Saturday, November 26, 2011


Writing about Tupungato recently got me to thinking about Malbec and its importance to this industry and, frankly, to this store. Malbec is one of the six most popular wine grapes in the world and here in America where we love our big red new world wines, it is probably second only to Cabernet in sales. At this time we have about a dozen in the store to recommend priced from $10 to $30.

The Malbec grape is an inky dark thin skinned purple grape that needs considerable sunlight and heat to ripen adequately. It is disease prone to the point that plantings in France have diminished from a high of thirty departments to really, just Cahors in the southwest. A frost in 1956 resulted in a greatly diminished role in Bordeaux when growers there did not replant a crop that was 75% destroyed. Malbec acreage in France now stands at 6,000; California has 7,000 acres; and Argentina, where continual improvements in cloning have produced a hardier vine, now has 50,000 acres in Malbec. Australia, where Malbec was once the primary grape, now has little to none, which is interesting in that comparisons in style to Shiraz are inescapable.

Malbec, originally called "Cot", is believed to have originated in northern Burgundy but dating is non-specific. The clone that is so disease prone in France is not the same as the type transported to Argentina in 1868. That type, originally mislabelled as Merlot, has smaller berries in loose clusters and produces high yields. The wine has a velvety medium body, a jammy/juicy plum/blackberry flavor, and tight earthy tannins. The variety in Cahors, France produces an intense inky violet, harder and darker, more tannic wine. The soil in France also features more limestone than Argentina. In California, Malbec is grown with good success in Napa, Sonoma, and Alexander Valleys along with Paso Robles.

Malbec is a blending grape everywhere it is grown. As a stand alone varietal it does best in Argentina where it owes its popularity to the prestigeous Catena Winery, which recognized its potential when planted at altitudes of 800-1500 feet. Catena first planted Malbec in Tupungato in 1994 and the rest is history (see November 14th blog).

Among the star "flying winemaker" consultants now invested in Tupungato is Paul Hobbs who earned his "chops" making Opus One amongst others. We now have Marchiori & Barraud 2006 Malbec in the store. This wine has a Paul Hobbs connection which makes it worth $150/btl and 96 points-Parker. The wine sells here now for $30/btl. Mention this blog and get your cheese purchase for 1/2 price with the purchase of Marchiori.

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