It was actually once grown in 30 different departments in France, and accordingly over 1,000 different synonyms for Malbec have been recorded – apart from Cot, Auxerrois – what it’s known as in Cahors, and Pressac, what it’s known as in Bordeaux, are probably the only ones nowadays that may sound familiar.
Malbec makes rather inky, dark red wines, and is capable of producing wines so dark in fact, that in the Middle Ages wine from Cahors was known as the “black wine”. Tsar Peter the Great of Russia chose Cahors to be the Mass wine of the Russian Orthodox Church.
It is also grown in the Loire, where it may be blended with Cabernet Franc and Gamay for the Traditional Method sparkling rosé wines of Saumur.
Malbec is now huge in Argentina, where French botanist Michel Aimé Pouget is credited with introducing the vine in the mid-19th century, in a government programme to help develop the country’s wine industry. Of course Malbec is now Argentina’s flagship red variety – it loves the country’s high elevation vineyards with wide diurnal temperatures.
Interestingly, the grape clusters of Argentinian Malbec are different from those grown in France – the berries are smaller, and grow in tighter, smaller clusters – ampelographers theorize that this suggests that the cuttings taken over to Argentina were a unique clone that may now have gone extinct in France due to the phylloxera epidemic in the mid to late 1800’s.
Certainly, well broadly speaking anyway, the variety tastes different from each country – French Malbec tends to be more meaty, tannic and rustic, while in Argentina, the wines don’t have the tannic structure of their French counterparts and tend to be more rich, ripe, jammy and juicy.
Universally though, Malbec tends to produce robust wines with a flavour of blackberries and plums, with oak adding blueberry, vanilla, coconut, chocolate and mocha characteristics.
An interesting little aside - In 2004 a leading Brazilian cosmetic company called O BOTICARIO created a perfume based on the alcohol extracted from the Malbec grape – it’s a man’s cologne called “Malbec for Men” and it’s still a best seller in Brazil!