East Coast Wine Trail

East Coast Wine Trail
East Coast Wine Trail

Saturday, 17 April 2021

Celebrating malbec - a grape variety that almost died

For the past decade, Wines of Argentina has celebrated World Malbec Day on April 17 each year.

One of the six original grape varieties of Bordeaux, malbec is now synonymous with Argentina, which leads the world in plantings and production. 

On April 17, 1853, the first agricultural school in Argentina was founded with the hopes of adapting French grapes to the soils of Mendoza. Malbec was introduced to Argentina by French agronomist Michel A. Pouget in 1868 - and is still thriving. 

In its original home in the south-west of France, malbec in known as cot, or sometimes auxerrois. 

It was largely wiped out by frost in Bordeaux in 1956 and while it is still grown widely in and around the small town of Cahors, where is known for producing dark, intense reds, it is now very much a minor grape in France. 

It is, however, grown in Australia, where it is often used in red blends, in the US, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Brazil, Canada and Mexico, among others. 

Producers in Australia include Mitolo of McLaren Vale and Bleasdale of Langhorne Creek along with niche operators like Zonte's Footstep, Merité and Alkoomi. Wendouree, in the Clare Valley, makes legendary long-lived blends using malbec. 

That said, over 75% of all malbec grapes in the world are now grown in Argentina - understandable because the malbec is a thin-skinned grape and needs plenty of sun and heat to achieve ripeness. 

Nowadays, more than 60 cities around the world host World Malbec Day events centred on malbec tastings, Argentine food and lifestyle. I was lucky enough to be invited to Argentina for the event in 2015 by Wines of Argentina - a memorable trip.  

Benchmark Argentine malbec wines from the likes of Bodega Trivento (above), Catena, Zuccardi and Finca el Origen are available in Australia, while Artisan Malbec in Sydney imports a number of wines from smaller producers. Jed malbec is made by Australians in Argentina.  

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