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Travel Tales from Argentina and South America
Mendoza’s Malbec grapes have transformed the region into one of the world’s top wine destinations.
Before we get to the bottom of the bottle about the best wineries to visit in Mendoza, let’s review some facts about malbecs and the geographical position of the city.
Many people think that malbec wine is from Argentina: this is false. How did malbec arrive in the country? While exiled in Chile around 1852, the future governor of San Juan and President of Argentina, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento met the French agronomist Michel Aimé Pouget. Sarmiento contracted Pouget to bring quality French strains to Argentina in order to improve its then struggling wine culture. Pouget brought with him varieties that were nonexistent at the time in Argentina, such as cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and later malbec.
Myth has it that Pouget was the founding father of malbec wines in Argentina and was responsible for all of the country’s wine success, but in reality the European wines were brought by Spanish, Italian and French immigrants. Argentine wine making actually dates back to around the mid 1500s in the Rioja region when Spanish missionaries planted grapes in order to make ‘communion’ wine. Pouget was actually responsible for popularizing wine and laying the foundation for the Argentine wine-growing culture at the first agricultural school in the country, ‘la quinta agronómica de Mendoza’.
The thick-skinned grape (no pun intended) of the malbec began to thrive in Mendoza Argentina because of the region’s hot, high-altitude. The malbec from the Cahors region in France is grown at about 65 meters above sea-level, whereas the Argentine malbec is grown at around 900 meters. Because the grape couldn’t resist the cooler climate and bugs, it has been used in France as a blending grape. Mendoza’s high elevation climate allows the grape to produce more acidity, which in turn produces a better, long lasting wine. Remember that the higher the acidity in a wine, the longer it’s going to last in the wine cellar (aka your countertop).
Argentine malbec is much more fruit forward and you can immediately taste strong hints of plums, black cherries and blackberries. The French malbec on the other hand is much more leathery and complex. It tends to be forward, but is never bitter about being uncorked on a Wednesday night in the park in front of a few strangers. An interesting little known fact is that if you drink both Argentine and French malbec in the same evening you start to speak like Julio Cortázar.
So how did Argentine malbec start making its way to foreign tabletops? Many wine experts believe that a grass-roots type movement led to malbec popularity. Around 2005 people began requesting the wine not only because of its spicy robust flavor, but also because it’s much cheaper than a French cabernet or pinot noir. Most restaurants didn’t feature more than one or two malbecs on a wine menu because malbecs weren’t traditionally seen as a very saleable wine. Does this mean that it’s inferior to a Bordeaux cabernet? Well that depends on the pallet of the drinker.
Before it’s recent surge in popularity, most people didn’t even know that Argentina was not a part of Chile, which also produces malbecs. So expect a pretty ‘haut’ debate if you fail to differentiate between the two countries. Why should you visit Mendoza? Well if being one of the world’s top wine destinations, and visiting the best wineries isn’t enough to convince you, here are some little known facts about Mendoza and malbec that will definitely excite the senses.
If you’re ready to explore one of the world’s up-and-coming top wine destinations, contact Say Hueque to start planning your trip to the best wineries in Mendoza!
Written by Brian Athey
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