It all started when Malbec vines were transported from France to Argentina in the 1800s. That was the first instance of someone’s foresight helping to establish Malbec’s long incubating, yet ultimately meteoric rise.
Originally proliferating in France, a twist of fortune changed Malbec’s entire future. Lucky for every wine aficionado the world over, Malbec found a new hospitable environment in a completely different hemisphere. (For more details on Malbec’s history, please refer to my earlier articles on the subject, “The History of Malbec” and “Argentinean Malbec Thrives”.)
In wine terms, just over 100 years for a wine to develop into a world class sip is not long at all, especially since those years were interrupted in the 1980s by a major vine pull. Add to this that the Malbec was overlooked for many, many years as merely a humble blending grape. Also referred to as “plonk” (meaning a cheap nothing of a wine), you can see that Malbec’s rise to fame was in no way guaranteed, nor perhaps even imaginable.
It took Argentinean wine-growing families going the extra mile, many miles to Napa and Sonoma in fact, to learn winemaking techniques and modern growing methods. Even then, they didn’t plan to improve their products with Malbec in mind. Learning from experts in California, they turned their new knowledge mostly to improving their Chardonnay.
It was a consultant, Paul Hobbs, who noticed that the interesting old Malbec vines growing in Medoza were thriving. He convinced the wine grower to give Malbec a try. When met with resistance, he surprised his boss with a sample of a Malbec wine he had made in secret with some co-conspirators. The favorable reception was the beginning of Malbec’s meteoric rise.
There were economic considerations too, as to why Malbec’s fame rose. Currency devaluations resulted in an export-friendly environment. As a prolifically growing wine — and a tasty, superior wine — there was much Malbec to be exported! In addition, land was bought for cheap, and much was allotted to growing Malbec.
Hobbs recommended that the wine growers lower the watering rate by 75%, reminding me of the common method practiced in California of making vines work for their water, so to speak, thus forcing fruit flavors to concentrate in the grapes. In other growing improvements, Hobbs trimmed back the canopy, allowing more light, warmth and air to circulate around the grape clusters.
Today, Argentinean Malbec enjoys a worldwide following, and much of that is in the U.S. The flavor from this “new world” wine goes very well with steaks and other typically American dishes.
I’m grateful to Wine Spectator magazine for content contributing to this article.