Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Malbec World Day 2013 – Malbec in Argentina, Cahors and Bordeaux

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller and Julia Zuccardi, Familia Zuccardi Winery from Argentina, in Washington DC

Today, April 17, is World Malbec Day. When people talk about Malbec, at least in the US, they talk about Malbec from Argentina. Indeed, over the course of last 20 years, Malbec has become Argentina's signature grape and Argentina now grows more than 70 percent of the world’s production of that grape. But France is where it all started and where Malbec originates from.

I posted at the occasion of Malbec World Day:
2011: World Malbec Day - Malbec from its Birthplace: Cahors in France 
Malbec World Day 2012 - Malbec in Bordeaux, France 

Malbec in Argentina

Argentina is the 5th largest producer of wine in the world, following Spain, France, Italy and the US. Like much of the new world, Argentina owes its first vineyards to the Catholic Church. As early as 1556, missionary priests crossed the Andes from the Spanish colony in what is now Chile, to Argentina. The wine industry grew rapidly, as the Spanish and Italian immigrants brought with them the habit of having a bottle of wine with every meal. In the 1920s, Argentina was the 8th richest nation in the world. Domestic wine consumption was as high as 90 liters per person. Yet it is only very recently - perhaps over the last ten or fifteen years - that the wine industry has really begun to develop the methods, attitudes and will to become a serious player in the international wine market.

The Andes Mountains are the dominant geographical feature of Argentine wine regions, with the snow cap mountains often serving as a back drop view in the vineyards. Most of the wine regions are located within the foothills of the Andes. The Mendoza province produces more than 60% of the Argentine wine and is the source of an even higher percentage of exported wines.

There are many different varieties of grapes cultivated in Argentina, reflecting her many immigrant groups. The French brought Malbec, which makes most of Argentina's best known wines. The backbone of the early Argentine wine industry were the high yielding, pink skin grapes Cereza, Criolla Chica and Criolla Grande which still account for nearly 30% of all vines planted in Argentina today.

Due to the high altitude and low humidity of the main wine producing regions, Argentine vineyards rarely face the problems of insects, fungi, molds and other grape diseases that affect vineyards in other countries. This permits cultivating with little or no pesticides, allowing even organic wines to be easily produced. Argentina, like Chile, is unique in the wine world for the absence of the phylloxera threat that has devastated vineyards across the globe. Unlike Chile, the phylloxera louse is present in Argentina but is a particular weak biotype that doesn't survive long in the soil. Because of this most of the vineyards in Argentina are planted on ungrafted rootstock.

Malbec from Familia Zuccardi

Familia Zuccardi produces 1.000.000 cases annually, of which 60% is exported. In total, there are 750 hectares of grapes under cultivation. I met Julia Zuccardi recently, when she toured the US to present the new Santa Julia [+] line of wines of the Familia Zuccardi winery.

Picture: 2010 Santa Julia [+], Malbec, Bodega Santa Julia, Mendoza, Argentina (screw cap, 13% alc., made with 100% sustainably farmed grapes); 2010 Santa Julia Organica, Malbec, Bodega Santa Julia, Mendoza, Argentina (cork, 12,5% alc., made with organic grapes certified by Letis S.A.); 2009, Santa Julia Reserva, Malbec, Bodega Santa Julia, Mendoza, Argentina (cork, 13,5% alc., made with 100% sustainably farmed grapes, aged in French oak for 10 months)

The Santa Julia [+] Malbec as well as the Santa Julia Reserva are produced in Familia Zuccardi’s “Sustainable By Nature” framework. In this context, the Santa Julia [+] line is using lighter weight glass bottles to lower CO2 emissions (12,5% lighter). Another aspect of the Zuccardi Sustainability By Nature approach is a water recycling program to minimize the water footprint of wine making. It also includes a commitment to organic farming and social programs for the workforce. “We now have a permanent workforce of over 450 people. Workers at Familia Zuccardi are employed year-round and the winery provides subsidized health care and free education to all its workers” said Julia Zuccardi. The Santa Julia Organica Malbec is produced with 100% organically grown grapes, certified by Letis, S.A.

For more, see:
Julia Zuccardi from Familia Zuccardi in Argentina Visited the US to Introduce New Santa Julia Wines
In the Glass: 3 Malbecs from Santa Julia, Argentina - Santa Julia [+], Organica and Reserva

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 from La Caminade

La Caminade has been around since well before the French Revolution, resting in the hands first of the clergy and then, since 1895, in the hands of the Resses family. The Resses family, with others, has been instrumental since the 1950s in the rebirth of Cahors as a major wine-producing region.

Picture: Dominique Resses, Malbec Producer from Cahors, France and Christian G.E.Schiller

2007 Mission La Caminade Cahors $9.99

Tasting notes: Medium garnet in the glass, smoked meats coupled with cassis and black cherry on the nose, a medium-bodied wine, in the mouth the wine has a supple leathery quality, with some stony minerality that gives way to more cassis and black cherry notes with a dusty finish.

2006 Château La Caminade "La Commandery" $19.99

97% Malbec and 3% Tannat; leafs are thinned and yield is limited to a maximum of 40 hectolitres per hectare; and grapes are 100% destalked and sorted fallowed by a long maceration and maturation in oak barrels of which 50% are new each year.

Tasting notes: dark red in the glass, hints of stones and smoke with black cherries and cassis on the nose, a full-bodied wine, with nuances of damp earth, black currant, smoke and licorice on the palate,”La Commandery” is a textbook Cahors.

For more, see:
The Wines of Chateau La Caminade in the Cahors, France - Malbec from its Birthplace

Malbec in Bordeaux

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.

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 from Chateau Bel-Air la Royere

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

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Corinne Chevrier-Loriaud at Château Bel-Air la Royère

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 3 other wines, including the only single variety Malbec in Bordeaux – Malbec Fig. 10. I do not know if this is done every year, but the 2006 Malbec Fig. 10 is currently sold in Germany for Euro 20 retail.

For more, see:
An Afternoon with Owner/Winemaker Corinne Chevrier-Loriaud at Chateau Bel Air La Royere in Blaye, Bordeaux, France

schiller-wine: Related Postings

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

Malbec World Day 2012 - Malbec in Bordeaux, France 

The Wines of Argentina's Cult Winemaker Achaval-Ferrer

Julia Zuccardi from Familia Zuccardi in Argentina Visited the US to Introduce New Santa Julia Wines

In the Glass: 3 Malbecs from Santa Julia, Argentina - Santa Julia [+], Organica and Reserva

Tasting Don Manuel Villafane Wines from Argentina with Wine Maker Frederico Isgro, USA 

The Wines of Chateau La Caminade in the Cahors, France - Malbec from its Birthplace

An Afternoon with Owner/Winemaker Corinne Chevrier-Loriaud at Chateau Bel Air La Royere in Blaye, Bordeaux, France 

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