The cinderella grape from France is showing its potential in Argentinian wine. The cool nights, intense sunlight filled days and long arid growing season in the Mendoza growing area are drawing doubting tasters to declare Malbec a varietal worth seeking out.
Malbec has suffered. Known as a red blending grape for wines in Bordeaux, Loire, Cahors and California, Malbec lights seemed dim. It is susceptible to frost, rot and downy mildew, making it a temperamental grape for growing. In a normal French growing season, it requires frequent nurturing intervention by man. This increase cost, without added finesse to the final wine, made for it being pulled up and replaced.
The Malbec plant in France and North America, like most of the world’s grape plants used for fine wine are grafted onto the root stock of native American grape plants (vitis labrusca). This grafting was developed because of a nasty little louse that has caused major destruction of fine wine grapes in the past. First in France in 1860s, and more recently in California in 1980s, the phylloxera louse is a hungry menace, munching rootstock at record pace and devastating vineyards. Native American rootstock is resistant. Hence most of the worlds’ fine wine grapes grow on roots from a different grape plant.
Not so in South America. Argentinian Malbec, brought to Argentina in 1852 by French viticulturist Miguel Pouget, is planted on its own root stock. The nasty louse has not penetrated South America. Can grafting change fruit flavor composition? Can part of Argentina’s Malbec success be because it is superior on its own rootstock? For most of the world, the answer to this question does not matter. In order to grow fine wine grapes, there was no choice but to graft.
It is clear that in Argentina, Malbec has found its perfect home. Now, it is the belle of the ball. And Argentina has found a perfect vehicle to present its terroir. This high altitude viticulture with intense sunlight at the foot of the Andes produces liquid pleasure.
And the price is just as excellent as the taste. Here are three affordable Malbec’s from Argentina that you can find in Denver liquor and wine stores. These show the Argentinian expression of Malbec to be an aroma of raspberry, cherry, cedar and tobacco with a mouthful of intense flavor, balanced between sweet and acid, with a zingy finish.
Trivento Select Malbec 2008, Argentina 750 ml $10.99 (Keg Liquors)
Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec 2007, Argentina 750 ml $9.99 (Argonaut Liquors)
Alamos Malbec 2008, Argentina 750 ml $7.99 (Heritage Discount Wine and Liquor) $8.99 (Keg Liquors)
Prices and availability as of January 23, 2010.
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