Here's a good underdog story: Malbec is basically the Rocky of wines. Seriously. They both came from humble beginnings (Philadelphia and, umm, France). They struggled to find themselves (working for a bookie and constantly dying just before harvest).
They each made an epic climb (to the top of those stairs and the high altitudes of Argentina). And now they're the heavyweight champions of the world (you've seen the movie and...well just taste one if you haven't yet). Malbec wines are bold, earthy and intense with notes of juicy berries and purple fruits.
Malbec was the right grape but in the wrong place and time. What it needed was a change of scenery, a new climate and people who would treat it like something special and new.
Malbec was once a staple of French wine. It grew all over the country with over a thousand names, including Côt Noir and Pressac. Most Bordeaux blends included at least several percent Malbec. Yet, it was a fragile grape and rarely played lead guitar. In 1956, frost killed off 75 percent of the Malbec crop. Most vintners chose to replant with hardier grapes.
Only a few regions of France replanted Malbec and still produce Malbec-heavy wines.
The thin-skinned heat-loving grape was in trouble. Fortunately, Miguel Pouget introduced Malbec and other French cuttings to Argentina in the mid-1800s. In the hotter South American climate, Malbec flourished. But Argentina was not ready to be a world wine power.
Flash forward to the late 20th century. World wine consumption was on the rise and tasters were bored with the same American and European offerings. Australia and Chile were rising. Why not Argentina?
Before Prohibition began, Malbec was a popular grape for bulk wines in California. Again, it wasn't getting a lot of respect. It faded away while alcohol was illegal.
In the mid-1990s, Malbec reemerged like a phoenix, becoming a popular component of Meritage blends. It continues to have a solid representation in California, Oregon and Washington, often in blends but sometimes as a pure varietal.
Red Wine and Beef?
Sounds good. Thinking all of Central and South America was tortillas and salsa, the world was blind to the fact that Argentina is prime cattle country. A classic meal is grilled beef with local vegetables and red wine. While French Malbecs are tart and tannic with notes of tobacco, those from Argentina are another animal.
Medium bodied with bright cherry, savory plum, lush raspberry, sharp pepper and just enough tannin to want a marbled steak, Argentine Malbecs are food-happy wines. They rapidly went from an unknown to a must-have.
"What? You don't have a Malbec by the glass?"
French or Argentinian?
Which Malbec is better? Ask your friends. Bring a few examples from France and Argentina. (Better yet, make your buddies bring them.) Pop some corks, taste and eat.
What's on the menu? Chimichurri (a pesto-like sauce of parsley, garlic and spices) with grilled steak is pure gaucho. Try bigger flavors like blue cheese, porcini, black beans, asparagus and roast garlic.
Let the wine war begin. France and Argentina bring totally different terroirs to the jam. Which do you prefer?
How Do You Say Malbec?
Say it with me slowly "Mal-beck." Good job! Now you may have a sip.
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