Today, April 17th, is the 3rd annual Malbec World Day (MWD). It was on this day in 1853 that a bill for the foundation of a Quinta Normal and a School of Agriculture was submitted to the Argentinean Provincial Legislature. The bill became law five months later and led to the development of Argentina’s wine industry.
After the bill passed, Provincial Governor Domingo Faustino Sarmiento hired French agronomist Miguel Pouget to find a grape that would grow well in Argentina’s climate. Pouget took several European vines back to Argentina and set up an experimental vineyard. The Côt grapes flourished in the higher, drier climate of South America. Over the years, Argentina's interest in Malbec has been on-again, off-again. But during the past 20 years, Malbec has established its self as the country’s best-known varietal.
Malbec grapes are bluish black in color and produce an inky red wine that has robust tannins and the flavors of berries and plums. It was a grape used mainly as a blending wine until Argentina began crafting 100% Malbec wines in the 1990’s. Argentina is now the fifth largest wine producer in the world.
Malbec was also an important grape in France until the killing frost of 1956. This frost killed off 75% of the Bordeaux region’s Malbec vines. Some vines were replanted, but the grape is now used mainly for blending with Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tannat. In France, Malbec grapes are more intense and tannic.
In Argentine, Malbec stands on its own and provides an intense, dark wine with a smooth, silky finish. Argentina has over 76,000 acres (over 31 hectares) planted in Malbec. Eighty-six percent of those plantings are located in Mendoza. Because of the high altitude and favorable growing conditions, Malbec vineyards seldom have problems with molds, fungi or insects. Therefore, they rarely use pesticides, making organic Malbec wines much easier to produce here.
Besides Argentina, Malbec is also grown in New Zealand, Italy, South Africa, Spain, and various regions in the United States. The grape is still grown in southern France but has decreased in popularity since 2000.
In 2011, Malbec wine made up 97% of the total bottled wine sold in Argentina. Over 90% of this wine is sold abroad to 118 countries. The U.S. alone buys almost 50% of the bottled Malbec wine exported from Argentina.
Young, unoaked Malbec wines should be consumed within a year. Malbec wines that have been oaked for a few months may be kept for up to 2 to 3 years. Well oak-aged, robust Malbecs may be cellared for up to ten years. Malbec is a versatile wine that pairs well with beef, pork, goose, BBQ, lamb, and hard cheeses.
Wines of Argentina has declared April 17th Malbec World Day. The MWD celebration has gained worldwide attention and is celebrated in at least 30 cities around the globe, including New York, Toronto, and Washington in North America. Other countries taking part include South America, the UK, Africa and China.
To learn more about MWD events, visit http://www.malbecworldday.com or http://www.winesofargentina.org.
So where ever you are today, plan to raise a glass of Malbec in celebration of Malbec World Day, and one tenacious grape.