If you’re a lover of red wines, there’s likely a chance you’ve tried Malbec before. If you tried it from France, you may have found it to be a less enticing option than other French wines. But when Malbec comes from Mendoza, Argentina, something magical happens.
While it’s the same grape, the key lies in the unique terroir of Mendoza that is ideally suited for helping the Malbec grapes to thrive. Any winemaker will tell you that terroir is everything when it comes to wine production and that the time spent on the vines is what affects the flavors you uncork and sip with delight in the end.
Mendoza, Argentina is responsible for creating a surge in Malbec demand. For wine aficionados, it is a shining example of how terroir comes into play in cultivating the grapes destined for wine. In Argentina, Malbec is very velvety in texture with a plummy, fruitiness. In France, the same grapes result firmer tannins and a darker quality.
While there are people that enjoy Malbec from France, most wine drinkers will almost always choose another option from there. Malbec in France isn’t that impressive. It’s not horrible, but truly France has other wines that outshine it by miles. Meanwhile Argentina’s Malbec is one of the most sought-after wines there. Exploring the terroir further will help to have an understanding as to why the same grape exudes gloriousness on Argentinian soil.
About the Malbec Grape
Malbec is a very thin-skinned grape that looks almost black in appearance. It’s distantly related to Merlot, giving it the same distinct sensitivities to pests, frost, and rot. This is why Malbec needs ideal conditions for optimum yield. Malbec’s idea of perfect conditions are plenty of sunshine and a dry climate. But the Malbec grape, like anything else, has its limits. While Malbec enjoys the sun, too much of it doesn’t bode well for this finicky grape. It’s a very sensitive grape that needs plenty of TLC to grow happily.
Terroir Stories from France to Argentina
In France, in the Cahors region where it is typically produced. Malbec takes on a dark, highly-tannic quality. It’s full of blackberry initially, then broods over time with aging to have a meaty, tobacco- and coffee-infused quality. That’s because the calcium in the limestone soils play a role here. The result is a more structured wine though not everyone appreciates the flavors. It is a deeper wine, one that has a different flavor from the Argentinian version because the vines have to dig deep into the limestone soil to discover nutrients.
Conditions in Mendoza are far sunnier and drier than over in France. Mendoza sits at the foot of the Andes where a completely fascinating terroir exists. This is the place where rain is scarce, hail falls in the summertime, and the Zonda blows strong. The vines must dig into the soil here too, though this soil is alluvial clay and sand with plentiful mineral deposits from the melted snow runoff of the neighboring mountains.
This distinction allows the roots to get deep and obtain those minerals while at the same time allowing for good drainage, which keeps rot from taking hold. But there’s far more to this tale of wine in Mendoza. One of the most significant impacts the terroir has on the Malbec produced here are the Andes themselves. With the altitude and cooler air, both of which serve to slow down the process of ripening, it helps the grapes develop the right amount of acidity. In Mendoza, Malbec has the opportunity to become full and ripe with enough acidity to balance it out. With a swing in temperature from day to night, these Malbec grapes obtain a fruitier distinction than the ones grown in France.
For these reasons, Malbec is a match made in heaven with the terroir of Mendoza. All the factors it needs to truly become a legendary wine start in the vineyards here. With the exquisite sunlight, mineral-rich soil, perfect natural drainage, and elevation, it’s a perfect pairing.
When choosing a Malbec from Mendoza, you’ll often find vineyard heights mentioned in the tasting notes. The higher the altitude, the better the Malbec seems to be. Of all the signatures of the distinctive terroir in Mendoza, the elevation is the most significant and ensures the highest quality.
Things to consider when choosing Malbec from Mendoza are whether or not it’s manually harvested. Because these grapes are a bit fickle, it’s best to choose wines that use a hand-picked method to ensure the best grapes are selected. Of Mendoza’s subregions, the Uco Valley and Luján de Cuyo are among the most top-rated area for optimum Malbec production. San Raphael is also very notable though not quite as revered and offers a terrific value.
Ready to try Malbec from Mendoza? Try finding one from the highest elevation first and see how you like it!