With foggy origins, somewhere between Bordeaux and Bourgogne, Malbec hasn’t had the best of starts in France. After losing its spot in Bordeaux it moved to Cahors, and Loire, before it backpacked to Argentina and finally found its true home. Now, it is a national symbol there and a every 17th April is celebrated as the World Malbec Day. Sommelier Magandeep SINGH and Gagan SHARMA discusses its journey so far an taste two renditions of the varietal.
MALBEC’S FOGGY ORIGINS
This week we are celebrating the World Malbec Day on 17th April.
The grape has many names – Cot, Auxerrois Noir, and Pressac – but where did it originate from and why’s it called so still remains open for debate
A popular, but unconfirmed, theory claims that Malbec is named after a Hungarian peasant who first spread the grape variety throughout France. French ampelographer and viticulturalist Pierre Galet notes, however, that most evidence suggests that Côt was the variety’s original name and that it probably originated in northern Burgundy. Which is believable since a variety, called Auxerrois Blanc, is a local gift.
MALBEC’S HOME AND DISOWNMENT – BORDEAUX
Consecutive catastrophes of Phylloxera and Mildew between 1850 and 1880 caused economical droughts. Winemakers had to pick their favourites, bearing in mind the varieties that would fetch them most gains and repute. This thin-skinned, rot-prone varietal lost its plot, literally. Only when it was regathering the faith of local farmers, it miserably failed the test of the famous 1956 Frost in Bordeaux. And then there was no looking back. The varietal was marched out of Bordeaux.
It travelled more inland from there and survived in the drylands of Cahors, not far from Bordeaux. Since it was definitely drier and virgin from the ideal of the ocean’s diurnal effects, Malbec flourished here. Cahors is probably the only Malbec-centric ppelation of the world. However, it must constitute a minimum of 70 percent Malbec, and can be accompanied by rich and round Merlot and rustic and tannic Tannat.
Further north, in the Loire Valley, Malbec is blended with Cabernet Franc and Gamay to make fruity, quaffable reds, and, sometimes, as part of a sparkling Saumur wine.
MALBEC + ARGENTINA – A MATCH MADE IN HEAVENS
The 1880s President commissioned Michel Aimé Pouget to take care of the vineyards, and, amongst many things, he brought Malbec Argentino, in 1853. It was a stable, higher quality clone than the one used in Bordeaux at the time.
Malbec overtook Criolla Grande and Cereza to become country’s most planted varietal for bottled table wines. The idea was to replace jug wines made from these existing varietals and put in place a formidable local identity that would not only mark the rise of clean, varietal-driven, quality produce, but also of Argentinian wines and their potential to the world.
International eyes were drown to Argentina’s potential with Malbec and soon there was an influx of money and talent. CaRo is a joint venture between Château Lafite-Rothschild and Nicolás Catena which proves the point. Further, Cheval des Andes, a joint venture between Chateau Cheval Blanc and LVMH‘s Terrazas de los Andes, makes extremely good Malbec . And Michel Rolland‘s own extensive range of Argentine wines such as Yacochuya from Salta in the north (with the Etchart family) and the Clos de los Siete project high up in the Andes near Vista Flores with various, mainly French partners is a testament of Malbec’s potential when handled well.
MALBEC IN OTHER CORNERS OF THE WORLD
Chile has about 6,000 hectares planted, France has now regathered about 5,300 hectares. California, Washington State, the Rogue and Umpqua regions of Oregon, the Grand Valley AVA of Colorado are flourishing with Malbec
Prior to Prohibition in the United States, Malbec was a significant variety in California used mainly for blended bulk wine production. After Prohibition, the grape was a minor variety until it experienced a surge of interest as a component of Meritage Bordeaux-style blends in the mid-1990s.
Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, British Columbia, the Long Island AVA of New York, Oregon, southern Bolivia, Peru, northeastern Italy, and recently in Texas and southern Ontario, Virginia, and in the Baja California region of Mexico are all homes to Malbec as well..
India tried too with Malbec, but failed due to the prevalent leafroll virus. Vallonne Vineyards produced an excelled varietal reserve styled Malbec and Sula Vienyard‘s Sartori was a blend of Merlot and Malbec. Its presence in the valley is inconsiderable, but the promise it showed is still talked about.
TASTING A MALBEC
A good Malbec has ample supple tannins, with balancing mouthwatering acidity, and a palate filled with ripe dark fruits, blackberries, dark cherries, milk chocolate, damsons, and tobacco leaf that are supported often with a mix of oak is a framework that Mendoza’s delectable drops promise today.
Broadly speaking, French Malbec tends to be more meaty, rustic and tannic, while examples from Argentina seem to be uniformly rich, ripe, jammy and juicy.