Malbec was once one of the major dark skinned wine grapes of Bordeaux, yet its role as a blending component or sole constituent, has gradually migrated farther south to the départements of Périgord, Dordogne and the Lôt, where it reaches a somewhat rustic apogee, not without its charms, in the vineyards of Cahors. There it is called Auxerrois. Elsewhere, around Touraine in the Loire, it renders sappy wines of considerable refreshment under the synonym of Côt, or Cot. Nevertheless its popularity has been slowly declining in France, obviated to a degree by its stature in Argentina. Argentine Malbec has become a sleek varietal brand, helping to resurrect that country's presence internationally.
Malbec is a darkly pigmented grape variety of violet aromas, moderate acidity and tannins which, when handled sensitively at optimal ripeness, are apparent without being biting. Nevertheless, Malbec is often mistakenly perceived as having brooding structural qualities. This is likely because of the English reference to Cahors as 'the black wine', as well as the ubiquity of chewy paysan wines from France's south-west.
Malbec, by law, must comprise at least 70 per cent of Cahors. The appellation's higher sites, with meagre soils underlain by limestone, are less affected by both frost and the humidity that exploits Malbec's susceptibility to downy mildew, rot and subsequently, coulure. These drier conditions serve Malbec well as a straight varietal wine, giving a suave texture and considerable complexity, far from stereotypes. Top producers include Chateau Triguedina, whose wines age well over decades.
'Smooth' wines, however, are the domain of Argentina and particularly the high desert vineyards of Mendoza. Malbecs with finely grained tannins, dense purple colours, freshness and a velour of buxom fruit, not to mention high alcohol, are the norm. Perhaps because of their similarity to Californian wine, at more reasonable prices, they have proven highly successful across international markets.
Argentina's confluence of plentiful sun, high altitude and punctiliously controlled irrigation regimes that allow for the control of a vine's vegetative and ripening cycles, ensure consistent fruit quality and ripeness. Generous foreign investment, technology and low labour costs, ensure 'lots of bang for the buck' and most likely, a very bright future.