Malbec wines: from Argentina to the world.

Published 01 June 2016   

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When most wine enthusiasts think of malbec, only one country comes to mind – Argentina. Malbec is Argentina’s flagship grape variety, however, like many other grape varieties it originally came from France, where it is still produced today and is known as cot. France may be the place of origin of malbec, but Argentina is now home to nearly 70% of the malbec vineyards in the world. There is also a big difference in taste between the wines from both countries and this is because malbec wines are greatly affected by the terroir in which they are grown.

Terroir incorporates all the elements that define the taste of a wine grape variety including sun, soil, proximity to the ocean, climate, altitude, etc. Any good winemaker will tell you that great wine is made in the vineyard, not in the cellar, and the terroir of Argentina is one of the best in the world for this type of grape. High altitude vineyards around Mendoza, a city located near the Andes, provide the ideal environment for making superb malbec wines with ripe tannins, plum and black fruit flavours.

Argentine producers have grown malbec extensively in every wine region of the country and these vineyards can be found all along the Andes mountain range from Salta in the north of the country to Patagonia in the south. Mendoza, however, is the main producing area with around 27,000 hectares planted, representing 85% of all malbec vineyards in the country.

This popular varietal has earned worldwide recognition thanks to Argentina, but it is still being produced in France and other countries around the world, where production is mostly limited to small areas. Today the majority of France’s malbec is found in Cahors (in the southwest), a small town located next to a zig zag river that gently flows towards Bordeaux. French malbec features a hard, more rustic style when compared with its Argentine counterpart, with chalky and sometimes harder tannins and notes of violets, blackcurrants and cherries as its main characteristics.

Once a major component of great Bordeaux wines, malbec used to play a supporting role in their blends, but it often underperformed due to its poor resistance to weather and pests. However, further up the Garonne River from Bordeaux, malbec has done very well. The cooling breezes from the Atlantic keep the vines rot-free, while warm daytime temperatures and Mediterranean influence allows grapes to fully ripen. In Cahors, it is called ‘cot’ and in the Middle Ages it was called ‘black wine’ because of its deep and rich purple colour.

Argentina hasn’t always produced high quality malbec, in fact for the first 150 years of its winemaking history, the country produced wines only for domestic consumption. It was only at the end of the 20th century when Argentina started to make wines with quality suitable for export. Now they’re renowned for making large quantities of world-class malbec, which stand out particularly for the quality of its silky tannins and mouth filling texture. Good wine is deeply coloured, spicily rich with an exuberant juiciness and has as a trademark an almost velvety texture which makes it a great wine for food pairing.

Malbec expresses itself very well in regions with broad temperature ranges and clay or sandy soils as those found at the foot of the Andes mountains. These geographic and climatic features make malbec’s most significant characteristic, its intense dark colour. Its aromas suggest cherries, strawberries or plums, and in some cases it is evocative of cooked fruit such as berry jam or marmalade, depending on when and where the grapes were harvested. In the mouth malbec is warm, soft and sweet, with silky tannins, and when it is aged in oak barrels it also develops coffee, vanilla and chocolate aromas as well.

How and when did Malbec become so popular in Argentina? In the mid-19th century, Domingo Sarmiento, the governor of Argentina at that time, appointed a French agronomist named Miguel Pouget to bring vine cuttings from France to Argentina, as the country at that time lacked formidable wines. The governor’s objective was very clear: build a prosperous wine industry in the country.
Malbec was just one of the many grape varieties Pouget brought with him, and he planted the grapevines in the Mendoza region. Malbec grapes flourished in this new climate and soil quickly becoming Argentina’s most planted grape.

Winemakers in Argentina took to it, more so than other varieties introduced from France at the time such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir just to mention a few. While Argentina was still years away from making world-class wines, Argentine winemakers finally had a foundation and identity to build upon and since then step by step they have become the largest and most prestigious producers of malbec in the world.

Malbec can be easily found in most countries around the globe and Indonesia has not been the exception to this trend, for this edition of FRV we sat and tasted three of the most popular malbec wines available in Bali and Jakarta and we were not disappointed with their quality. We found three of them to be excellent value for money, something to consider when buying wines in this part of the world.

KaikenResMA13Kaiken Malbec
Reserva 2013

Being the more affordable of the wines we tasted, it is no surprise it is also the most widely available in the market and can be easily found in many venues in Bali and Jakarta as wine by the glass.

On the nose it evokes strawberries and cherry aromas, nicely complemented with spicy notes and a hint on menthol aromas. The palate is very fresh with soft tannins and a pleasant after taste, definitely a great value for money.

Crios-MalbecDominio Del Plata Crios Malbec 2014

The aromas are a mix of freshly crushed black cherries and toasty and smoky oak, just enough to frame its fruity aromas. On the palate the flavours of cherries and spices are the perfect complement for the jammy fruit that just keeps coming on strong from the nose to the palate with a very smooth aftertaste and silky tannins.

KAIKEN ULTRA MALBECKaiken Ultra
Malbec 2013

This is an excellent malbec and my favourite of the ones we tasted. It is more expensive than the two previous wines, but it is worth every penny. The nose displays nice aromas of blueberries, blackberries and a hint of dry flowers and spices from the oak barrel ageing. The palate is fresh, elegant, with great structure, smooth tannins and a round finish; overall a good example of this grape variety for those who have never tasted it before.

If you haven’t ever tasted malbec I would recommend you give it a try. They are not difficult to find and most of the time, like most wines from the new world, they often offer excellent value for money.

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