The Original Malbec Wine Capital – Cahors, France


You are probably doing it wrong if your journey to sip the finest Malbec variety starts in Argentina. Because, long before Argentina even made its mark on the wine map, the trophy for Original Malbec Capital was at home in Cahors, France, dating back to 50 BC.

Fun Fact: That’s around when Julius Caesar conquered the Gaul region bringing the Romans and their historic wine making traditions to the region.

The entire world attributes Malbec as an Argentine “national variety” oblivious to the fact that the Original Malbec grape and the wine sourced from those dark purple beads had a history dating back to the Roman empire.

Why is that? What’s the history behind this shift in perception? Did the Argentines have a better publicist?

All this and more will be answered in this article. After reading this, you’ll be curious to find out if you’ve been missing out on anything by not trying this Old World take on Malbec.

malbec memes

You after reading the history behind Malbec of Cahors, France.

Back in black: Malbec of the French Cahor

The Romans lovingly called Malbec wine  “the black wine of Cahors” owing to its distinct inky-dark color. Cahors a small town in the South-west of France was home to the flagship Malbec grape variety which grew around the higher terrains of Lot Valley surrounding the Lot river, a tributary of the River Garonne.

What made Malbec a favorite among the Roman elite?

This earthy, dark-fruited, herbaceous, and strong red wine is the result of a unique landscape, the right climate, and a long history of winemaking that dates back to when Julius Caesar was in charge of the Roman empire.

The grape was first mentioned in writing during the reign of the Roman Empire, in the city of Cahors (then Divona). Malbec could have come to Divona from Italy with the Romans, or it could have already been growing in France when Caesar took over Gaul and took over the wine’s legacy.

french malbec map

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The Taste of the Original French Malbec Wine

Even though we are talking about the same grape variety, the taste, aroma, and mouth feel differ widely due to the climate and terrain differences. It’s also an ingredient of many Bordeaux red wine blends, though not as much as it formerly was with

The Argentine Malbec has a fruity taste, but the French Malbec has a strong, tannin-heavy flavor that adds to its bitter and acidic nature and a herb-tinged aroma.

Wine for thought 🙋

Tannins are phenol molecules that are found in wine and give it a bitter, acidic taste. They can be found in the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes, as well as in oak barrels.

mendoza argentina

Argentine Malbec (Mendoza)

French Malbec (Cahors)

Higher alcohol, more jammy, fruit-driven aroma and flavor dominate the Argentine Malbec. Highly acidic, leathery, with flavors of tart, black plum, and savory bitterness
One major variant:
Bottled as a single grape variety (100% Malbec)
Two major variants:
Variant 1: 100% Malbec.
Variant 2: With a Mix of Merlot and/or Tannat.
Plush, velvet, “softer” tannins offer a smoother mouth feel. More acidic, bitter, and similar to the taste of a freshly-brewed black tea.


The Rise of Mendoza Malbec: Did the Argentine winemakers have a better publicist?

For more than a century, Malbec has been unquestionably represented as Argentina’s “national wine.”  

How did wine lovers around the world get the idea that Malbec came from Argentina instead of France? Was this part of a propaganda campaign?

Not really. There are a few reasons for this gain in Mendoza Malbec, the new Malbec wine epicenter on the world map of wines.

Firstly, Malbec vineyards are steeply shrinking in France, but they are growing and becoming a sort of “national variety” in Argentina.

This wasn’t as rapid a shift as we think it is.

Tracing back to the transition’s history, we know that the 19th century French governor instructed his viticulturists to bring grapevine cuttings from France to Argentina. This resulted in the first few plantations of the Malbec variety on Argentinian soils.

From there, the Argentines discovered the potential of the Malbec grape and started winemaking with an eye on maximizing export revenue from premium wines.

But for its French siblings, the story turned out to be quite tragic.

The phylloxera outbreak of the nineteenth century, combined with the severe frost of 1956, nearly wiped out the variety from Cahors, which was once a fertile ground coveted by viticulturists and enthusiasts alike.

Making the downfall of the French Malbec an unfortunate turn of events which still seethers the proud Wine enthusiasts of France.

The region is now recognized as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) [Suggested: Internal linking]  as of 1971. The Union of Cahors started “World Malbec Day” to celebrate the legend of the Original Malbec on the 17th of April every year. The union has also partnered with the Argentine Wine Association to promote Malbec wines on the same day.

The current state of Malbec wines

The Cahors wine appellation now mandates at least 70% Malbec grapes in the Cahors red blend. Tannat and Merlot are used to supplement the remaining 30%.

Currently, Argentina is the world leader in Malbec production, accounting for over 75% of all Malbec vineyard acres. Argentina gave the once-forgotten Malbec grape new life, and it is now considered one of the world’s top 18 noble grapes. There are now seven countries where it is grown, and the demand keeps rising.

Almost all of Argentina’s vineyards are located in the province of Mendoza, which is about the size of Illinois, and Malbec is the most prized grape grown there.

The legend, the myth, the mystery grape which was once the favorite among the French is now fostered by the Argentines to be their new national favourite.

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Categories: This Day in Wine History | ArticlesBy Published On: March 9, 2023

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