price.
The restrictions were eventually removed, but the damage was already done as plantings were decreased. For a couple of centuries, the variety flourished, but there wasn’t any massive breakthrough.
What climate does Malbec thrive in?
In the modern world, Malbec is renowned for great taste and can be paired with many foods. We’ve even written a guide on pairing Malbec with cheese, so you can discover how to make the most of your Malbec! But this isn’t always how accessible the wine has been…
In the mid-1880s, the variety was introduced in Argentina and planted in the Mendoza region. That’s when the variety was reborn and was determined to have a fresh start. Soon it became so popular that it became one of the most planted varieties in Argentina. Even today, Malbec vineyards account for one-third of all red wine vineyards.
What’s very intriguing about Malbec is that it thrives in very different conditions in Argentina and France. In Mendoza, the climate is warm all year long, and most vineyards are located on the plains. However, in recent years, many new vineyards planted Malbec to the foothills of the Andes, and some of them are even on very high elevations. On the other hand, Cahors is grown either on plateaus and modest hillsides featuring a moderate climate dictated by the river or on the many plains located in the deep valley.
The climate differences and the way they are produced make the Argentinian Malbec wines very distinctive from their French cousins. Argentinian Malbec is regarded for its easy-drinking, fruity style, while Cahors wines feel a bit more subdued.
There are more than 200 makers of Cahors that make Malbecs that are relaxed in tannins. Their popularity is growing, and Canada is their top market where their wines are placed. They are nothing like the Argentinian winemakers like Trapiche and Zuccardi, which make fruit style wines for the mass market.
At the same time, Argentina’s focus is not just on inexpensive wines. Their upper-tier Malbecs tend earlier drinking and feature a great deal of structure and complexity. Clos de Los Siete is one of their premium wines that has been produced in partnership with French producers. The wine is rich in fruit, well structured, has a consistent plush texture, and is more than half Malbec.
Then there is the Zuccardi Zeta, which is more than 80% Malbec that has strong fruit notes supported by notes of well-integrated components. Zuccardi has already made a name for itself as a premium producer of Malbec-dominant wines.
The most popular regions for Malbec
Even though the variety is grown in regions worldwide, Malbec is pretty much a story of two areas, Argentina and Cahors. Two regions and one variety, yet unequal in so many respects. The most notable difference is in the fact that Argentina has over 100,000 acres of Malbec, while France just 10,000 acres in Cahors. There were even times when French wine producers resented Argentinian winemakers for their success. But that time is long gone and left in the past.
In conclusion, Malbec’s story is one with ups and downs, but with a happy end. Nowadays, the world is in love with this easy-drinking and very fruity wine. France is his true home and place of origin, but it is Argentina that has introduced it to the world and made it what it is – a worldwide famous wine. From the look of things, there is only one way for the Malbec wines, and that’s strong forward.