The Malbec history depicts the cultural journey of a grape variety as it travels through different continents. This journey involves the interactions between America and Europe, helping the grape to be enriched by different climates and soils. The Malbec grape is emblematic of the Argentine wine history and most South American countries. That is why we will dive into its history and discover its unique properties.
The historical hub of Malbec production is located in the southwest of France, near the Pyrenees. It is relatively close to one of the main wine regions of France: Bordeaux.
In France, it is known as Côt, a word that comes from the traditional European Romance language—French, and derives from the fact that the variety has two very distinctive and different types: red or green stalked plants. The name Malbec is said to have come from a popular myth, which links it to the surname of a Hungarian winegrower named Malbeck, who was allegedly the first to plant this variety in France.
The Malbec in Argentina and Chile
The Malbec expansion outside France began in the 18th century, towards the East. However, by the 1840s and 1850s, Malbec grapes began to be grown in the Quinta Normal region of Santiago de Chile and in Mendoza, Argentina.
In broad terms, the arrival of French varieties in Chile, including the Côt, dates back to the first half of the 19th century. It occurred in a context in which Chilean elites admired French civilization, and were looking for their national consolidation in an attempt to differentiate themselves from the Spanish colonial culture that had been overpowering in their territory.
In this way, the French paradigm of Chilean winemaking was consolidated. They only accepted French varieties, since they produced quality wines, and despised those varieties introduced by the Spanish settlers at the beginning of the colonial era.
Another relevant region, in fact, the most important in the growing and production of Malbec, is the province of Mendoza, in Argentina. The Malbec grape variety arrived in the Mendoza region as a result of the exile of Domingo Sarmiento, the Argentine intellectual and later president, in Santiago de Chile.
During this period, Sarmiento learned that an experimental vineyard had been established in Chile and that expert growers had been brought from France to develop orchards and vineyards. Sarmiento proposed Mendoza farmers to follow in Chile’s footsteps for the development of vineyards in the Argentine territory.
As a result, government leaders in Mendoza set up a Quinta Normal and invited soil expert Michel Aimé Pouget to help develop the local wine industry. Pouget arrived in Mendoza in 1853 and brought with him a large supply of plants and seeds from Chile, which included several grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and also the Malbec grape.
In the context of Argentine winemaking, the Malbec is considered an emblematic red variety and it is found in different ecosystems. However, despite its economic and cultural relevance, there is a great lack of knowledge about its chemical composition.
Several studies and fieldwork have highlighted the characterization of the phenolic composition of Malbec grapes and wines. Further, the influence of various factors that affect it, such as grape variety, geographical place of origin, vintage year, and oenological management during the winemaking process, has been widely proved.
Malbec is a purple grape variety. The grapes tend to have a dark color and plentiful tannins. Moreover, the Malbec is a thin-skinned grape that needs more sunlight for ripening than other varieties. It ripens by mid-season and can have a very dark color, lots of tannins, and a particular plum flavor that adds sophistication to claret blends.