April 17 is World Malbec Day, a time to celebrate the heritage of one of the world’s most popular varietals. Though Argentina may be the most famous country for Malbec today, the grape’s history tells another story entirely.
We know that Malbec originated in France, though how it got there is less understood. One popular but unproven theory is that a Hungarian peasant, who purportedly worked for a Cornish spy, planted the grape throughout France. The grape has also been known as Pressac and Auxerrois, and according to Bordeaux winery Château de Pressac: “From 1737 to 1747, Vassal of Montviel planted a noble grape variety originating from the Quercy (a former southern province of France) called the Auxerrois. Many in the neighbourhood did the same and the grape soon became known as the Noir de Pressac. Years later, the Sieur Malbek took it to the Médoc, region of Bordeaux where the variety took on the name “Malbec.” The Malbec grape has gone by many names in France including Côt Noir in Cahors, where it is known today as Malbec and must be at least 70% of all wines produced from the region, known as the “black wine” of Cahors.
But the grape proved difficult to grow in the maritime climate of Bordeaux, with its heavy rains and cooler temperatures. The invasion of Phylloxera (an invasive microscopic pest) in the 1800s necessitated grafting all European vines to American root stock to save the vines, but ultimately left the roots more sensible to rot. Growing the thin-skinned Malbec in the region was also fraught with challenges from frost to coulure (failure of grapes to develop after flowering) to downy mildew. A severe 1956 frost wiped out a significant portion of Malbec vines in Bordeaux, making way for new, more hardy varietals to be planted. Though the plantings were greatly reduced, Malbec remained one of the primary blending grapes of Bordeaux’s top 5 red wine grapes (others being Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot) and continues today.
Here is what Wine Enthusiast had to say about the wine:
“Bordeaux has always had Malbec in its vineyards although it is rare. This unusual wine shows how, in a fruity year, the grape can work well. The tannins are soft, giving a juicy black-fruited wine that is forward and delicious to drink now for its succulent fruit.”-Wine Enthusiast 88 Points and Best Buy.
Elaborated in Stainless steel vats, with 30% of the wine then aged in oak barrels. The wine has a deep purple color with intense aromas of black fruits, spices and oaky vanilla. En Mémoire du Malbec has great balance and length, and is a wonderful reminder of the grand history of Malbecs from Bordeaux.
Malbec Comes to Argentina
Malbec was brought to Argentina from France in 1853 by Michel Aimé Pouget (1821-1875), an agronomist who was hired by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento to run the Quinta Agronómica de Mendoza. The grape found a new home in the high altitude regions of Mendoza, a place where the hot, dry conditions proved perfect for creating a very different, warm climate wine. It soon became one of the most popular red varietals in Argentina, and today accounts for more than one-third of all red grape varieties and cover more than twice the area of the next most planted grape, Bonarda.
On their Malbec World Day Site, Wines of Argentina says:
“Malbec is not just a wine. It is a fruit that generates work, individuality, culture and development. Each bottle is a declaration of what sets Argentina apart. Each bottle speaks of the hands, the dexterity and the soul of our men. This varietal expresses a way of doing things, a way of life; it involves technique, originality and passion. The deepest wines are born of the deepest longings of their peoples, those who reside in the heart. Malbec is the heart of our industry and continues to be our global ambassador.”
Our Argentinian wine partner, Proviva, found the growing region of Agrelo in Lujan de Cuyo to be the area where the most authentic Argentinian Malbecs can be produced. Their estate-grown wines are produced exclusively from organic and Biodynamic vineyards located in the best terroirs of the region. The resulting varietal wines are the purest expression of the region’s outstanding calcareous soils. Organic and Biodynamic agriculture guarantee a viticulture with no inputs, where vines authentically express the character of place.
Proviva produces the Inkarri label for Natural Merchants, include two 100% Malbec organically grown Biodynamic wines:
Inkarri Estate Grown Malbec
“Dark dusty violet color. Fruity aromas and flavors of boysenberry jam, eucalyptus, fertile earth, and blueberry pie with a velvety, crisp, fruity medium-to-full body and a warming, medium-length chocolate covered blackberries, toasty griddle cakes, mountmorency cherry, and salted blood orange finish with medium tannins and moderate oak. A juicy high-elevation malbec that will hit the spot.”
91 Points, James Suckling
Try all three Organic Malbecs for World Malbec Day
Though the Malbec wines from Bordeaux and Argentina come from very separate parts of the world, the varietal does not disappoint in all of these wines from both countries. Both brands are available for purchase at fine retailers in select markets across the country.