The Malbec grape — Argentina’s wine superstar

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Published: May 5, 2019 12:13:38 AM

Among these many days, there is a relatively young one which celebrates the wines from the Malbec grape. It falls on April 17 and is celebrated worldwide in an effort to garner attention towards Argentina’s wine superstar.

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The year today goes by rather too quick and the notion that we find multiple things to celebrate each day only hastens this passage. It’s New Year’s Eve to Valentine’s Day and, suddenly, we are already whizzing past Diwali and into the Xmas season. But seriously, we have days to mark men, women, children, flowers, animals, leaders past and present, and even one for the real superheroes of the planet, World Garbage Man Day, on June 17 (before you chuckle, I am being dead serious about that last one). One could safely surmise that the only kind of days I hate are dry days.

Among these many days, there is a relatively young one which celebrates the wines from the Malbec grape. It falls on April 17 and is celebrated worldwide in an effort to garner attention towards Argentina’s wine superstar. Malbec, as many of you may already know, was originally a French export to Argentina. It wasn’t the only one to gain such a celebrated status in its new adopted land—from poets and professors to businessmen, scientists, philosophers, theatre personalities, models and actors, the list of French-origin people who made it big in Argentina is nearly endless. Guess if one needed a sign to understand what ‘globally inclusive’ means, this nation would be a great place to start. So Malbec made it over when a French agronomist, Miguel Pouget, was asked to come and help with vineyards in Argentina and in the cuttings he brought over, some happened to be of Côt from the region of south-west France. Mind you, this grape was very popular in Bordeaux, too, and may have originated further east in Burgundy, but all of this became history when Phylloxera struck in the late 19th century, decimating European vineyards (and rootstocks) followed by the frost of 1956, which only further reduced the reach and popularity of this grape variety.

In France, it was never considered worthy of being made into a mono-varietal wine—always blended as part of a bigger set. It was mostly in Argentina where they explored the idea of 100% Malbec wines and the world hasn’t looked back since. Today, Malbec is a recognised Argentinean star—rightfully so—and is finding ground the world over as other countries scramble to find the right mix of sun and soil to plant it locally.

The trick in Argentina has been to plant it at high altitude (of, say, Mendoza), for if you look at the map, Argentina is darned closed to the equator to manage red wines with such elegant tannins, ripe fruit and floral notes with a delicate sense of balance. There is none of that jammy fruit with a chewy tannic grip that together overpower the palate and leave it somewhat numbed. Maybe this is one reason why back in France they used it for blends whereas here in cooler climes, it was able to show more restraint.

The recent event in India, although held a week after the official day internationally, was surely not short of a good share of wines from the grape. We had a collection of nearly two dozen wines made using 100% Malbec apart from a few other prized precious wines, all of which were flown in specially for an event held at a central five-star property. The evening temperature of Delhi that day was somewhat of a downer, but the gathering didn’t let that dampen their spirits. They just went for it, trying one wine after another. I endured about 18 or so before calling it a day. Now to sit back, wait and hope that these wines find a suitable legal channel to get in.

(The writer is a sommelier)

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