Malbec wines may have originated in northern Burgundy and were once produced in many French wine growing regions. For nearly two centuries though, French Malbec wine has been most associated with the western part of the country. There, it is the primary red grape of Cahors and a blending component in several nearby AOCs.
Of course, Malbec wine was long a key component in Bordeaux reds too. But a single year cost Malbec its foothold there. In 1956, a terrible frost devastated French vineyards. In Bordeaux, Malbec was most effected. Not only was that year’s crop ruined, many of the vines died. The winegrowers of Bordeaux replaced almost all of those vines with Merlot, which is now by far the most-planted grape in Bordeaux. Malbec, on the other hand, represents only about 3% of Bordeaux’ plantings today.
The story for Malbec wine is much sunnier in Argentina. There, bright, mountain sunlight and negligible rainfall mean the grape can achieve lovely ripeness year in and year out. Its inky purple color and focused, dark berry flavors are found in a spectrum of wines, from soft and quaffable to concentrated, structured and age-worthy.
The grape was introduced to Argentina in the 19th century, but Argentina didn’t become a major player in the global market until the late 20th century. With new economic policies, improved viticulture and winemaking, and the innate attractiveness of Argentinian Malbec wine, it’s sales have soared. Today, there are more than 50,000 acres of the grape in Argentina, roughly 15 times as many as in Bordeaux.
Though not to the same extent, Malbec wine is also popular in some California wine regions. In AVAs such as Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Sonoma Valley and Alexander Valley, the grape was planted to serve as a blending component in Bordeaux-variety red wines. However, as in Argentina, the grapes in these regions get ripe enough that Malbec wine is very attractive on it’s own too.