Casa Marguery Malbec: Bringing the Past to the Present and Into the Future

The word Malbec is being heard more and more these days. At the shop the question is often,”Do you guys have any Malbec?” The answer is yes we do. We actually have four of them and each has a significant style boasting its individuality. A year ago a bottle popped by a friend at a party from his personal stash turned around my approach to Malbec. Before this experience I thought the famed Argentine wine was always big, sweet, spicy and fruit driven with large amounts of oak and vanilla on the nose and palate. This is how I thought malbec was done. Then Alex gave me a glass of Enrique Foster IQUE Malbec 2001. Just like in the movies when a character realizes something very important in regards to the plot and the camera rushes a close up to the eyes and we watch as a flashback does a fast rewind and halts at the beginning of the experience that leads to the climax. This happened to me.
I had been learning all I could about French wine and because my blog focused on wines under twenty bucks my travels through the country via New York City wine shops eventually took me to Cahors. “Ca-what?” you ask? Cahors is a commune southeast of the Bordeaux along the Lot River. It is virtually unknown in the common mindset because it has never really made a presence on the American market. But it is around and usually available at a valued price. I was searching them out and researching the history when I came across the fact that this area some say is the birthplace of Malbec, known in Cahors as Cot. And even if it is not the grape’s actual birthplace this is where it had the most historical presence. I bought a couple of bottles, gave them a whirl and found that I really liked them for their distinct and unique flavors. There were characteristics though that were lost on the Malbec I had been trying and I wondered why. The herbs and pepper and tar that ran rampant in Cot from Cahors where not to be found on the Argentine wines I had tasted up to that point. And then came the IQUE.
My mind’s eye raced back through time and across large bodies of water at a dizzying pace flying in fast-forward over lush country sides and rolling hills of vineyards and ancient towers. I landed in a small farm in the Cahors and saw the old cottages with smoke pouring from the chimneys. I heard cattle and other livestock in the tranquil setting. I saw the Lot River in the distance with vineyards lined further inland from the banks. I saw the home of Cot and realized what I should be looking for in my Malbec…a little bit of Cahors. No I have never been to this part of France or France at all for that matter but I have researched enough to be able to imagine what it must be have been like in this bucolic commune. Maybe it is just a fantasy and Cahors is a metropolitan hot bed of technology and advancement. But even if it is now at one time it was the headquarters for supplying Cot to the Bordeaux for blending.
I have looked and looked and found minimal information on the details of how Malbec made it from France to Argentina. There are statements claiming that it came first to Chile by way of a Basque family and made its way over the Andes through marriage. I’m not sure if this is poetic or factual history but sure sounds cool. What is definite though is that in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s Argentina saw a huge influx of European immigrants settle on their land bringing with them all kinds of vitis vinifera rootstocks, from Barbera to Chardonnay and from Syrah to Cot or Malbec. But let’s go backwards in time first. Then I will get to the wine I want to talk about today. And there is a reason I am focusing on how it was and is being made in France.
At one time Malbec was a very popular grape in France. It is still to this day the most important grape in the Cahors commune south of Bordeaux where it is known as Cot. At the height of its popularity Cot was produced and sent north for the Bordelaise to blend into their wines along the Gironde. Also to this day it is allowed in Bordeaux blends but is rarely used. The natural characteristics of Cot are mild fruit and an herbaceous nose. The wines can be quite rustic and an acquired taste. They are peppery and lean with prominent tannins and a distinct tar-like flavor and consistency that weaves it’s way through the fruit even giving the wine a very thick, dark purple hue. Because of this the British have dubbed Malbec from Cahors the “Black Wine.” They go well with the food of that part of France such as farm raised lamb and the game dishes of the area.
Before Cot made its way to South America Argentina was definitely making wine. The first settlers were the Spanish and they brought with them the mission grape via California. It was named the mission grape because it was vinified for religious purposes and was made by the missionaries holed up in the foothills of the Andes. They built very intricate underground irrigation systems that allowed grapes to thrive in the harsh dry climate using the run-off of the snowcapped mountains. These irrigation systems eventually made it out of the foothills and into the area that was to one day be a city called Mendoza. Actually, Mendoza was founded in 1561 and from the late 1500’s to about the early 1800’s a domestic, commercial wine industry blossomed to the north in a city called San Juan and subsequently spread south. It got to the point that the massive production of wine (made mainly from local pink varieties with names like Criolla Chica and Pais) was focused on how well it could travel giving importance to higher sugar levels. This had been going for about three hundred years or so until the 1820’s when Argentina was freed from Spanish colonial rule. A railway was built from Buenos Aries to Mendoza and that influx of European immigrants I was talking about earlier commenced.
They came from Spain, France and Italy and they came in droves. The immigrants brought all kinds of vitis vinifera vines with them as well as generations of winemaking skills and techniques bringing a sort of wine renaissance to Argentina. The country’s wine industry was being formed but only on a domestic level. The wine rarely made it over the Andes or to the rest of the Americas as Argentina enjoyed being the richest country on the map in the 1920’s. But by the time the forties hit things began to darken politically and economically and of course the wine industry like any other agricultural crop began to suffer. Political unrest and corruption plagued the country from the forties all the way through the to the 1980’s with a brief revival in the mid fifties (which was good because it put more land under vine for the future).
By the this time the wine makers of Argentina were getting pretty desperate because the domestic market was virtually non-existent as a result of all the governmental problems. Not only that but the mass-production approach had gained a major foothold and the majority of the wine was not of any quality to be spoken of. So they started setting their sights on exporting and the newly elected President Menem aided this venture in 1989. Things began to change once again in the Argentine wine industry but for the better. The land under vine was reduced to make way for more focused and concentrated wine growing. There was a sense of attention to detail across the country and a focus on making wines that would appeal to the world market. Of all the grapes in Argentina the Malbec grape did the best. Here the former French Cot had to dig a bit deeper to find nutrients and was fed water through drip irrigation systems from an isolated well developed in Israel and Australia unless it was in one of the prime spots with the underground irrigation systems from the days of old in which case the govement allotted water runoff from the snowcaps. The results are wines with more concentration and better interaction with oak. This is the malbec we know and love today.
But when Malbec came onto the American Market in the early nineties it was fleshed out like a Cali cab in the form of big plum-spice fruit bombs. This is what I thought they all were like until that party last year. The Enrique Foster IQUE that changed everything for me. We have the IQUE in the shop and it is awesome. But I want to talk about a new malbec we just got in that goes even further into the days of Cahors. It is the 2005 Casa Marguery malbec from Mendoza. There are five wine growing regions in Argentina all mostly covering the strip of foothills along the Andes Mountain range. The general climate is continental as opposed to maritime with definite seasonal differentiations. The soil is mostly sand and clay with a bit of limestone, which makes for a semi dessert microclimate. Mendoza is by far the biggest region and considered the most important. The region is broken up into two departments The Maipo’ and the Lujan with each department having nine districts. The Familia Marguery is in the Maipo Department located in the Cruz de Piedra District at those foothills.
I chose this wine to talk about because it is a great example of what Malbec can offer without the over-oaked, vanilla veil. Familia Marguery takes great pride in their malbec and it shows in the wine. According to them malbec growth shows a vigour, the rate of vegetative growth, that results in quite an herbaceous wine. High vigour results in a wine that is watered down and too thin where as low vigour doesn’t allow the right amount of nutrients for the grapes to ripen properly. It seems that the Marguery vineyards are right in the middle which is ideal but leaning towards high vigour so they hand harvest to find the best of the bunches. The challenge here is using the right amount of oak exposure to balance that lean quality and bring out the depth. They succeed with this in droves.
I popped a bottle of the 2005 Casa Marguery Malbec last night and this is what I came up with. I love this part. In the glass the wine is almost black with a slight deep coffee-red edge. I can see where it got the name the “Black Wine.” At 14 percent alcohol it has few legs, which shows great depth of fruit. This wine looks beautiful in the glass and after a good swirl I really enjoy watching it cling to the walls.
The initial nose is of deep violets and dark cherries with hints of soil and tobacco. All these aromas are wrapped up in a garni of herbs. As it opens a hint of meat arrives at the party mingling with the garni. It actually took me awhile to take a sip because I was having so much fun just enjoying all of the smells.
The herbaceous quality from the nose carries through to the palate, which has a mild structure with gripping tannins and a prominence of pepper with an underlying balanced lush fruit. This fruit is very well intertwined giving it a bit of South American elegance. As it opens all of these elements come together and fill out the wine, softening the tannins as they melt into the fruit and lead toward a mild yet comfortable finish.
You can drink this one on it’s own but it does cry out for food. Lamb, steak, and even duck come to mind. Cheeses might be a little much for the peppery herb-y thing but it would be worth a try.

