At one time, malbec was perhaps best-known as the grape responsible for Cahors, in south-west France (where it's known as cot) and for its blending role in clarets, with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot. Nowadays, it is more likely to be identified with Argentina.
The focus of Argentine plantings is in Mendoza, where malbec yields a velvety, concentrated wine of high alcohol, fruit content and extract. Quality is soaring and the wines are enormously popular today.
By contrast, French plantings are in decline, largely due to the grape's susceptibility to frost, mildew and rot. It requires such a degree of tender loving care that many producers have decided that it is not worth their while when merlot, for instance, is an easier proposition. But it is still found in the Loire Valley (where it is known as cot), the Bordeaux 'côtes', Bergerac and along the route of the Pilgrim's way throughout southwest France; though unfashionable, one of two growers are championing a renaissance and in Cahors it is still widely found.
When grown on the right site however – namely, infertile, high, rugged terrain, ideally with limestone soil – it fashions a rustic, spicy wine, full of colour that sings when paired with beef and game.
Cahors, in southwest France, provides just such conditions, and it is here where France's so-called 'black wines' are produced, full of rustic, gamey flavours and leathery nuances.
Cahors | Argentina
- Brambly fruit
- Red berries
'Malbec or cot is found all along the Pilgrim's Way from the vineyards of the Loire to those of the southwest and though once important in Bordeaux, is now a marginal variety except in Cahors where it thrives. In its second home of Argentina it has single-handedly put the country on the map.'
The rugged, almost inhospitable vineyards of Cahors in southwest France are where malbec excels, often under its local names of cot or auxerrois. The grape must make up 70% of any wine labelled as Cahors.
Winemaking techniques vary considerably and some wines see the grape blended with merlot or tannat. Though there are many different styles of wine made, the key characteristics remain the same: a distinctively dark, dense wine with earthy, gamey aromas and firm structure. Blackberry and blackcurrant fruits dominate, backed by spicy, leathery notes. The wines are much more tannic than those found in Argentina – literally a world away in terms of style, but their ability to age and their reasonable price make them excellent value.
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Malbec is Argentina's most popular variety, and it thrives in Mendoza.
Located in the far west of Argentina, Mendoza is the largest wine producing region in the country. Its high altitude and continental climate provide malbec with the challenging growing conditions in which the grape thrives.
Vineyards in the Lujan de Cuyo region in the higher reaches of the Mendoza Valley produce some of the country's best malbecs
Deeply-coloured, rich and robust wines are the order of the day here, with sufficient alcohol, tannin and acidity to support oak ageing. The main stylistic difference between Argentine malbec and Cahors is the former's velvety texture, overt dark fruit flavour and the spicy, vanilla notes conferred by oak.
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