Argentine Wines: Malbec Wine Guide
Fortunately, drinking fine wines is one of my favorite things to do, and along with our good friend, Andrew of Buenos Aires Stay and Buenos Aires Tours & Sightseeing Blog, we are able to present the following article for your convenience.
There are a great many misconceptions about the Malbec grape. For one thing the Malbec grape is not unique to Argentina. Malbec is cultivated throughout the world.
The French still grow Malbec (but to a lesser extent), where it is valued for its strong dark, almost inky red colors and high concentration of tannins; prized in the past as a grape for robust red wine blends of considerable depth and complexity, particularly in the Claret region.
Considered a difficult vine to cultivate, the decline of the Malbec grape, particularly in the Bordeaux, is due to the plants susceptibility to disease and poor weather.
In addition, Malbec prefers a long dry sunny growing season and does not like the cold or too much rain. The grape, given the right climate, thrives in most soils. The cold winter of 1956, particularly in the south-west of France, killed off 75% of France’s Malbec vines. Growers replaced Malbec with hardier and more popular vines.
Interestingly, Malbec is still the most prolifically grown grape in Cahors. Cahors produces robust and tannic red wine – wine from the Cahors appellation blends must have a minimum of 70% Cot (also called Malbec) grape, with a maximum of 30% Merlot or Tannat grape varieties.
Malbec grapes Argentina
Malbec still declines in France, but in Argentina, the grape has become one of the predominant national varieties, identified both nationally (Argentines take great pride in their grape) and internationally as an Argentine wine. However, we must add that Malbec is just one of many grapes and Argentina produces some outstanding red wines recommended on our website.
Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, when Governor of San Juan (later president of Argentina), instructed the French agronomist Miguel Pouget to bring grapevine cuttings from France to Argentina. Sarmiento is hailed as a great statesman and ‘responsible’ for painting the presidential house pink – Casa Rosada, but few people link him to Argentina’s national grape.
The grape was not widely cultivated until the later part of the 20th century, when the Argentine wine industry shifted focus to premium wine production for export.
Argentines can claim their Malbec unique on the world market; the grape clusters of Argentine Malbec are different from its French relative. The grape has smaller berries in tighter, smaller clusters. Quite possibly, Pouget’s cuttings brought a unique clone to Argentina, now extinct to France due to frost and disease.
Malbec wines today
The Malbec grape, in Argentina, has found the perfect home in the province of Mendoza and the surrounding provinces – the long, hot and dry summers at the foot of the imposing Andes, providing the perfect growing conditions for the Malbec grape to flourish. Malbec does need water, both the climate and growers total reliance on irrigation is the key to Malbec’s great success in Argentina.
Argentine wine growers having mastered the exact balance between sun and water to ensure that the vines do not ‘over-fruit’ thus producing small, very dark, and juicy grape with the right concentration of both fruit and tannins.
The grape being sensitive to climate is thick-skinned and develops high acidity and tannic at higher cooler altitudes. The ‘Alto’ wines, as a rule, broken of course, are big, complex and robust. At lower altitudes, the grapes have thinner skins, more juice, and produce wines that are lighter-bodied and more suited to drinking young.
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