This Malbec will, I hope change your perception of what it can do. The Casa Marguery 2005 for me has a little bit of the Cahors in the bottle. The vines are older and at a good altitude and the winemaker makes major efforts to bring all the natural characteristics of the grape out on stage while maintaining a Mendoza personality. This wine is an example of what Malbec is today and where it is going. It is a distinctively Argentine wine with remnants of it’s French past. I can’t wait to drink the future of Malbec. So come on in to Alphabet City Wine Co. and grab this bottle for under twenty bucks or pick up our Wine Starter Kit, which has this wine in it. Hope to see you soon. Cheers.
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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Anonymous on February 6, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    … you may or may not remember me – but if you do this is how you might: I love Malbec so much that I named my pup after the grape… he’s a little black pug… and his sister’s name is Pampa (after the area in Argentina called Las Pampas where Pampa grass grows and the cows graze) … anyway, enjoyed the info on my fav. wine.
    … coming by for some more vino soon… oh and btw. tried the food – incredible, as we were told it would be. see you soon. Sole.

    Reply

  2. Posted by EVWG on February 8, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Thank you so much for the comment! I definitely remember you guys and your adorable dogs. Thank you for taking the time to read the blog. I hope it was informative enough to walk away with some cool facts to spread around. See you soon for more vino!

    EvWg

    Reply

  3. Posted by Richo on February 27, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    Hi my nane is Ricardo (Richard) I´m an Argentinian Sommelier, I see that you do a lot of research to writte this post, nice to see that, I work in a wine distributing company, and i sell Casa Marguery, if you need any information from that wine or any other wine, please contact me (nutter.sommelier@gmail.com), i´ll be glad to help.

    PD: Sorry for my english

    Reply

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