Due to extensive research, carried out by yours truly on your behalf. It is possible on every day of the year to be able to have something to celebrate. For instance, on the 9th February you can celebrate National Read in the Bathtub day,19th September is Talk like a Pirate day (Arrr!), 12th October is Moment of Frustration day (Damn and Blast!) and on the 2nd November it is Look at Circles day (squares are for squares, Man!). However, the most important day and one that I want you all to remember is that of 17th April because that is International Malbec day!
I love Malbec so much so that if my wife would let me I would have a bunch of Malbec grapes tattooed on my…..well I’ll leave that to your imagination. Suffice to say I really, really, REALLY like Malbec, and so it would appear does everyone else. It is the grape du jour (for the time being) to enjoy whilst you are tucking into that steak, burger or any other red meat you can throw on a BBQ for that matter. This is a grape that has the word, MAN stamped all over it. Not for Ladies but MEN!
The spiritual home of the Malbec grape is the Cahors region in south western France. Here it is known locally as ‘Côt’ or ‘Pressac’. Early visitors to the region told tales of a tannic variety of purpley- black grape and so through time it also became known as ‘the black grape of Cahors’. In Bordeaux the vignerons grow it side by side with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot in the vineyards. Here, in Bordeaux, Malbec plays a supporting role to Cabernet Sauvignon in the final blend of the resultant wine. Malbec also provides the structure and the backbone to what in some cases would be fairly medium bodied wines. Also, long before the strict rules of the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system, the more unscrupulous vignerons of the northern Rhone valley would sometimes buy in Malbec grapes to support the already hefty Syrah grape adding even greater depth and gravitas to their wine. This practice is now outlawed thank goodness.
But is what you are drinking really Malbec? I will wager the Malbec that you are more than likely to pour yourself comes from Arrr-gentina, (sorry, I was thinking of Talk like a Pirate day!).
It’s 1863 and the Phylloxera Aphid has just appeared in the vineyards of France. As we all know, the devilish little critter then proceeds to decimate the vineyards, destroying the precious grape vines, draining them of all their sap and cutting off the roots from the essential nutrients in the soil with which they need to survive. The solution was to graft the few remaining vines onto North American rootstock, which are immune to the dirty little Louse. These American rootstocks excrete a sticky sap from around their base which these Aphids absolutely hate and so problem solved. However, the French now had to re-import many of the vines that they had exported to North America in order to re-establish their blighted wine industry, amongst these was Malbec.
Malbec was introduced to Argentina or more specifically to the region of Mendoza in the late 19th century at the request of the local Governor Domingo Faustino Sarmiento. The very first vines were brought over from France by the French Agronomist, Miguel Pouget. Here in the foot hills of the Andes, Pouget found the ideal growing conditions for his grapes. He chose Mendoza as the region best suited to the grape. Soon the regions of Lujan de Cujo, Uco valley and Maipu were to become famous for the quality of the wine that they produced. In these high-altitude vineyards with almost uninterrupted sunshine combined with moderate rainfall the grape soon began to thrive and flourish. However, it must be noted that the grapes used to make Argentinian Malbec are significantly smaller, more tightly clustered and are thicker skinned to those that are to be found in its native home France. Perhaps the grapes that Miguel Pouget took to Argentina are a clone that has since, after the Phylloxera epidemic, become extinct in its native France? Certainly, there is evidence that the grapes used today in Bordeaux and South western France are much larger in size than their Argentinian counterparts.
The escalation in Argentinian grape cultivation can be traced back to the late 1800’s. It was through the destruction of the vineyards of France by the Phylloxera Aphid that suddenly many French vignerons who had been growing grapes found themselves sitting around the fire twiddling their thumbs and saying ‘Mon Dieu’ a lot. So, with lots of time on their hands and with nothing to do, many of them packed their valises and decamped to the other side of the world following their grapes. Many went to Chile hence the predominance of Cabernet and Merlot there, whilst some went to Uruguay and helped encourage the development of Pinot Noir and Tannat grapes. But many went to Argentina and to the safety of the grape that they had been cultivating back in France, Malbec!
In terms of acreage Argentina grows more Malbec than France, Italy, USA, and Australia combined. Argentina grows over 76,000 acres of Malbec compared to just the paltry 13,500 acres grown in France. You can find it from the very north in the region of Salta to the southern lands of Patagonia. Over the 3,600 kilometre length of Argentina you will find many different expressions of the Malbec grape, here is just a brief overview of what you can expect to find.
Lujan de Cujo and Mendoza in the north produce wines that are embodied with a vibrant dark cherry red colour. Due to the heavy mineral deposits found deep in the soil the wines from these 2 regions are both intense and powerful. Here you will find wines that these wines are complex, rich and full of dark spicy, juicy fruits. These are wines that can be either enjoyed now or can be cellared for 5 – 8 years easily.
Wines from the Tupungato, Uco and the San Carlos areas you will find have a more elegant poise to them. One might say that they are almost feminine in style, the same way that the wines of Margaux are compared to those that are found in Saint Julien. These are imbued with clearly defined floral spicy notes and demonstrate both a simplicity and pureness of fruit.
In Patagonia due to the harsher climate and high rainfall found there the wines are almost inky black in colour, denser, more tannic and have greater longevity. These should be searched for as they will develop slowly in the cellar and after 5 – 12 years will reward those that have had the patience to keep them.
World Malbec day is a phenomenon in Arrr-gentina, (apologies once again!). Here this National grape is celebrated throughout the length and breadth of the country and in recent years around the world. So, c’mon grab a bottle from any one of the suppliers listed below, put on that sombrero, don a poncho, false moustache and scream Ayyee Carramba! as you, like me celebrate the Best day of the year! YeeHaw!