Countdown to Malbec World Day
It’s the story of a grape that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention in its homeland, France (or anywhere else in the world, really).Yet in Argentina, it has risen to become that country’s most respected variety. The grape in question is Malbec. To celebrate the importance (not to mention aroma and flavor) of Malbec, April 17th marks Malbec World Day. In Argentina, the date is a significant one.
In a country where the winemaking tradition is as deeply rooted in the culture as tango, football or asado, Malbec has won its place as an ambassador, becoming the flagship grape of Argentina par excellence. A classic varietal, known the world over, it is constantly being reinvented by a restless generation of agronomists and winemakers willing to take the grape to previously unattainable heights.
The Malbec Argentino strain arrived in Argentina in 1853, (after the vineyards of France were ravaged by phylloxera) in the hands of Michel Aimé Pouget (1821-1875), a French agronomist who was hired by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento to carry out the management of the Agricultural Quinta de Mendoza.
Modelled on France, the initiative proposed adding new grape varieties to enhance the national wine industry. On April 17, 1853, with the support of the governor of Mendoza, Pedro Pascual Segura, a project was presented to the Provincial Legislature with a view to establishing a Quinta Normal and Agricultural School. This project was approved by the House of Representatives on September 6th of that year.
In the late 19th century, with the help of Italian and French immigrants, the wine industry grew exponentially, and with it, Malbec, which quickly adapted to the various terroirs, and developed with even better results than in its region of origin. Over time and with a lot of hard work, Malbec emerged as the flagship grape of Argentina.
The management of Pouget and Sarmiento in the Quinta Normal de Mendoza was a crucial part of this process. The 17th of April is, for Wines of Argentina, not only a symbol of the transformation of Argentina’s wine industry, but also the starting point for the development of this strain, an emblem for the country worldwide.
As Argentine wine markers continue to explore the effects of terroir and elevation, Malbec has become the tool for understanding each terroir and interpreting the differences. Malbec grew from 10 thousand hectares to 40 thousand in the 25 years from 1990 to 2015, reaching 57 percent of the total wine exported. This opened the door to the discovery of an inexhaustible range of Malbec profiles associated with terroir. A new generation has pushed the wine border westward, up into the mountains, and south and east, seeking the cold of the southern latitudes and the influence of the ocean.
While the development of Malbec in Argentina piques interest, the real pleasure of it is realized in the glass. Something to take note of: though we in North America typically see Malbec-based wines as falling into the “cheap and cheerful” category, this really does the grape a disservice.
At a recent dinner tasting for the wines of Vina Cobos with Michelle Schromm, the winery’s North America Sales Manager, I was impressed by the power, intensity and complexity of even the “entry level” Felino Malbec 2016 and positively floored by the upper level expressions including the Bramare Valle de Uco Malbec 2014 and the Bramare Zingaretti Malbec 2013. These wines fall into the $20 – $100 range. So certainly not the cheapest Malbecs out there, but still representing excellent value. They show how a few extra dollars can result in an exponential taste experience.