The purple Malbec variety grapes which now grow all over the Old and New Worlds had their origins in France, where they are one of the few grape varieties allowed to be used in the highly esteemed blended wines of Bordeaux. However, it is perhaps the New World Malbec wines which have attracted the most attention in recent years, as they thrive in hot southern climates in ways they cannot in their native country, where the damp conditions leave them highly vulnerable to rot. Malbec grapes are renowned for their high tannin content, resulting in full-bodied red wines packed with ripe, plummy flavors and held in their characteristically dark, garnet colored liquid. In many countries, Malbec is still used primarily as a varietal for blending, as it adds a great level of richness and density to other, lighter and thinner varietals. However, single variety Malbec wines have been greatly on the rise in recent years, with some fantastic results and big, juicy flavors marking them out as a great wine for matching with a wide range of foods.
In the very northernmost part of Argentina, perilously close to the equator, lies the unique and unusual wine region of Salta. Salta, despite being so close to the equator, is something of an ideal region for vineyard cultivation and wine production, as its incredibly high altitude of up to three thousand meters above sea level ensures that the temperatures are just right for the vines to thrive. The wines produced in Salta are exceptional for their ability to express much of their unusual terroir, and in the regions of Cafayate and Molinos, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Tannat are the key red wines produced, whilst Chardonnay makes up much of the white wine of Salta. The region's wine industry is currently going from strength to strength, and the next few years or so are expected to herald plenty of new wineries opening in this fascinating part of the world.
It is said that the first Argentinian vines were planted in the Mendoza more than four hundred years ago by European settlers, and despite these early wines being used primarily for religious purposes, the fervor for wine making never left the area. Today, Argentina is keen to demonstrate its technological prowess when it comes to vineyard cultivation, by combining traditional methods of irrigation left over from the Huarpes Indians with modern techniques in order to make the dry, arid desert an ideal environment for growing grapes. Indeed, these ancient irrigation channels, dug hundreds of years ago and still in use today, bring mineral-rich melt water from the Andes via the Mendoza river, something which gives the grapes grown in this region some of their character. The primary grape of this and other regions of Argentina is the Malbec, which is highly susceptible to rot in its native France, but which thrives in the dry and hot climate of South America, producing rich and plummy wines which are highly drinkable especially when young.