April 17 is World Malbec Day

Our wine editor tells us more.

by: Cathy Marston | 17 Apr 2012

World Malbec Day Today!

17th April is World Malbec Day, as declared by the new home of Malbec, Argentina. Originally a grape variety from Bordeaux and the South West of France, Malbec has been doing incredibly well in South America in recent years, leading the Argentinians to declare it their emblematic grape and build all their marketing efforts towards associating their country with quality wines. So here’s a little more about it plus a note on more interesting wines made from it that I’ve tasted in recent years.

Malbec is one of 13 permitted varieties in Bordeaux, but there it stands in awe of its better-known cousins – the two Cabernets (Franc and Sauvignon) and Merlot. It is only in the bottom-left-hand corner of France where it really comes into its own, in the Cahors region where it is also known as Auxerrois, making deep, dark, intense wines (traditionally known as ‘Black ‘ wines because of their colour) which are generally aged for a long time in oak.

Sometime during the mid 1800’s, Malbec arrived in Argentina and, when the vineyards of France were ravaged by a soil pest called Phylloxera and had to be ripped out, Argentina became the only country in the world to have original French Malbec vines still in production.

In the 1980’s Dr Nicholas Catena did ground-breaking work into Malbec in Argentina, linking various different clones to distinctly different soil types, leading to a huge and almost instantaneous improvement in quality. It was also discovered that some of the oldest vineyards in the country were also the highest of any grape-producing country in the world – these are at Salta in the north of Argentina – making intensely elegant wines with a very unique character. These factors, combined with good prices and the ability to label the wine varietally (as opposed to the wines in Cahors which weren’t permitted to put Malbec on the label), really put Agentinian Malbec on the map. 

If you want to try an Argentinian Malbec from the highest vineyards in the world, get to Glen Carlou who bring in Colomé from their sister-vineyards in Salta. The 2009 is available for R210 and the 2008 Reserva is R565 – this comes mostly from vineyards over 3,000m above sea level. Just down the road from them, their neighbours Anura make one of the best SA examples and at a good price with the 2008 selling for a mere R95. On the other hand, if you want to try something very interesting, get your hands on the new release from Vilafonte. This winery, co-owned by Warwick Wine’s Mike Ratcliffe and international winemaking legend Zelma Long, only makes two wines – the Series M and the Series C. The ‘C’ is generally dominated by Cabernet and the ‘M’ by Merlot, but the 2009 has bucked that trend and consists of a whopping 46% Malbec with Merlot playing a much smaller (32%) role in the final blend.

The Vilafonte Series M 2009 is available from the farm at R350 a bottle and if you can get your hands on some, I would strongly advise you to do so. It is the most fabulous deep, glossy purple in colour and is absolutely packed with heady aromas of violets and perfume – evidence of the high proportion of Malbec. On the palate, it continues to be perfumed and spicy with black cherries, leather and plums. A real cracker of a wine, made great by the lusciousness of Malbec, and one that will continue to improve over the next decade at the very least. Could it be that anything Argentina can do, SA can do even better? Who knows, but enjoy World Malbec Day whichever country’s Malbec you drink!

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