Malbec wine grape

Argentina’s signature grape, the intensely purple-black Malbec is originally from south-west France and used to be a major component of the red Bordeaux blend.  It’s still a permitted variety in Bordeaux, but is rarely seen there now.  It was once common across wide swathes of France, as evidenced by the hundreds of different names for it, of which Côt is the oldest and best known.  Malbeck is said to have been the name of a Hungarian who introduced it to Bordeaux.
There it filled much the same role as Merlot does today, adding body and soft, juicy fruit to the more acidic and tannic Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc.  But it needs more sun and heat to ripen than either, and is very disease-prone and susceptible to frost.  After the Phylloxera epidemic of the late 19th century, most producers replanted with other varieties.  Then the Great Frost of 1956 killed three out of every four Malbec vines.  Growers took the hint and replanted with Merlot.
Further inland in warmer and dryer Cahors, they stuck with what had become their dominant grape, and today most French Malbec is found there.  Cahors may well be the variety’s birthplace; DNA analysis shows that one of its parents is the rare Prunelard from neighbouring Gaillac.  In Cahors it produces deep-coloured, tannic wines tasting of damson skins and tobacco leaves.
Malbec was introduced to South America in the mid-19th century, from Bordeaux.  South American Malbec has smaller berries and thicker skins than its French counterpart, suggesting that these strains may not have survived Phylloxera and the Great Frost.  Although most closely associated with Argentina, there’s also a lot of it in Chile.
But it is in Argentina that Malbec has found its true home.  There’s lots of sun to ripen it properly; high altitude vineyards to preserve acidity; and a dependably dry climate (vineyards are irrigated) to offset its susceptibility to pests and fungal disease.  Malbecs from here are lushly fruity with ample soft tannins, plum and blackberry flavours, and aromas of violets and cloves.

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