By Lisa Rowlands

A thick-skinned variety that generally ripens mid-season, Malbec - known variously as Côt, Auxerrois, Pressac and a number of other synonyms - was once amongst the most cultivated grapes in France, with vine parcels scattered across thirty of the country’s wine-producing regions. Nowadays however, French plantings of the variety are largely restricted to parts of the southwest, particularly in Cahors AOC where appellation rules state that it must constitute at least 70% of the district’s red wines.

Historically, the grape is also well-known for its role in the traditional red Bordeaux blend where it remains one of the six permitted varieties. Its use has decreased significantly over the last few decades though, with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc - which are less susceptible to frost and other viticultural hazards - being favoured by producers. For many, the severe frosts of 1956, which wiped out large waves of vineyard across the region, presented the opportunity to reorganise their estates and replant with supposedly more reliable types.

However, they do say ‘as one door closes, another one opens’ and as French Malbec plantings began to decline, its popularity some eleven-thousand kilometres away in South America, was starting to soar. First introduced to Argentina in the nineteenth century, it wasn’t until a hundred years later that the Malbec grape really started to flourish in its adopted home. Today, it is the country’s most widely planted red variety with more than thirty thousand hectares across various Argentine regions. It’s most highly-acclaimed wines come from the Andean foothills of the Mendoza region, where altitudes in excess of a thousand metres, make for the more intense, aromatic varietals which have caught the attention of the world’s wine aficionados. Most likely on account of its success here, Malbec has seen considerable growth in popularity amongst Chilean producers and also has significant plantings in the United States (California), Australia and South Africa.