It’s not likely that as recently as ten years ago you would have ever heard a diner in a nice restaurant request a glass of Malbec. Ten years ago, Malbec was simply a red grape grown in the Bordeaux area of France, that was used in small quantities to blend with Cabernet or Merlot. In fact, it wasn’t even called Malbec. The Malbec grape in Bordeaux is known as Cot. Far to the south of Bordeaux, in the town of Cahors, Malbec was faring somewhat better. Known here as “Auxerrois”, it has been grown since the middle ages and has, almost from the beginning, been called “the black wine”. Promise yourself that some day you will seek out a bottle from Cahors even if just to compare it to the Malbec you have grown so fond of from south of our border.
Okay, so with a 1000 year head-start, why aren’t we all drinking Malbec from Cahors instead of that Argentinian stuff that has become the rage of the young wine set here in the United States? For that answer we have to look at how Malbec is grown. Cot, Auxerrois or Malbec, whatever you choose to call it, is a thin-skinned grape. It’s not hearty like Cabernet or Merlot. It’s very susceptible to frost. It ripens in mid-season. The weather in France is much more hit or miss than the naturally warm climate of Argentina. The wine produced by Malbec in France is not as fruity, not quite as flavorful as it’s South American counterpart. There are strong tannins in the French version which disappear in the warmth of the Mendoza sun. Really good Malbec needs to stay longer on the vine and the dependable sunshine allows the Malbec from Argentina to get that “hang time”.
There is no doubt that Malbec, mostly that grown in the Mendoza region of Argentina has, for much of America, become the new “shiraz”. How long will Malbec continue to dominate and what will be the next “merlot, shiraz, malbec?” No one knows for sure but, remember you heard this here first. Watch out for Tannat from Uruguay!!