Friday, June 29, 2012

Malbec Renaissance in Bordeaux as a Result of Climate Change?

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller at Chateau Latour in Bordeaux. At the time of the 1855 Classification, the Latour Grand Cru was mainly made of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon

Though Malbec was historically a major planting in Bordeaux, providing color and fruit to the blend, in the 20th century, it started to lose ground to Merlot and Cabernet Franc due, in part, to its sensitivities to so many different vine ailments (coulure, downy mildew, frost). The severe 1956 frost wiped out a significant portion of Malbec vines in Bordeaux.

One can, however, observe a comeback of Malbec in Bordeaux. Some experts predict that if Bordeaux becomes hotter due to climate change, Malbec would have a chance to ripen more consistently and you may start to see much more Malbec in Bordeaux blends in years to come.

Weinrallye #52 Klimawandel - Climate Change

This posting is being published as part of the Weinrallye, a monthly blog event in Germany. Participating wine bloggers - mainly in Germany - are all releasing postings today under the heading "climate change". Weinrallye is the brainchild of Thomas Lippert, a winemaker and wine blogger based in Heidelberg, Germany. The first wine rally took place in 2007. Thomas Lippert is the author of the wine blog Winzerblog.

This month's wine rally is organized by Torsten Goffin, who runs the food and wine blog “Glasklare Gefuehle”.

Malbec in France

Overall, Malbec is at a low in France currently, but may stage a come-back. Over recent decades, the popularity of Malbec has been steadily declining with only 6,000 hectares remaining. Its stronghold remains Cahors where AOC regulations stipulate that Malbec must compose at least 70% of the blend.

Outside of Cahors, Malbec is still found in small amounts as a permitted variety in the AOCs of Bergerac, Buzet, Côtes de Duras, Côtes du Marmandais and Bordeaux.

Malbec in Cahors

Cahors wines have a long history. The wine industry was developed by the Romans, who planted vines in Cahors even before they got to Bordeaux. The “black wine” of Cahors reached its heyday in the Middle Ages, when they were on the table at the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine with Henry II of England in 1152. But Bordelais winemakers saw the Cahors wines as a competitor to their own wines and introduced taxes and levies that hindered Cahors’ export out of Bordeaux, and, in turn, its reputation. In addition, in the late-19th century, phylloxera nearly destroyed the wine business in Cahors. The vines recovered eventually. Things looked pretty bleak until 1971, when Cahors achieved AOC status.

The dominant grape variety in AOC Cahors wines is Malbec, which must make up a minimum of 70% of the wine, with Merlot and Tannat making up the rest. Cahors wines are notoriously tannic when young, benefiting greatly from aging.

Malbec in Bordeaux

Malbec is one of the six permitted red grape varieties - Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenere - in the Bordeaux region, but in contrast to Cahor only rarely used in Bordeaux blends today. 

Chateau Haut Bailly in Pessac Leognan is one of the producers that has reportedly all 6 red grape varieties growing in its vineyards. Château Cheval Blanc uses a tiny amount of Malbec in its blend as do Chateau L’Enclos and Chateau Gruaud Larose. Examples of famous châteaux that use Carmenere are the Fifth Growth Château Clerc Milon and the Second Growth Château Brane Cantenac. Only the regions of the Côtes-de-Bourg, Blaye and Entre-Deux-Mers have any significant plantings in Bordeaux.

However if you go back to the year 1855 when the famous Left Bank Classification of 1855 was established, all chateaux had Malbec in their vineyards. At that time, Malbec was the most planted grape in Bordeaux, probably up to 60%. First Growth Château Lafite’s vineyards, for example, were dominated by Malbec and First Growth Château Latour was mostly Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. In Saint Emilion, on the right bank, Malbec was known as Noir de Pressac and very popular.

Malbec in Bourg and Blaye

Nowadays the Bordeaux appellation with the highest percentage of Malbec under vine is the Côtes de Bourg.

Malbec at Château Bel-Air la Royère

The leader of the Bourg and Blaye Malbec gang is Chateau Bel-Air la Royere in the AOC Blaye. Chateau Bel-Air la Royere is owned by Xavier Loriaud and his wife Corinne Chevrier-Loriaud. Xavier and Corinne bought the run-down estate in the 1990s, when Xavier was working as a wine consultant, mainly with Medoc chateaux. In the beginning, they sold the wine in bulk but started to bottle it in 1995. In the meantime, Xavier has moved on and become a politician, while his wife Corinne has taken over the management of Chateau Bel-Air la Royere. She is assisted by winemaker Christian Veyry.

25% of the 23 hectares of vineyard area is accounted for by Malbec, with the Malbec plantings dating from 1947, 1949, 1953 and also some from the 2000s. Merlot accounts for 65% and Cabernet Sauvignon for the remaining 10%.

In addition to their Bel-Air La Royère, which is 25% Malbec, Chateau Bel-Air La Royère also produces the only single variety Malbec in Bordeaux – Malbec Fig. 10. I do not know if this done every year, but the he 2006 Malbec Fig. 10 is currently sold in Germany for Euro 20 retail.

schiller-wine: Related Postings

World Malbec Day - Malbec from its Birthplace: Cahors in France

A Glass of Bordeaux – What Else? – With Wine Journalist Panos Kakaviatos

Meeting Virginia and Bordeaux Wine Expert and Wine Blogger Allan Liska, USA

Bordeaux Wines and their Classifications: The Basics

In the Wine Capital of the World: the City of Bordeaux, France

Wine event: Wines served at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 - Zero carbon footprint?

Climate Change and Wine: Video Blog - CNN's Jim Bitterman on Climate Change and Wine from Paris

Climate Change and Wine: France

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