The migration of Malbec


Philip Dunne

April 17 is World Malbec Day, and each year on that date, the global wine community raises a toast to Malbec in celebration of this delicious, dark and full-bodied red wine.
Interestingly, Malbec, the grape synonymous with Argentina, in fact calls France it’s original home; it didn’t appear in Argentina until the mid 19th century.
Although one of the noble red grapes of Bordeaux wine, its better-recognised area of production in France is the appellation of Cahors, near the south. Regulations in Cahors stipulate that wines produced in this appellation have a very minimum of 70 percent of Malbec in the blend. Malbec from this area (also known as Auxerrois or Côt Noir in Cahors) can be described as a ‘rustic’ version of Merlot, which is softer in tannins, lower in acidity, with blackberry fruit in its youth. Dark in colour, it is also known as ‘black wine’.
Cahors Malbec had its heyday in the 14th century – production was very high, and most of the wine was exported. Today Cahors Malbec has been outshone in some ways by its on-trend Latino cousin from Argentina. The Cahors contingent exclaim loudly in their marketing campaign “Cahors is back, Cahors is black, Cahors is Malbec!” A delicious example from this appellation is Château les Croisille Silice, available in O’Briens wine stores nationwide for €18.95.
The seventh president of Argentina, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, was a leading light in establishing the wine industry of his country. In 1853, he assigned Michel Aimé Pouget, a renowned soil expert, to bring over a collection of vines from his native France. One of those vines was Malbec – and the rest is history.
Argentina’s flagship planting of Malbec, in the Andes foothills of Mendoza, reaches extreme altitudes of up to 5,000 feet above sea level. But Mendoza, even with its high altitude, has quite a warm and dry climate, which assists in ripening the little black and blue Malbec grapes.
A quintessentially exquisite recommendation of Argentine Malbec is the Andeluna 1300 Malbec from Mendoza (the grapes grow at 1300 meters above sea level), priced at a reasonable €14.99.
While Malbec is king in both Cahors and Argentina, they are assuredly not twins. Cahors Malbec is usually inky, with dark undertones and solid tannins, whereas Argentinian Malbec has a silky smooth character that is rich in fruit and structure.
While both regions are true masters of this ever-popular grape, there appears to be a place for them both in the battle arena. On April 17 each year, they come together to show their pure harmony – assuring the wine world that Malbec, the once-forgotten grape, has steadily established itself on the grandest stage alongside Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  

Philip dunne is Head Sommelier at Ashford Castle, Cong. Trained by the Court of Master Sommeliers, he is part of the team voted the Best Wine Experience in Ireland 2016 at the Restaurant Association Awards in Ireland.