Although Malbec originated in France, today Argentina leads the world in production volume, the number of unique bottlings and, arguably, quality. With more than 50,000 acres of Malbec planted there and less than 4,000 acres in France, it’s safe to say that Argentina grows more Malbec than the rest of the world combined.
The first Argentinian Malbec was planted in the 19th century. But it wasn’t until the 1970’s that Argentina began to export wine. That change drove increases in volume and quality.
Argentinian Malbec became prominent on American store shelves in the early 2000’s. As prices for robust red wines from regions such as Napa, Bordeaux and Chateauneuf-du-Pape rose, this bold, fruit-forward wine offered great value and there was little vintage variation.
Argentina’s primary growing region is Mendoza, which is essentially a high, mountain desert. Bright sunlight, cloudless skies and negligible rainfall mean Malbec can achieve lovely ripeness year in and year out. This makes Argentinian Malbec a smoother, fruitier wine than its counterparts in France’s main growing area for the grape, Cahors in southwestern France.
Year after year since then, Argentinian producers have been increasing quality too. Initially, their Malbec wine was friendly but simple. The viticulture and winemaking are more refined and judicious use of French oak has increased. And now, wineries are focused not just on producing high-quality Malbec wine from regions such as Mendoza, but are looking to find the very best spots to grow it and allowing terroir to speak through the bottles.
While Mendoza is, by far, Argentina’s most prolific wine-growing region, there are several other, specific zones to look for when it comes to Malbe. Among the best are Lujan de Cuyo and Uco Valley.
What should you expect from Argentinian Malbec? The wine will be dark purple in color with a core of focused, dark berry flavors, accented by spice. Body will be medium to medium+ and acidity moderate. Other characteristics—such as tannins, flavors from oak, and the presence of minerality—will vary across the broad spectrum of wines depending in price, winemakers’ preferences and terroir.