Blog featured Firstleaf’s Guide to Argentina’s Favorite Grape: Malbec

Firstleaf’s Guide to Argentina’s Favorite Grape: Malbec

International Malbec Day is right around the corner, and on April 17th we should all raise a glass to celebrate this unique and expressive varietal.  Originally grown in the southwest of France, Malbec has found a new home in Argentina, where 75% of the world’s vineyard acreage is found today.  Known for its full body, dark fruit, and affordable price point, there is a lot to love when it comes to Malbec.

Growing Around the Globe

What is it about Malbec that makes it thrive in Argentina?  Uniquely situated between the Andes Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, much of the country is covered by a rain shadow.  Unlike most other varieties planted in Bordeaux, Malbec is particularly susceptible to rot, and in the European maritime climate plantings were limited for fear of losing crops to the rain.  Thankfully Argentina, particularly Mendoza, has no such worries.  With the Andes to protect the vines from rain and moisture, the grape yields a consistently impressive wine.

Malbec first found its true home in 1853 when the Argentine president at the time, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, turned his head towards transforming his nation’s wine industry.  After consulting with a French soil expert, vines were brought from France to be planted across the country, with a particular concentration in Mendoza.  Mendoza is now the number one region for Argentina’s wine production, and the appellation is almost synonymous with Malbec.

While the varietal can be difficult in the vineyard, plantings of Malbec can be found in many regions beyond Mendoza and southwest France.  California, Washington, New Zealand, Chile, and Australia all have hundreds of acres planted to Malbec, and new vines are being put in every season.  Each of these places produce unique expressions of the wine, with flavors ranging from fruity and jammy in warmer locations to spiced and vegetal in cooler spots.

The Perfect Time to Open a Bottle

It is always difficult to know when you should pull the cork on any bottle of wine.  Though most winemakers today work hard to ensure that a wine is ready to be enjoyed as soon as it is released, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the wine won’t get better over time.  Malbec will not age as well as other big wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but a touch of time in bottle will go a long way towards taking that perfect sip. French Malbec in particular can have a bit of age before pulling the cork.  New World examples don’t need this time as they are generally lower in acidity and higher in alcohol.  Feel free to pop the bottle any time if your wine is coming from a warmer region such as Mendoza or Australia.

What Bottles you should be Looking for to Celebrate World Malbec Day

We have handpicked a few of our favorite bottles to help you enjoy the day to its fullest.

2018 Malbec, Argentina

Voted the "Best Malbec" and awarded 94 points and a Platinum medal at the 2019 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge. When it comes to grapes being associated with specific regions, there are a few standouts: Napa Cabernet, German Riesling, Syrah in the Rhone, and Merlot in Bordeaux. But if there’s one grape and region that continues to prove why it should be added to the pantheon of great wines, it’s Malbec grown in the vineyards of Argentina. The Andás Malbec have deep color, rich flavors, and balanced acidity which makes it more delightful with every sip. The dark fruit flavors, earthy secondary notes, and firm structure leave it begging to be paired with food. We think this wine is especially nice with lean red meats.

2017 Malbec, Mendoza

With the average vineyard sitting thousands of feet above sea level temperatures can swing drastically between day and night. These swings keep an optimum amount of acidity in the grapes while allowing sugars to develop, resulting in an elegant and balanced wine. The PrimaZona is bright, with tastes of dark fruit and an elegant finish. We think that this wine has just the right amount of ripeness with a vibrant touch of acidity and fine, easy tannins. At the back of the wine lies a beautiful perfume of florals. We think it is fantastic when paired with anything on the grill. And it won a Gold medal at the 2018 Denver International Wine Competition! Here's a recent tasting review from The Terroirist: "Light purple color. Aromas of dark plums and black cherries, along with violets, warm clay, tobacco, cedar, espresso. Fresh acidity on the palate frames the wine nicely, and it has velvety, accessible tannins. Tangy black cherries, plums, raspberry jam, the fruit is mixed with cola, coffee, sweet pipe tobacco and vanilla. Fun, pleasant, widely-likeable stuff."

Rancho Campo
2018 Malbec, Argentina

Some wines are meant to be light and breezy, to be enjoyed on their own before a meal. But some are meant to complement meals, to make the pairing better than the individual experience. This Malbec works very well on its own, especially if you like tannic, complex wines. That being said it shines with grilled and spiced meats. The fruit flavors, strong minerality, tannins, and ineffable savory notes play perfectly off of complex foods. We think that a spiced lamb dish, grilled sausages, rustic stews, and even blue cheeses would work beautifully.

With its variable style and increased availability, there is certainly a Malbec out there for every palate.  Don’t forget to raise your glass on April 17th to celebrate Argentina’s national varietal.

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