The sun shines brighter and more intensely on the vines in Mendoza. The rugged, snow-capped peaks of the Andes mountains stand guard over this arid landscape, providing the vineyards with a truly majestic backdrop. All a far cry from Malbec’s home of Southern France.
Malbec originates in the South of France, where it is traditionally called Côt. It is one of the six grapes permitted for use in the famous red blends of Bordeaux, but now, it only plays a supporting role in these wines, if asked to contribute at all.
Côt is still, however, grown in the nearby region of Cahors, and here—as Argentina has raised the profile of this grape so much—they have taken to advertising their wines as the “French Malbec.”
The first Malbec vines traveled to Argentina in 1851 and were cultivated in a national vine nursery by Frenchman Michel Aimé Pouget. But they had to wait over a century to get their chance to shine.
A Star is Born
In the late twentieth century, winemakers in Argentina were producing simple wines that were only consumed by the local population. Their neighbor Chile, on the other hand, was already producing wines that had gained international acclaim and popularity.
Nicolás Catena Zapata, a visionary and forward thinker, had ideas about how Argentina could make its mark on the wine world, and the grape he chose was Malbec. Planting Malbec at high altitudes, around 5000 ft, in the Mendoza region, he found that this seemingly forgotten grape could, in fact, produce outstanding wines. These wines were, and continue to be, deep in color, rich in flavor, and luscious in texture.
When Nicolas showed his wines to the rest of the world, they quickly agreed, and, alongside the Catena Zapata winery, many of the world’s top winemakers now have properties in Mendoza, producing dazzling Malbec. Not only have people established wineries here to produce Malbec, but the global popularity of Argentinian Malbec has led producers around the globe to experiment with this grape.
M&M: Mendoza and Malbec
Mendoza is Argentina's largest wine-producing region, with three-fourths of all vines, of which eighty-five percent are Malbec. The Malbecs coming out of Mendoza range from simple, everyday wines, to those of extraordinary quality, with a place in the world’s most prestigious wine collections.
The vineyards of Mendoza are a green oasis in the gray desert of the Andean foothills. Here, an average of 8.6 inches of rain does not provide enough water for the vines, and wine growers use Andean snowmelt, funneled through the dams and irrigation systems built by the Incas and local Harp Indians, to water their vines.
It is in these conditions, close to the sun, with little water and poor soils, that Malbec needs to shine at its very best. In the south of France, Malbec produces very structured wine with harsh tannins. In Mendoza, the Malbecs are jet black, with a vibrant violet hue that shows the influence of the region’s sunshine.
The intensity of the grapes’ color is matched in their flavors. Rich fruits, namely plums and blackberries, emanate from the drinker’s glass, dancing with notes of mocha and deep earthy aromas. A balance of acid and tannins create a luscious, almost velvety, mouthfeel, all of which, when you close your eyes, can transport you to the majestic Andean cradle where these wines were born.