The star of the Argentinian wine industry, Malbec is appreciated around the world for its bold and intense flavours. Full-bodied, juicy, easy to drink and great value, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t like it. But how much do we actually know about this humble grape? To celebrate annual World Malbec Day on April 17th, let’s explore 5 things you didn’t know about this popular varietal, including its origin (hint: it’s not even Argentinian), why it grows best at high altitudes and how you can tell it’s Malbec just by looking at your glass…
1. It’s not Argentinian
While now synonymous with the Mendoza region of Argentina, the dark and inky grapes actually come from France. However, these grapes are notoriously sensitive to frost and rot and so never really took off in their colder and damper native home. Fortunately, in 1853 a nostalgic French agronomist, Michel A. Pouget, brought the varietal’s very first vine cuttings to Argentina, where high altitudes and a drier, sunnier climate allowed the grapes to finally show their true potential.
Nowadays Malbec is the most widely planted red grape variety in Argentina, with the country exporting 129 million litres in 2020 — enough to fill up over 65 Olympic size swimming pools. While produced in several countries, including the US, Australia, Chile, South Africa, Brazil and Italy, Argentina grows 75% of all Malbec grapes, making it the world’s leading producer.
2. Its vines love high altitudes
As mentioned, part of the recipe for success is Argentina’s high altitude vineyards. The highest vineyard in Argentina’s Northwest is located at 10,922ft – that’s five times higher than the Shanghai Tower!
The high-altitude Mendoza region of Argentina has a desert-like climate, characterized by hot, sunny days and cool nights. These wide diurnal temperature shifts make the grapes produce more acidity, lengthening the wine’s shelf life. Higher altitudes also lead to the grapes developing thicker skin to protect themselves from UV light. This increases the pulp to juice ratio, adding more tannins and acidity to the wine.
Ultimately, all this results in more flavourful, complex and delicious wines, ideal for long-term cellaring. In short, its mountainous Argentinian home has everything to bring out the grape’s full potential.
3. Not all Malbec is the same
In contrast to their French relatives found primarily in Cahors, South West France, the Argentinian grapes grow smaller berries in tighter, smaller clusters. It’s actually thought that the cuttings brought over by Pouget were a unique clone that became extinct in France because of frost and the phylloxera epidemic that ravaged French vineyards in the mid-19th century. If that’s the case, it means that Argentina is home to the oldest Malbec vines in the world.
Differences in terroir also impact the final taste. Conditions are sunnier and drier in Argentinian vineyards, resulting in a plummy and fruity profile, with a soft, velvety texture. In contrast, in France it tends to have more structure, firmer tannins and savoury and tart notes.
4. Malbec has many names
Malbec must be the grape with the most names in the world. It’s also known as Bergerac, Pécharmant, Montravel, Côtes-de-Duras, Côtes-du-Marmandais, Buzet, Brulhois, Coteaux du Quercy, Pressac, Côt and Côt Rouge to name just a few. The name “Malbec” originates from Bordeaux where it is said to have been first introduced to the area by a Hungarian wine grower called Malbeck.
5. You can tell it’s Malbec just by looking at it
Impress your friends by telling them if you’re drinking a Malbec just by looking, with this simple trick. If you look at its colour, you’ll see it has a deep, reddish-purple colour that’s nearly opaque; not too different to a Syrah or Mourvèdre. But what differentiates it is that it usually leaves a bright magenta rim when you’re finished drinking a glass. So if you’re ever in a blind taste test and see some magenta residue on the rim, chances are it’s Malbec.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this short introduction to Argentina’s most famous wine varietal and that this World Malbec Day you’ll join us in raising a glass to the grape that’s now synonymous with Argentina. Drinks&Co offer an extensive selection of Argentinian wines, but to get you started, here are a few of our customers’ favourites.
This intensely fruity Malbec comes from Uco Valley vineyards which are comprised of more than 400 hectares at an altitude of between 1,050 and 1,200 metres above sea level.