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Malbec, the flagship red wine of Argentina, achieves excellent wines and it is appreciated and recognized by consumers nationally and internationally. It has a tremendous fruit expression and very soft tannins. However, it is a very demanding grape in terms of region and crop management in order for it to reach its full potential.

I love malbec

Its origin is debated to this day but it has been proved genetically that it came from southwest France.  Though the exact region is still unknown, it is to believed to have started somewhere in Cahors, Bordeaux, Quercy or La Touraine. In this areas, it is most commonly known as “Cot” but it has over 400 hundred names, including Auxerrois, Cot de Bordeaux, Cahors, Pressac, Cot Noir and many others.

 

This varietal shows peculiarities which are due to the differences in climate and soil, plant genetic characteristics, vineyard management as well as the processing methods. The French Malbec grape is a thin-skinned grape and needs more sun and heat than either Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Syrah, as it ripens mid season and can bring very deep color, soft tannins, and a particular plum-like flavor. Sometimes, especially in traditional growing regions like France, it is not trellised and cultivated as bush vines. Here it is sometimes kept to a relatively low yield of about 6 tons per hectare.



As a varietal, Malbec creates a rather inky red (or violet), intense wine, so it is also commonly used in France to bulk up for other mixes, such as with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to create the red French Bordeaux claret blend. It has been long used as one of the five blending grapes in the red wines of Bordeaux, Malbec is difficult to ripen in cold years there, and is susceptible to damage by mildew and other “pressures” that may infect damp, densely planted vineyards.

In the Cahors region of southwest France, Malbec produces a more robust vine and is often vinified on its own. Known as the “black wine of Cahors” because of its very dark color, this Malbec can be offered as a varietal wine or used to add body and color, as mentioned before, in other blends.

The invasion of Phylloxera in French vineyards in the 19th Century greatly diminished the amount of Malbec planted there. The vine seems particularly sensitive to pests and disease. The “great freeze” that struck France in 1940 was another blow to Malbec. Since the frost killed 75 percent of the Malbec in the Medoc region, and growers replaced those vines with varieties which had more value in the marketplace.

 

From Europe to the New World…

Malbec came to Argentina in mid-nineteenth century (somewhere between the years 1852-1868) where it spread rapidly, it was introduced by french agronomist, Mr Michel Aime Pouget before the Phylloxera epidemic punished European vineyards. In Argentina, which was never subject to the epidemic, most of these vines grow on their own roots. But if escaping the blight of Phylloxera provided a start, the key reasons for the recent emergence of the grape are improvements both to viticulture and vinification. Producers have dramatically cut yields and replaced large old wood casks with oak barriques. They’ve taken more care in selecting appropriate planting sites, developing cooler, high altitude vineyards that benefit from warm days and cool nights. International consultants have arrived, too, imparting up-to-date knowledge about vinification techniques as well as a sense of what style of wines compete successfully in the international wine market.

 

Map of Europe

 

As soon as it came to Mendoza it was known as”The French Grape” although this name included other vines such as Tannat and Petite Verdot, and they were the most widespread grapes in Argentina.

 

The first growers planted the Malbec using the European tradition: six plants of malbec and one white variety of Semillon. Since a cut was produced, according to the ancient winemakers, this balanced the high concentration of color and took away the marked roughness provided by the tannins

 

During the ’80s, Argentina experienced a strong process of eradicating the vines of Malbec (especially the oldest, with more than half a century) which endangered the very existence of the strain, it was believed that the future was secured on the basis of a market scheme preventing high-yielding vines. But then, with the restructuring of the wine industry in the early 90s Malbec resurfaced implantation. Currently, the area planted with this variety is the world’s largest followed by France and the USA.

 

The origin of the Malbec name has also been in debate  for quite sometime. A theory suggests that the name was provide by the french term of “bad kiss” (Mal=bad, bec=kiss), but the most probable of the theories implies that Malbec was the name of the Hungarian vintner who spread the vine all around the South west of France, Monsieur Malbeck.

 

About the grape…

 

In the Patagonian south it is grown beside apple orchards and poplar trees which protect the vines from the wind. In Mendoza the conditions are much warmer and drier. Though the province’s low-lying vineyards are twice as high as Rio Negro’s, the style of Malbec produced is fairly soft and simple. Malbec is grown all through Salta to Patagonia, being the most widely produced grape of Argentina.

 

The Malbec color is a thick, lustrous, dark inky-black purple that almost stains the glass . Gooare often surprisingly floral and aromatic with a scents of plums and violets. This translates into sweet, well-rounded flavors on the tongue and sometimes a spicy edge softened by smooth, velvety tannins. The balance of fruit and tannin is what makes a top Malbec so perfect.

This wine is typically a medium to full-bodied, dry red wine with plenty of acidity and higher tannin and alcohol levels, topically but not necessarily.  It pairs very good with many types of food, but it is undeniable that it matches beautifully with juice steaks, Morrocan tajines and all sort of gamey meats being definitely a red meat wine but adaptable enough to stand up to spicy Indian, Mexican, Cajun or Italian fare, with preference given to barbecue, spices and hard to pair meat-driven dishes, Malbec is extremely food-friendly and ultra accommodating.

A wine you must try especially while visiting Argentina either in a wine tasting, or traditional “asado”, is a wine you must seat and enjoy no matter what…

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There is a small but growing debate in the wine world of today between cork and screw caps for wine bottles. Wine has historically and traditionally been capped with cork stoppers, hence the peculiar spiral gadget uniquely utilized for opening wine. However, this provides for more difficulty and risk in opening a bottle of wine. Cork can, for instance, sever in the opening process leaving bits of cork in the wine itself, or a cork stub at the mouth of the bottle rendering it, in some cases, impossible to open.

Major wine producing regions of the world are in fact holding onto cork. Spain, for instance, has passed a law which requires wineries in the 11 top wine producing regions to close with cork. In Argentina as well you would be hard pressed to find any bottle of wine not closed with cork. At our wine tastings in Buenos Aires, people ask about the debate and the prospect of using screw caps. Such tastings turn out to be, as expected, sources of true wine traditionalists who understand and appreciate the history, tradition, and uniqueness of cork stoppers for wine. No one seems to mind its subtly more difficult opening process.

Some pros and cons in the debate are as follows:

Wine cork pro: Cork is a renewable resource composed of suberin, a hydrophobic substance providing elasticity, buoyancy, and impermeability, and grown on tree trunks in certain forests. It is biodegradable and provides for an entire industry of products.

Wine cork con: Some 1-20% of all wine is deemed “corked,” or, damaged by a problematic cork.

Screw cap pro: Easily removed and less expensive than traditional or plastic corks. Screw caps avoid the issue of cork taint in wine as well.

Screw cap con: Using screw caps implies environmental issues associated with the loss of cork farming.

To read further into this debate and even check out theories on plastic wine corks, simply search online or visit http://www.foodandbeverageunderground.com/Wine-Cork.html.

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