Malbec was originally a French varietal and historically one of the component parts of the blend in nineteenth century red Bordeaux. Malbec was brought to Argentina – now the world’s most famous home for the grape - in 1852, by Michel Pouget. Pouget was a French agronomist who was hired by the Argentine government to help develop their nascent wine industry - and Malbec World Day is celebrated on 17 April, to commemorate the day in 1853 when the then president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento made it his mission to transform Argentina's wine industry.
The vine was often referred to as Cot in France (which may point to origins in Burgundy!) and when disease all but wiped out the French wine industry in the nineteenth century Argentina became the only country left to have original Malbec vines of French heritage. In fact, today there is very little Malbec at all in Bordeaux and the only serious enclave left in France for the variety is in the South-Western region of Cahors, although the South of France (no doubt in reaction to its success in Argentina) is seeing increased plantings!
By contrast, Argentina’s love affair with Malbec saw plantings take off in the 1990s with over 10,000 acres planted. Today plantings top 100,000 acres (compared to less than 10,000 acres planted in the whole of France) with the vast majority of these – some 86% - in the famous, warm, central district of Mendoza. Malbec is a late ripening variety (by that it requires warm weather and/or long autumns to ripen) and seems to like the calcareous, sandy clay soils which are found at the foot of the Andes. The combination of these climatic and geographic features helps to define the Argentine Malbec style, which may be described as one of mouth-filling, juicy black fruits, subtle pepper spice, with silky tannins.
In Mendoza, the most highly rated Malbec vineyards are found in the higher altitude regions of Luján de Cuyo and Uco Valley. This elevation (off the hot Mendoza Valley floor) results in a more intense flavour and aromatic quality with nuances of black cherry, sweet spice and even some mineral notes in top examples.
These days Argentine Malbec is one of the most enjoyable and highly popular of all red wine styles in the UK. With its rich fruit flavours and medium plus body, it makes an ideal partner to meat dishes, especially beef and lamb, and works well with all the richer platters in the Deli Bar.
Here is our selection of Malbec available at the Deli and Wine Bar. We have extended the Argentine theme out to include the vibrant Zappa rosé – in which form the Malbec grape does very well – and to balance with a white, a nice take on the Pinot Gris (aka Grigio) grape from the excellent Pulenta estate.