Grape Varieties of Argentina
Malbec was originally one of the minor blending varieties of red Bordeaux, where it now accounts for a tiny proportion of local production. But its home now is well and truly in Argentina, where after more than 100 years of nurturing it has come into its own both as a pure varietal, and blended with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.
Malbec grapes are reasonably small, very dark, and juicy. Controlling the fruiting of the vines is important to ensure good concentration of flavours. Fortunately, the Argentine wine industry's almost 100% reliance on irrigation (it virtually never rains) gives growers the tools they need to ensure quality fruit.
However, Malbec is fairly sensitive to its climate. In cooler conditions (in Mendoza, this normally means a higher altitude) it is a thick-skinned grape which develops high acidity and tannic content, giving rise to more robust wines. At lower altitudes the grapes have thinner skins, more juice, and produce wines that are lighter-bodied and more suited to drinking young.
Flavours most commonly associated with Malbec include plums, cherries, currants and raspberries. Fruit, as well as colour, may be perceived as black or red depending on the origin of the fruit, as well as the wine-making style. Argentine Malbec is generally liberally oaked, and even the earlier drinking styles reflect the resulting flavours – vanilla, spice, as well as occasional tobacco notes – well.
An earlier ripening variety in Argentine conditions, the Malbec harvest generally begins in early March.