Malbec is one of the original Bordeaux grape varieties from the Bordeaux region of France. It is still included in small amounts in many blends from the region but never flourished as a single varietal wine grape until some vines were relocated to the Mendoza region of Argentina in 1868 in an effort to improve their wine production. While it was difficult to propagate in Bordeaux, it thrived in Mendoza, Argentina. Since the importation of this particular Malbec clone, it has since died out in France. The inky purple wines (which definitely stain teeth and tongues) of the Mendoza region are quite expressive with notes of minerality from the varied soil types, bold black fruit, and notes of black pepper spice. If the grapes are grown at higher altitudes, they tend to have higher levels of acid, which makes them great to pair with fattier cuts of beef (back to the classic pairing mantra, ‘If it grows together it goes together’).
Wine production began in the 16th century in Argentina when Jesuit missionaries brought cuttings from the Canary Islands. The main grape varieties for the following 300 years were from the Criolla family, a family of high yield, low quality pink/red grapes. Throughout much of the 19th century, Argentina was embroiled in civil wars. Upon the ceasing of the civil wars and the phylloxera outbreak ravaging much of Europe, European immigrants began to relocate to the country. With them, they brought improved winemaking techniques. One of these immigrants, Michel Amié Pouget, was a French agricultural engineer. He introduced Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Malbec vines to Argentina. Also, among his contributions, he founded the first vine nursery and agricultural school in his new country. In 1910, the Transandine Railway, connecting Chile and Argentina over the Andes Mountains, was completed. This made the exportation of wine vastly improved. Instead of mules trekking goods for nearly a month, the train could make the same trip in a day. Since this time, the wine industry has waxed and waned over the decades but is presently experiencing a significant boom with Malbec accounting for over 20% of the wines made.
I knew I had to pair this week’s wine with a ribeye or flank steak but then I heard a local coffee shop was reopening and they sell jars of fresh chimichurri (one of the proprietors is Argentinian), so I had to support local businesses! The owners also told me how great it is on french fries so i went with ribeye and frites drizzled in chimichurri. When I opened the bottle of Malbec, it was a bit warmer than it should be served. This made the evaporating alcohol abrasive until more could evaporate. I swirled the glass to get as much evaporation off as I could. As I did so, the magenta legs were impossible to miss. The wine was deep, opaque purple at the center and near the rim, there were thin rings of magenta and violet. After some of the alcohol evaporated, the smells of blackberries, cinnamon sticks, black plums, white pepper, and anise began to unveil themselves. There was also a notable hedonistic character to the wine. When I tasted it, the black fruit and the steak were excellent together. The acid levels in the chimichurri and wine were similar so they played off each other very well. The steak had a bit of crust from the grill which accentuated the toasted oak notes from the wine eloquently. The fat in the steak and chimichurri made the velvety tannins more luxurious. I adored how magical the pairing of the black fruit and faint violet notes in the wine and the herbs and spices in the chimichurri was. Yet another phenomenal food and wine pairing that I can’t wait to have over and over again!!