Supposedly, the word “Malbec”, comes from the surname of a Hungarian peasant who is attributed with being the first person to spread the variety throughout all of France.
If you were to ever check-out the big-nerdy wine book that is The Oxford Companion to Wine, you’ll find 400+ different names for the Malbec grape. This proving that the grapes’ popularity isn’t just a recent phenomena. In Bordeaux, it’s also known by Côt or Pressac, in the French Alsace and Cahors regions it’s called Auxerrois, Argentina sometimes gives it the name of Fer, Portugal refers to it as Tinta Amarela and in Australia it is can be referred to as Portugal Malbec. Wine is so confusing!
Story Behind the Grape
Malbec was originally a very common grape in the Bordeaux wine region of France, where it was one of the “big five” grape varieties. These five being the main red grapes that make up Bordeaux blends, namely; Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.
Over time, the French started to get a little tired of the troublesome Malbec grape which has a tendency for “bunch rot” and mildew. To make things worse, the “phylloxera” (wine disease) epidemic of the 1860s wiped out the majority of vineyards in France, and Malbec was one of the hardest hit.
It’s worth noting that Malbec was introduced (along with Cabernet and Merlot) to Argentina in 1868 from cuttings in Bordeaux, where the grape has thrived in the warm dry climate.
The final straw for the French came in 1956, when a frost throughout the country wiped out more than 80% of Malbec plantings. The French cried “sacre bleu!” in unison, and most growers didn’t replant Malbec in their vineyards, preferring the other four more popular Bordeaux red grape varieties.
Malbec is still found in small quantities in Bordeaux, where it’s used to add color and tannin to their blends, however the grape is found almost exclusively in the region of Cahors, (southeast of Bordeaux). Malbec wines made in Cohors are full–bodied, age-worthy, and show a dark and brooding character with plenty of black fruit and dark chocolate flavors.
The funny thing is that not too many people have heard of the Cahors region of France, so any fame that the region has received can be partly put down to the critical acclaim of Malbec wines from Argentina, where it has become the national grape. Malbec from Argentina can range from relatively inexpensive, right the way through to super-pricey with high ratings to match.
In terms of body, Malbec falls right between Merlot and Cabernet. The main characteristics of the grape include aromas and flavors of cherry, plum, raisins, coffee, chocolate, leather, raspberry, and dried fruits.
The success of Argentine Malbec can be attributed to their often soft “user-friendly” style, and are able to be enjoyed with food or stand alone to be enjoyed by themselves.