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Monday, September 10, 2012

Malbec: Bordeaux’s Potential Renaissance & Argentina’s Shining Star

Today, the Wine-Knows tour to Bordeaux kicked-off.  We are surrounded by a sea of vines at the fabulous Chateau Beychevelle (which we have leased for the next 4 nights).  Beychevelle currently has no plantings of Malbec, but if you go back to the year 1855 when Bordeaux’s famous wine Classification was established, all of the chateaux had Malbec in their vineyards.  In fact, in 1855 Malbec was the most planted grape in Bordeaux with an estimated 60% of the plantings.  First Growth Château Lafite’s vineyards, for example, at the time were dominated by Malbec, and First Growth Château Latour’s was mostly Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Then, came a little louse by the name phylloxera which destroyed most of Europe’s vineyards, including Bordeaux’s.

Bordeaux’s vineyards were completely replanted after the phylloxera epidemic...mainly with Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon/Franc because Malbec didn’t take well to grafting (grafting was necessary to prevent a return of phylloxera).  In the 20th century Malbec lost further ground due to its sensitivities to mildew from Bordeaux’s wet climate, as well as frost brought by the bitter Atlantic storms (the severe 1956 frost wiped out a significant portion of the Malbec vines).  Today, however. Malbec may be making a come-back in Bordeaux.

Some experts predict that if global warning occurs, Malbec would be perfectly positioned to accommodate this change in weather.  With warmer temperatures, Malbec would ripen more consistently and would not fall victim to mildew and frost. Some chateaux have begun replanting the grape to hedge their bets.

Regardless of where in the world Malbec is grown, it is known for its big structure, its blackberry-plum-and-leather notes, deep color, as well as its early ripening capabilities.  In Bordeaux it’s blended with 6 other varietals allowed by law.  In Argentina, however, Malbec is a single variety and the star of the show.

While acreage of Malbec has declined in Bordeaux, in Argentina the grape is surging and has become a somewhat of a "national brand.”  Introduced by a Frenchman in the mid-19th century (pre-phylloxera), Malbec thrives in Argentina.  In fact, Malbecs from this area have received the highest scores of any Malbecs on the globe--- in the high 90’s from both the Wine Spectator and Robert Parker. 

What makes Malbec in Argentina so special?   Located at the foot of the Andes, the high altitude vineyards benefit from >300 days of sunlight per year.  Vines are grown on the slopes of the Andes up to 5,000 feet.  This unique terroir produces wine with explosive aromatics, concentrated mouth-feel, balance, and silky texture. 

History has shown that the Malbec grape can grow successfully in Bordeaux.  With all of the advances in viticultural technology, regardless of global warming,  Malbec may even hold more promise for a renaissance in Bordeaux.  Regardless of Malbec’s future in Bordeaux, the grape’s outlook in Argentina is stellar…there are some dazzling, world-class Malbecs (with jaw-dropping prices of more than $100) being produced.  But, there are also great quality/price ratio examples under $25. 

Viva Argentina!

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