As most of you know, Northwest Cellars has a 100% 2014 Malbec wine. I hope you have all tried it, not only because it is just plain delicious, but it will treat you to one of the many expressions of this grape.
Here’s a little history and information if you are a Malbec fan.
ORIGIN: A GRAPE OF MANY NAMES, AND FLAVORS
Of course, it originated in France. It was common and was cultivated all over the southwest area of the country. Later on, it became one the original approved blending grapes of the Bordeaux region. It is known by many names; there may be over a thousand synonyms for this grape! In Bordeaux it also goes by the name Auxerrois and is mostly found on the Right Bank where it is mainly blended with Merlot and Petit Verdot. It is also called Pressac here after Château de Pressac which grew these grapevines in its vineyard back to at least 1737. Up in the Loire region it is known as Côt and is blended with Cabernet Franc and Gamay. See what I mean? A Malbec by any other name…
These days most of French Malbec comes from Cahors AOC. This is a small town on a switchback river that gently flows toward Bordeaux. Sounds nice, eh? I want to go there. The wine made here must be at least 70% minimum Malbec. It is blended with small amounts of Merlot and Tannat. These are called the “black wines” coming from grapes grown on high limestone plateau vineyards. They’re called black wines because they are very dark, (duh), tannic and long lived. Newer vineyards on lower slopes produce much lighter style red wines. Malbecs from this general area have leathery tastes with flavors of tart currant, black plum, and a savory bitterness often described as “green” at the start. French Malbecs from the Loire and Cahors also have higher acidity and low alcohol so tend to age longer. Another distinctive expression of the grape.
But there is this bothersome thing about Malbec. It has poor resistance to disease, pests and weather. As a result, even though it is still grown here and there in France, it is currently just a small amount. After the phylloxera disaster, and then after the decimating frosts of 1956, it wasn’t replanted much. It just never could get to be top dog. Sad.
GOING ABROAD FOR THE SUN
But! You are perhaps wondering why it is that, upon perusing the wine aisle at your local wine vendor, most of the Malbecs come from Argentina. Hmmm? Just how did Malbec get so involved with this one place? Well, the story is this. In the mid 1900’s then Argentine president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento made it his mission to transform Argentina’s wine industry. On April 17th of whatever year it actually was, (I’ve read at least three dates) he gave the task of finding new vines for the region to French soil expert Michel Aimé Pouget. After a few ups and downs, well, the rest is history. Malbec found its place and where it could be top dog! So it is. Don’t cry for me, Argentina!
THE ARGENTINIAN STAR
And we’re not done yet…
Malbec is the most planted red grape variety in the country of Argentina. In fact, over 75% of all the acres of Malbec in the world is grown here. And the region of Mendoza is its star. Here, Malbec is occasionally blended with Bonarda, a regional red grape variety also known as Deuce Noir. Cabernet Sauvignon is another common blending partner.
HOW IT FLOURISHES
Malbec likes sunny, dry weather with big diurnal temperature shifts (i.e. hot days, cold nights). And it likes to be high. Up, that is. And some of the highest vineyards in the world are located in Argentina’s Salta province. In fact, owned by Bodegas Colomé, Altura Maxima vineyard is commonly regarded as the world’s highest vineyard. This makes the grapes produce more acidity, and, as I said before, that helps make great tasting and long lasting wines. In general, the taste profile for Argentine Malbec is fruit forward and juicy with flavors of blackberry, plum, and black cherry. It can have nuances of milk chocolate, cocoa powder, violets, leather and, depending on the amount of oak aging, a sweet tobacco finish.
MALBEC AROUND THE WORLD
Malbec has since travelled the world over. Other countries that grow Malbec are Chile, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and, of course the good ole USA.
And right here in Washington state where it is dark and dense with flavors of red and black fruit. It is supple and has food friendly acidity. Easy to like.
And since all of these regions have their particular expression of the grape, I say taste some from all these different places. See what you like. And don’t forget to come to Northwest Cellars and get, what I think, is a very fine example to be found anywhere.