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Malbec: A Trendy Wine

July 08, 2013

The day before the Fourth of July, we sent the August issue of Wine Business Monthly off to the printer! It will hit doorsteps late July/early August.

Continuing his special Varietal Focus series for Wine Business Monthly, Lance Cutler traveled to Argentina to find out how winemakers are making great Malbec.

Here is a preview from the Month in Review in the August issue:

An article in this issue, a Varietal Focus, looks at Malbec in Argentina. Eight winemakers discuss what they’re trying to achieve stylistically, what their specific grape-growing and winemaking protocols are, and more. There’s a lot of detail involved in the quest to determine how terroir and winemaking decisions affect a wine’s style.

Argentina is known for Malbec, and sales of popularly priced Malbec from Argentina continue to soar in U.S. food and drug stores—growing by double digit percentages. Virtually all of the largest U.S. wine companies now import Malbec—millions of cases of it.

Winemakers in Argentina aren’t just making value-priced wines, though. In recent years, they’ve been making reserve and even “icon” versions of Malbec from the best vineyards. Those are the types of wines that are the subject of the Varietal Focus.

One of the things I couldn’t help but notice when I attended Taste Washington in Seattle this year was that many wineries were pouring Malbec. I already had an inkling of this, but with so many wineries in the room—a couple hundred of them were pouring—it was hard to miss. There were two dozen or so Malbecs from Washington. They had oomph. They were big with lush tannins, dark fruit and hints of violet. Washington Malbec won’t be outselling Washington Cabernet any time soon but appears to have found a niche.

A search for Malbec via the Wines & Vines OMS System shows 351 wineries in 29 U.S. states plus Baja and B.C. now make Malbec. California, the state with the largest number of wineries, has the largest number of Malbec producers (126). Washington state has one-fifth as many wineries as California does, yet 106 Washington wineries make Malbec—many more proportionally. Twenty wineries in Oregon make Malbec, and 19 make it in Texas.

This isn’t a huge amount of production. Half of these wineries make less than 5,000 cases a year. Washington crushed just 1,800 tons of Malbec in 2012 and some probably went into blends over at Chateau Ste. Michelle.

Malbec production is increasing rapidly in California, having more than doubled in the past year. The California Crush Report showed 17,845 tons of Malbec crushed in 2012, up from 8,023 tons in 2011. And while the California Acreage report is suspect (participation is voluntary so it underreports reality), it shows 1,745 acres of Malbec in the ground, with another 944 non-bearing acres, for a total of 2,689 acres.

Allied Grape Growers recently estimated that Malbec accounted for 4 percent of all vines sold in 2012 in its annual nursery survey. Malbec tied Petite Sirah for fourth place among red grapes planted in the report (after Cabernet Sauvignon at 25 percent, Pinot Noir at 10 percent, and Zinfandel with 6 percent). Assuming for the sake of argument that 30,000 acres of vines were planted in 2012, this works out to roughly 1,200 new acres of California Malbec coming on line.

Cyril Penn–editor

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