Though Americans have only very recently begun to buy bottles of it with any fervor, the Malbec grape has a long, winding history that begins in southwestern France. Carved up by the meandering bends of the Lot River, Cahors -- the birthplace of Malbec -- is equidistant from the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Pyrenees. Established as an AOC in 1971, it was once beloved by kings and tsars for its alluring "Black Wine."
Getting to Know Malbec1.) Malbec goes by a stunning variety of names; according to master French ampelographer Pierre Galet, the synonyms used throughout the ages number in the thousands. Still frequently referred to as "Cot" in its birthplace, the grape also goes by Auxerrois, Quercy, Cahors, Pressac, Medoc Noir, Pied Noir, Costa Rosa, Luckens, Magret, and Noir de Pressac.
2.) The "Cahors" grape variety was originally planted by the Romans, in the Lot river valley, nearly 2000 years ago. Legend holds that the emperor even sought (unsuccessfully) to squash the region's production after the wine proved more beloved than the local Italian wines.
3.) The Romans weren't the only ancient civilization to fall in love with French Malbec; in 1225, Henry III decreed that nothing (particularly the egregious taxes from the officials in Bordeaux) was to stand in the way of his shipments of wines from Cahors. In Russia, Peter the Great installed the region's Malbec as the official mass wine of the Orthodox church.
4.) Despite the longstanding tradition of winemaking in Cahors, the region was almost entirely wiped out by Phylloxera in the end of the 19th century. In the following decades, winegrowers replanted the vineyards, only to lose everything again in a devastating freeze in 1956. By 1971 -- the year the region gained AOC status, there were 440 hectares under vine, a number that has since risen to 4,500 hectares. Argentina has over 25,000 hectares in Mendoza alone; the grape is grown in regions stretching across the full length of the nation.
5.) Cahors Malbec has historically been referred to as the "black" wine due to its deep, inky, thoroughly opaque coloring. Made from black grapes that are larger than their Argentine counterpart, the French expression of Malbec typically shows complex aromas of violets, rich, earthly black fruit, very sturdy tannins, and liquorice undertones.
6.) Though Malbec was introduced to Argentina in the late 19th century, the focus on creating higher-quality wine to export began only two decades ago; previously, the vineyards produced very high yields (appoximately 25 tons / hectare), with the juice principally used for jug wine. In recent years, the yield in many vineyards is as low as 5 to 8 tons / hectare.
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