Mad about Malbec

May 25, 2011 | The Wine Corner | Todd Baltich.

Malbec[1]The grape juggernaut Malbec continues to be one of the most asked for wines at Leary’s. This is a wine that seemingly came out of nowhere, to become one of the hottest categories in the last few years. The rivers in Argentina are overflowing with this wine and its pouring onto our shores. Thanks almost entirely to Malbec, U.S. imports of Argentine wine are up 40 percent from a year ago, by far the largest increase experienced by any foreign wine-producing country in our market. Argentina has become the fourth-biggest exporter of wine to the U.S. by volume (following Italy, Australia and France), overtaking Germany, Spain and Chile over the past five years.

The origins of Malbec began in Europe.

It was originally grown in a town called Cahors in the Bordeaux region of France. It was generally only used in small quantities as a blending grape for Bordeaux wines. But when French immigrants to Argentina planted vine cuttings in the new world soil, the grapes thrived. The unique growing conditions that exist in Argentina produce Malbecs that are softer and less tannic than wines from the traditional Malbec region. Plentiful sunshine and cool nights combine to produce a full-bodied, yet heavily fruited, wine. Another benefit of Argentina’s remote, high-altitude vineyards and low humidity is a reduced need for pesticides, making organic farming relatively easy to practice in this region.

The sudden success of Malbec begs the question — Why are consumers so attracted to this wine?

There are a few reasons:

Price/quality: In these challenging economic times, a good $10 bottle of wine is a sweet spot.

Flavor profile: The average consumer embraces Malbec’s soft, fruit-forward style.

Name: It’s even easier to pronounce than Merlot.

It remains to be seen how long America’s love affair with this grape will last. It seems like just yesterday that Aussie Shirazes were all the rage. But much to my wife’s chagrin (Sydney born and raised), the popularity of that grape has plummeted. That said, if Argentina continues to produce consistently good, inexpensive wines, they will remain competitive for years to come. Or at least until China ramps up. Believe it or not, Moet & Chandon (maker of iconoclast champagne Dom Perignon) is planting vineyards in northwest China.

It will take a few years before those vineyards produce quality wine, so in the meantime, here are several Malbecs you should try: Catena, Dona Paula, Agua de Piedra, Diseño, Viu Manent, Santa Julia and Navarro Correas.