Often known by many different names including Côt and Auxxerois in France, the Malbec grape is known for its plump, dark fruit flavours of blackberry and black cherry, plum, liquorice, with a spicy smoky finish. Originally a grape associated with south-west France but today it is South America who is heroing this grape and raising it to new heights. From DNA analysis it has been revealed that Malbec is a natural cross of Cabernet Franc and a previously unknown red grape called Magdeleine Noires des Charentes.
Malbec over the years has become less popular in France with the majority of today’s French Malbec only being grown in Cahors, a small town on a switchback river that gently flows towards Bordeaux. The decline in popularity of Malbec in France is strongly associated with the frost that hit in the year of 1956 which killed off 75% of the crop which devasted the vineyards. However, in Cahors, they replanted after the frost and continue today to cultivate Malbec in the area.
Prior to the frost of 1956, Malbec was one of the top five grapes most used in blends in Bordeaux. However, as the grape has a poor resistance to weather and pests, it fell out of favour as a top French varietal. If you're after a taste of this blend, the vineyard of Château Gros Moulin is one producer still producing a blend of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc , their Château Gros Moulin Côtes de Bourg 2017 contains 40% Malbec, and is a moderately full-bodied wine, expressive and ample with blackberries, red cherry, black pepper, grilled meat and graphite tasting notes.
Argentina to the rescue
Though all was not lost and a few decades prior to frost in France the Malbec grape had found a new home in Mendoza, Argentina. Where since its first planting back in 1868, by French botanist Michel Pouget, it has grown to new heights. Today out of the 100,000 acres of Malbec planted worldwide, 75% is grown in Argentina. Where 76,700 acres of Malbec are under vine. Argentina’s terroir is ideal for Malbec, with its ample sunshine along with a dry climate, has helped the grape to thrive. The higher elevation areas of Mendoza with its wide daytime temperature change, hot days and cold nights, helps the grape to produce more acidity, which contributes to a great tasting and long-lasting wine.
The Family-owned estate of Familia Blanco a winery ,based in Luján de Cuyo district of Mendoza, is one such winey heroing Malbec, offering something for everyone’s pallet and budget. Their Familia Blanco Mairena Malbec 2019 is rich in colour, opens with an opulent nose of sweet, crushed blackberries, liquorice, spice and savoury meaty notes. Despite being quite plush on the palate, it is still nicely balanced with appealing lifted acidity.
Over to the Salta region of Argentina where Valle Arriba's winemaker Raúl Dávalos knows in detail every corner of the high calchaquí valley, its soils, rivers and mountains. It is through this knowledge of the area, that has allowed him to cultivate 3 vineyards that are at such high altitudes above sea level (accessible only by crossing dry riverbeds). Two of these vineyards lie between 2400 – 2600m above sea level and this is where Raúl cultivates two exceptional Malbecs from (the altitude is noted in their names), his Valle Arriba "El Pucareno" Malbec de Altura 2400m 2017 and Valle Arriba "El Cateno" Malbec de Altura 2600m 2017. These wines are like hens’ teeth, where only several hundred bottles are produced each year for each cuvée.