History of Malbec
Updated: May 27, 2022
Photo courtesy of Catena Zapata
French origins with new roots in Argentina
Malbec is a French variety that was widely planted throughout the Middle Ages in different regions in France.
In its heyday, Malbec was known as the ‘black wine’ of France and favored by the aristocracy. Eleanor of Aquitaine was rumored to be a fan of Malbec, opting to serve it at her lavish parties.
However, with time that fame and those vines disappeared. Malbec was problematic, it was too sensitive to the wet and cold weather of much of France’s wine regions and was relegated to the bottom of the pile. When phylloxera (a grape vine’s insect enemy) swept across Europe, most growers never replanted Malbec – they opted for more hardy varieties instead.
Malbec voyages to the New World
If it weren’t for Domingo Faustino Sarmiento or French agronomist Michel Pouget, Malbec’s story may have ended in France.
But a new chapter was written as Malbec cuttings were brought to South America, first to Chile and then under the proposal of Argentine governor, Sarmiento, to Argentina. These Malbec cuttings gave seed to the story of Argentinian Malbec.
It took Argentina 150 years, from receiving the first vines of Malbec, until they were able to produce a decent wine for export. It was a long period of work and interaction between men, plants, soils and climate.
Photo courtesy of Bodega Santa Julia
While Argentina is home to a variety of terroirs, we can’t discuss Argentine Malbec without mentioning the not-so-secret weapon responsible for its success: the Andes’ extremely high altitudes.
In the Andean foothills of Mendoza, vineyards are located high above sea level, with an average elevation in the range of 2,000 to 3,600 feet. This setting is a far better fit for the delicate, thin-skinned Malbec grape, which thrives in cool, dry climates and requires good sunlight to fully mature. As one ascends the mountains, the average temperature decreases, while the amplitude between day and night temperatures increases, impacting the quality of the fruit and offering a more exciting range of richness, textures, and aromas.
Malbec is the star of the Argentine winemaking industry and is winning hearts across the world.
Lacoste, Pablo. "The History of Malbec." Wines of Argentina.