02/21/12 – Malbec: boom goes the varietal

By Jesse on February 20, 2012

In terms of trendiness, wines are sort of like TV shows: there’s a fairly static number of types (i.e. cop drama, female-driven rom-com, serialized thriller with supernatural elements, etc.), any one of which can at any time become unexpectedly popular and begin to saturate the market. Wines, too, have generally enjoyed long histories of production prior to their periods of popularity; for example, Pinot Noir was a longtime favorite of oenophiles before Sideways catapulted it to “trendy” status.

In the past five or six years, the Malbec grape — particularly examples produced in Argentina — has seemed to explode onto the American marketplace.  The Young Winos last tasted Malbec in 2008, and much has  changed since then: sales of Malbec increased 32% last year, and Malbec represents 64% of Argentinean wine exports to America, both red and white.  This Wall Street Journal piece offers a thorough primer on the long history of Argentinean production of Malbec, a little-loved red blending variety from Bordeaux, which flourished once introduced to Argentina’s warm, high-altitude wine regions.  But that was over a century ago — why are American wine consumers only discovering Argentinean Malbec now?

Sometimes, a wine’s popularity is based mostly on hype — but the wine industry is always eager to cash in on the latest consumer trends, and the Malbec case is no exception.  Californian wine giant Fetzer just announced plans to produce their first Malbec, which is certainly a sign that the variety is here to stay.  Locally, there’s an Argentinean restaurant in Toluca Lake called Malbec, and there’s even a documentary film making the festival rounds (appropriately called “Boom Varietal”) which tells the tale of Malbec’s nascent rise.  But is it all hype?  Is Malbec really that sensational?  Or is it simply something else — assertive, perhaps, or inexpensive for a varietal of its presence and weight… or even just “different?”

This week, the Young Winos will taste our way to clarity on the Malbec issue.  Come out to our Tuesday meeting with a bottle of Malbec from anywhere in the world (examples from Argentina should be easy to find, but other regions are welcome as well).  As always, you can feel free to bring a $10 no-bottle donation instead of wine.

We’ll be meeting at Adra’s place in Santa Monica.  The RSVP system functions like this: if you want in, you click on this link and tell me so (don’t forget your full name, e-mail address, and a cute message conveying to me your intentions), and I’ll send you a confirmation e-mail with the address.  Once you’ve received your confirmation, dig up that bottle of local vino you bought over your winter vacation — or simply bring ten bucks.  See you youngsters on Tuesday at 8pm!