Malbecís Popularity in South America

By: Lindsay Alston

Malbec is a variety of grapes used for making red wine. Malbec grapes tend to be a dark inky color and have vigorous tannins. Malbec is one of the six grapes permitted in the blending of red Bordeaux wine, and was named after the Hungarian peasant who first introduced it to France. The French plantations of Malbec are now being found in Cahors in the South West France region. It has also been grown in Chile, southern Bolivia, Australia, on Long Island, NY, and in the cooler regions of California.

The Malbec is a thin skinned grape and needs more sun and heat than either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot to mature. In midseason the grape will ripen, and it may be very deep in color, ample tannin, and a particular plum-like flavor component to add complexity to claret blends. The wines are usually rich, dark and juicy. The Malbec grape also needs a high differential between evening and day temperatures with minimum temperature of 27 degrees Fahrenheit in a day.

Introduced to Argentina by French agricultural engineer Michel Pouget in 1868, Malbec is widely planted in Argentina producing a softer, less-tannic driven variety than the wines of Cahors. The best examples of these wines come from the Argentine region of Mendoza. In Argentina, where Malbec seems to have found a natural home, the grape is used to produce very popular varietal wines. It is now thought that the variety known as Fer in that country is a clone. In the 1990s, Malbec's potential and the increase of wine exports from South America saved the grape. In California the grape is used to make Meritage. Malbec is also grown in Washington State, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, British Columbia, southern Bolivia, and northeastern Italy.

About the Author:

Lindsay Alston is a contributing editor for Classic Wines, specializing in Malbec wines.

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