This year we are celebrating Malbec World Day in grand style by sipping five Malbecs from Argentina. And even though Malbec originated in France, the variety is now most closely associated with Argentina. We received these wines as tasting samples.
When I open Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, including their Origins and Flavours by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz to find the entry for Malbec I am directed to see Cot. Under Cot the entry begins:
Makes dark, flavoursome, well-structured reds more celebrated as Argentine Malbec than in its home Cahors.
Before we knew the variety as Malbec it was called Cot in France. Mother Nature would conspire to diminish Malbec’s presence in France in spite of the variety being very old and originating near Cahors, a town on the Lot river in the Occitanie region of southwest France.
DNA analysis has determined Malbec to be a natural cross between Prunelard (an old variety found in the Tarn) and Madeleine Noire des Charentes, confirming its origin in the neighborhood of Cahors based on the location of its parents.
Cot made its way into the wines of Bordeaux before the variety was planted in the region. Robinson goes on to note that “the addition of the black wines of Cot were sometimes used to add colour and body to the more delicate products of the Bordeaux region.” By the late eighteenth century the variety was planted in the Gironde and had come to be called Malbec.
Heavy frost in 1956 took a devastating toll on Malbec in Bordeaux. The variety was never replanted to its prior level in the region in spite of still being allowed as a blending component in Bordeaux.
Malbec was transported to Argentina in the mid to late 1800s. In the warmth of Argentina’s Mendoza region the variety has thrived and become part of the mix of red wine grapes that comprise 70% of plantings there.
Robinson characterizes Argentine Malbec as producing smaller, tighter clusters of grapes than in Cahors, which produce deeply colored wines that can be either soft or more tannic and structured.
The label on this Catena Zapata wine is extraordinary. So beautifully designed and it tells the story of Malbec in the world through four women.
Eleanor of Aquitaine represents Malbec’s origin in Cahors where she is depicted on the bridge in the city. The Immigrant represents Malbec’s travels to the New World. Phylloxera personifies Malbec’s death in the Old World making way for its rise in the New World. Adrianna Catena represents Bodega Catena Zapata through birth, earth and motherhood.
2015 Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino, Uco Valley, Argentina — dense ruby in the glass with generous aromas of ripe plums, crushed flower stems and hints of smoke. Ripe blackberry, plum and blueberry flavors are supported by drying tannins and juicy acidity. At the same time this wine offers ample fruit it remains light on its feet. 14% abv.
Malbec is sourced from two Catena Zapata Family Vineyards, Nicasia and Angélica. Both vineyards were planted from a pre-phylloxera Massale selection. Elevation and soils vary between the sites as does the age. Nicasia Vineyard is 20 years old and Angélica 90 years old.
Vinification of this wine is as interesting as the vineyard sites. Whole cluster and whole berry grapes are placed in French oak barrels where fermentation takes place using wild yeasts. The wine is aged for 18 months in French oak.
2017 Domaine Bousquet Gran Malbec, Tupungato, Argentina — dark ruby in the glass with aromas of blackberries, cherries and blueberries with dusty earth settling into the background. Tannins are drying and well integrated with the flavors and juicy acidity. 14.5% abv.
Domaine Bousquet is a family-owned winery located in the Tupungato in the Uco Valley, an hour south of Mendoza city. The vineyards were planted on undeveloped land in 1997 and farmed organically from the beginning.
Jean Bousquet, in with consultation with his daughter Anne Bousquet and her husband Labid al Ameri, planned and built a winery and restaurant. By 2011 Jean was ready to step back from management of the vineyards and winery. Ownership passed to Anne and Labid at that time.
All estate vineyards are certified organic and all Domaine Bousquet wines carry that organic certification on the bottle (which, as a consumer, I appreciate). The wine in this tasting, as with all Domaine Bousquet wines I’ve tasted, are made in an elegant style. They are food-friendly and complex yet easy drinking.
2016 Susana Balbo Signature Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina — dark ruby in the glass with aromas of ripe raspberries and blackberries. Flavors of plums, raspberries and blackberries are a bit tart and blend smoothly notes of dusty earth. Tannins are drying. 13.9% abv.
Susana Balbo’s original desire was to study nuclear physics. Instead, she went into the family business and became the first Argentine woman to earn an enology degree in 1981. She started her career developing the Torrontés grape variety in Salta province.
Susana went on on to establish Susana Balbo Wines and consult for wineries around the world. She become one of the most influential women in the world of wine, all while raising a family.
Fruit for Susana Balbo’s Signature Malbec comes from three vineyard locations: Finca La Delfina, Altamira, San Carlos in the Uco Valley and Mendoza. The vineyards are located at an average elevation of 3445 feet above sea level.
The wine aged in a combination of new (30%) and second-use French oak.
2017 Kaiken Ultra Malbec, Uco Valley, Argentina — red fruit aromas and flavors along with vanilla. Mixed berry flavors with hints of dusty earth are supported by very drying tannins. 14.5% abv.
Kaiken takes its name from caiquén, a wild goose from Patagonia that flies across the Andes between Argentina and Chile. Not unlike the caiquén, Chilean winemaker and founder of the Chilean winery Bodega Montes, Aurelio Montes crossed the Andes into Mendoza in discovering the perfect location for his Argentine winery.
Malbec is sourced from a variety of vineyard sites situated at variable elevation and in variable soil types. The variety in the vineyards lends complexity to this wine in the glass.
2017 Familia Schroeder Saurus Malbec, Patagonia, Argentina — dark ruby in the glass with aromas of wet slate and raspberries. Tart raspberry and cherry flavors combine in a lighter style wine with lighter, but still drying, tannins. 14% abv.
Have you tasted wine from Patagonia in the southern part of Argentina? How about one with dinosaur bones you can visit? Definitely no on the second. This Malbec from Familia Schroeder is a real treat. Patagonia is a wild and windy region is characterized by stony soils, cold nights and sunny days. Water for irrigation comes from ice melt & the Neuquén River. Growing grapes here must be a challenge.
This wine tastes like it comes from a chilly, harsh environment. It is alive with tart flavors and brilliant acidity. It is a lovely Malbec and different from the others in this group. Vive la différence!
If you are interested in more information on these wines and the history of Malbec in the world and Argentina head over to Twitter and search for #MalbecArgentino. You will find an informative conversation led by Christy Canterbury, MW.