Argentine malbec is a marvelous and amazing story.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, malbec was a Bordeaux star, sharing the stage alongside cabernet sauvignon in the same manner merlot enjoys today.
Then in the 1860s came phylloxera—a small, yellow, root-feeding aphid that imperiled most of Europe’s grapevines. The solution was phylloxera-resistant rootstocks from Texas that could be grafted to European vines. Industry saved. European vines grow on Texas roots to this day.
Not all grape varieties, however—especially malbec, did well on their new roots in the calcareous (chalky) soils of France. The new roots exacerbated malbec’s issues with downy mildew and other problems. Bordeaux growers turned to merlot because merlot thrived on the new roots while malbec faltered.
Fortunately, before the phylloxera disaster, immigrant winemakers brought malbec cuttings to Argentina, where there was no phylloxera then or now, and where the terroir—high altitude, brilliant sunlight, plunging night temperatures, stressing water conditions, and nutrient-challenged soil proved to be malbec’s métier.
Today, Argentina produces more than 75 percent of the world’s malbec. Argentine malbec, particularly from the Mendoza region, delivers bottled poetry while the country’s perpetually messed up economy provides astonishing value-for-price opportunities.
Malbec typically is a plush, fruit-forward, easy drinker that is not as tannic as cab, not as mellow as merlot. Descriptive adjectives include spicy, velvety, plum, black cherry, blueberry, raspberry, smoke. An intensely dark purple-red color with a bright magenta rim is a signal visual characteristic.
Malbec went from little-known in the 20th century to world player in the 21st. If you read this column, odds are excellent malbec is one of your go-to pours. If it is not, it should be.
• Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec, Mendoza 2014: Great sit-back-and-slurp easy drinking value. $9
• Norton Reserva Malbec, Mendoza 2013: Consistently good, widely available. $14
• Catena Alamos Selección Malbec, Mendoza 2014: Polished, rich, creamy. $16
• Bodegas Escorihuela Gascón Reserva Malbec, Mendoza 2014: Vivid flavors, good price for quality. $25
• Rutini Malbec Mendoza 2012: Nicely focused, balanced, decant to bring out its best. $35
Last round: It’s funny how eight glasses of water a day seems almost impossible, but I can do eight glasses of wine with no problem.