Most people associate Malbec with our neighbor, Argentina, but little do they know that Chile has a possibly even longer history with the tasty varietal. There are some beautiful, gnarly old vines across the country and research by Pablo Lacoste actually suggests that the first Malbec vines arrived in Chile in 1840, 30 years before than in Argentina.
A bit about Malbec
Originally hailing from Cahors, France, this wine was known as the ‘black wine’ because of its incredible color (in the bottle and on your teeth!) It was once the preferred wine of Kings and Popes, but fell out of favor to Bordeaux blends and was partially wiped out by Phylloxera. Malbec however is now having a rebirth in the New World in countries like Chile, Argentina, the US, Australia and South Africa.
The character of Chilean Malbec
No matter who had it first, Chilean Malbec is a completely different beast to those of Argentina or from its birthplace in France. As a much slimmer country, Chile has a great influence from the coast and mountains – a cooling influence which gives slower maturation, higher acidity and fresher expression.
Viu Manent in Colchagua has Malbec vines 120 years old and they’ve been specializing in making high quality Malbec since the 90s. Like many a wine story, their endeavor into high quality Malbec was a happy coincidence. Malbec was originally planted in regions known for large production however as the vines have aged, the quality has grown. “Our advantage is that we had very old vineyards which were well adapted to the terroir,” says Viu Manent winemaker Patricio Celedon.
Through old, concentrated vines, the quality of Chilean Malbec in the last decade has soared and new plantations of the vine increased by 95% in the last ten years. Although Malbec reigns in the Central Valleys of Chile, you can find it all over the country where it takes on some very different characteristics according to its terroir. We can see some great examples of Malbec and real diversity in the refreshing acidity of Casablanca (try Loma Larga); ripe fresh forest fruits from Maipo (try Perez Cruz); mineral and floral wines from Maule (try Odfjell Orzada); the smooth juicy fruits from Colchagua (try Viu Manent); and elegant expressions from Curico (try Valdivieso).
“There’s a great potential for Malbec in Chile,” comments Patricio. “It is very adaptable to many regions but has different expressions in each place.” With Chile’s tapestry of terroirs, you’ve got a world of Malbec to discover in Chile alone.