Malbec is now a global superstar of the wine world, but not long ago it was just another grape variety within the masses of other grape varieties out there. But Malbec has a long and distinguished history, before phylloxera virtually wiped out Bordeaux it was one of the most planted varieties in the region, a small amount of Malbec is still planted and allowed in the Bordeaux blend, now Malbec’s strong hold in France is down in Cahors where the variety is locally known as Cot.
Even in Cahors not everything has been plain sailing. In the 19th century phylloxera raised its head again to decimate the vines and then in 1956 a very bad winter freeze killed a large number of the vines, again forcing the replanting of the vineyards. This sometimes is not a bad thing, yes it does take time for the vines to establish themselves and come to maturity but more modern vines are more resistant to disease and certain clones have been developed to be better suited to certain vineyard conditions.
Cahors traditionally produced a big, rich, dark, inky coloured wine, giving rise to its nick name the black wine. These wines would need time in bottle for the tannins to soften and the fruit character to come to the fore. But in recent years a much more approachable style has come into being, this is probably mainly in response to the influx of Malbec’s from Argentina with its more polished and fruit driven style.
Malbec has now become Argentina’s signature red grape variety and produces styles from the soft and juicy through to the big, robust and dark fruited styles. Mendoza is the heartland for Malbec production but its spreads its way up and into the highest parts of the Andes mountains with some vineyards as high as 3000ft, at this this height the dry clean air is excellent for the vines as it stops fungal diseases which Malbec is susceptible to, thus giving Argentina some of the highest vineyards in the world.