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World Malbec Day

Hands up if you knew that the 17th April was World Malbec Day? Ok, so it is not a high point in many people's calendar but it is well worth celebrating. It is a grape that is sometimes considered for it's 'value' in comparison to Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah but is a bold, fruity masterpiece all of its own. Having flourished in Argentina, it is a grape that is going from strength to strength. But where did it all begin?

As with many wine stories, France has a part to play, as does my favourite Eleanor of Aquitaine (go back and read our History of Bordeaux blog if you want to know more about how this queen helped establish Bordeaux as wine royalty). South West France, including Bordeaux, was the home of Malbec for many years. Cahors, which is slightly to the east of Bordeaux, was the mainstay for the grape, and still to this day, any red wine from this region must be made of 70% Malbec grapes. However, Cahors wine never broke into the market in the way Bordeaux did. But for Malbec this did not matter as it became one of the permitted grape varieties in the Bordeaux region and flourished. That is, until the end of the 19th century/20th century when Bordeaux faced problem after problem and the more vulnerable Malbec grape succumbed most easily to disease and frost (another shoutout to the History of Bordeaux blog if you want more information). But at the end of all these ups and downs: Malbec was in need of a new home, at this point we welcome....


You would struggle not to associate this grape with Argentina. Both the country's wine regions and the grape have benefitted from this burgeoning relationship. In the mid 19th century the first Malbec vine was planted in this South American country but it wasn't until the late 20th century, as the Argentinians moved their focus to the export of their product, that Malbec really took off and it is now the most widely planted grape in the country. 70% of the world's Malbec vines are planted in Argentina. It is particularly prevalent in Mendoza, at the foot of the Andes mountains.

Is there a difference between French and Argentinian Malbec?

Short answer: Yes.

Longer answer: You will often find wine buffs using the word 'terrior' which is a French word that is used to encompass all of the regional factors that influence the taste of wine. This includes things like how much sunshine vines get, the make up of the soil, the climate, altitude, how close to the water they are etc. There are so many elements that go into effect the growth of the grapes that that should be a future blog post (or five) on that alone. But for Malbec it is important as it is a grape that is more susceptible to showing the 'terroir' through the wine than most because it is so vulnerable to its environment. Much like Pinot Noir (another shout out to a past blog) it needs great care and the right conditions to grow. Thus, growing Malbec grapes in France and Argentina is going to produce very different wines.

So what should you expect/look for?

Argentinian Malbec tends to be plummy. It is famous for its soft velvety texture and because Argentina (and particularly Mendoza, the Argentinian home of the grape) are blessed with lots of sunshine which gives it its fruitiness. The Andes are also a huge factor in Mendoza's terroir, as the mountains provide altitude and cooler air. Malbec tends to thrive in positions of higher altitude as this slows down the ripening process and allows the grapes to develop enough acidity to counterbalance the amount of sunshine.

On the other hand, French Malbec is more famous for it's firm tannins. It has dark, meaty notes and is earthier than it's new world companion. This is in part due to the limestone found in the soil - the calcium helps maintain acidity. The vine roots have to work hard in this region, meaning you get more concentrated grapes and a deeper wine.

Whilst production of Malbec in France has been declining for many years, it is a grape that has made a huge impact in the Southern Hemisphere. After it's success in Argentina, Chile is starting to increase it's production, as well as Australia. However, just like the difference between France and Argentina, expect to see variations across all locations.

Despite these differences how about some general facts for one of the world's most popular grapes?

  • Malbec's best mate is blue cheese - particularly melted. The fruity notes in this grape marry really well the complexity of the cheese and they bring the best out in each other.

  • Avoid really fatty cuts of meat with your next glass. While Malbec is often touted as a full bodied wine (which it can be), unlike other red wines grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, it doesn't have the finish to stand up to the fattiness in the meat. If you are drinking Malbec with red meat, aim for a less fatty cut to really enjoy both the wine and the food.

  • It is not just for red wine: sparkling, white and rose wines are all made using Malbec grapes. It is a particularly good grape to make rose wine with, using grapes grown at a high altitude, producing a fresh and aromatic wine.

Finally... here are some great options to help celebrate this special grape...

From Mendoza, this wine has the characteristic dark plummy notes expected in an Argentinian Malbec.

A rose made with Malbec grapes which highlights the fruitiness of the varietal.

A smooth, medium weight Malbec that is unoaked. A good pairing for a BBQ.

From the South of France, this is a great value wine that is a great match for cheese and red meat.

From the Uco Valley, this is a deep, well structured wine with real complexity and firm tannins.

Finally, a real treat of a wine that is full bodied and rich. It is perfect to enjoy with a good quality steak.

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