Ink black and velvet – the heart of Malbec’s dark beginnings

France is the origin of Malbec and for the last decade Argentina has become the high volume producer of this grape. There is a dramatic difference between the two because Malbec is really sensitive to terroir. The thin-skinned “black grape” is susceptible to rot, frost, and pests so ideal growing conditions are extremely hard to find and subtle differences impact the grape dramatically.

Argentina’s Malbecs are plummy and fruit-forward, with a velvety texture. France’s have more structure, firmer tannins, and an inky dark, brooding quality.

For centuries, Malbec played an important role in Bordeaux blends but disease problems meant over time its benefits were overlooked in favour of easier grapes. However, Malbec took a firm hold further up the Garonne River in the medieval city of Cahors where the Mediterranean influence allowed the grapes to ripen while cooling breezes from the Atlantic keep the vines rot-free. The limestone soils of the Cahors region produce darker wines showing blackberry fruit in youth, and tobacco, coffee, and meaty notes as they age. The calcium component in limestone helps maintain acidity in the grapes late into the growing season which gives structure to the wine. In Cahors, during the Middle Ages, Malbec was called “black wine” for its deep, purple-ebony hue and their truffles were called “black diamonds”. Famously the last stone of Cahor’s 14th century Valentre Bridge was not placed so as not to complete a “pact with the devil”. In this city of dark themes the “black wine” is always in fashion.

Sunshine in Mendoza, where most of Argentina’s Malbec is grown, gives Malbec a fruitiness. On the foot of the Andes, the Malbec is rich and robust with brambly black mountain fruit and sweet floral notes. The alluvial sand and clay soils lighten the colour and reduce the fruit acids so the altitude in this very sunny region is essential to slow down ripening and ensure the grapes develop enough acidity to ward off the “soda-pop” effect.

We have two great Malbecs from Cahors made by two winemaker friends who are rising stars in St Emilion, the Mas des Etoiles Rouge and the Petite Etoile Rouge.

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