Malbec red wine is certainly all the rage right now. Despite blossoming into widespread popularity only a decade ago, the Malbec grape and the wine made from it have become so widespread that pretty much anyone who enjoys fine red wine has at least heard of it, if not tried it. But do you ever wonder where this fascinating and well-loved grape came from? As we said, it only became popular about a decade ago, seemingly appearing out of nowhere, as it had been all but unheard of before.
So today, Vine Vera is going to take you through the history of Malbec wine. It’s really a quite interesting story, and it’s always fun to know where your favorite wines came from. Next time you’re gathering with some friends, uncork a few bottles of Malbec and impress everyone with your surprising knowledge of its history.
The Malbec has actually existed for ages in its native France; a hidden gem hardly anyone knew about besides the French themselves.
The problem, though, was that Malbec never really saw its full potential in France. The grape was and still is grown in wineries all over the country, but it has a fatal flaw: when grown in most regions of France, the Malbec vine is prone to fatal rot, and it spreads quickly enough to decimate an entire field in short order. This meant it was generally too risky to plant full fields of Malbec, but because it was still highly valued for its use in blends (notably the famous Bordeaux blend) it would still be planted, but in small enough plots that, should a winemaker lose their crop of Malbec, they’d still be able to make the blend, even if it wasn’t ideal.
The one exception to this was the Cahors region, that did produce pure Malbec wine, but it was isolated to this one region and never made it out of France.
Migration of the Vine
In the 19th century, Argentine provincial governor Domingo Faustino Sarmiento asked the French agronomist Migues Pouget about wine grape vines that might do well in Argentina, and one of the ones recommended was Malbec. Cuttings were brought back and planted, although the grape didn’t see much use until the late 20th century, when the Argentine wine industry shifted gears from producing jug wine to making premium wine for export.
What was significant about the planting of Malbec vines in Argentina, though, was how well they took to the soil and the climate. In France, they had been rot and disease-prone, and were legitimately difficult to keep alive long enough to get grapes from. In Argentina, though, they swiftly took root and grew heartily with zero of the problems they’d had in France, which is what leads many people to claim Malbec was always “meant” for Argentine soils.
Today, while Malbec acreage is actually declining in France, it only continues to rise in Argentina, making most of today’s favored favored Malbecs Argentine in origin, especially from the province of Mendoza. Argentine Malbecs are fruit-forward and spicy, with blackberry, plum, spice, and—depending on how oak aged they are—sometimes sweet tobacco on the finish. This makes them a palate-pleaser that a wide variety of people will enjoy, and they’re smooth, drinkable, and food-friendly, but with a bit of a kick of spice to make them more interesting.