Malbec: immigrant grape that found fame and glory in the Americas.

A “big-six grape” of Bordeaux, Malbec adds deep color, tannin, plum flavor; but in 1950s frost destroyed 75 percent of Bordeaux’s Malbec vines. Although replanted, it is a minor note in their Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot symphony today.

Not so in South America. Arriving in Argentina in 1868, Malbec found exactly the right climate and terroir (taste of the land). Needing more sun and heat than Cab and Merlot, Malbec also needs a big difference between day and night temperature. Mendoza Valley in Argentina proved perfect.

Malbec is to Argentina as Zinfandel is to California—signature grape capable of world-class wines.

Argentines once were among world’s heaviest wine drinkers. Consumption declined; robust wine industry survived. Bonanza for us as Argentina compensates by exporting quality wines at bargain prices.

They almost blew it. In 1980s, Argentines began abandoning Malbec to chase Cab and Merlot markets. They made quality—not stellar—wines, then a glut of Cabs and Merlots pummeled profits.

Fortunately, Argentines came to their Malbec senses.

Spicy, velvety Malbecs rival pricey Super Tuscans and massive California reds for quality. They also can be soft, approachable $10-12 wines. Robert Parker, world’s most powerful wine critic: “[Malbec] can compete with Bordeaux several times the price.”

Try. Your wallet won’t whimper as your palate exalts.

Recommended, all from Argentina:

• Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec. Toasty oak, mocha, Robert Parker best buy. $10

• Santa Alicia Reserve Malbec. Deep color, medium body, blackberry, plum. $10

• Terrazas de los Andes Malbec. Good fruit, Wine Enthusiast best buy. $11

• Vinos Magali Malbec. Fruity, good tannins, very pleasant. $14