When the first Malbec vines arrived in Argentina in the middle of the 19th Century, a match was made of site and vine which would change the course of wine history.
In its native France, Malbec was relegated to a secondary role. Although the famous Chateau Latour of Medoc relied on Malbec as the basis for its blend, Malbec was mostly used to bolster Bordeaux wines based on Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Malbec needed more sun, more heat, less interference from mildew and Phylloxera to thrive on its own.
Argentina, and especially the “desert oasis” in the western province of Mendoza, provided a perfect home for Malbec. The young alluvial soils of the high desert were sandy and loose, inhospitable to pests like the Phylloxera louse. The dry “zonda” winds sweeping down the slope of the Andes kept mildew at bay. The high altitude vineyards, irrigated by the melting mountain snow, sat under a glowing sun 300 days a year.
As the Malbec adapted, winegrowers selected the best vines and took cuttings to propagate them, creating a genetic pool of Argentine-only Malbec that was thicker-skinned than its French forebears, small berries in tight, flavor-packed clusters, with tannins rounded out by 150-170 days of hang time.
Argentine Malbec most often grows on its own roots, since the absence of pests like Phylloxera reduces the need for site-specific root choices. Traditional winegrowers in Argentina believe that this yields a more pure and concentrated character in the wines.
At first, Argentine winemakers used Malbec as it was used in France, to blend into non-varietal wines that benefited from its body, color, and dark fruit flavors. Then in 1941, Bodegas Escorihuela Gascón produced Argentina’s first 100 percent varietal Malbec wine, and a tradition had begun.