Around 1863, a plague attacked the vineyards of much of Europe, dramatically compromising wine production. It was phylloxera, a disease caused by an insect, which sucked all the vital energy from the vines. This fulminant attack devastated, over 15 years, about 40% of French vineyards. The attack also hit large areas of Portugal and Spain, putting in check the production of the noblest labels in the Old Continent.
After much effort, wine growers discovered the origin of the pest: it had come from North America, from which seedlings were brought to be used in grafting, with the aim of increasing productivity.
Interestingly, Chilean producers imported vine seedlings a few years before the pest developed in Europe. While France, Portugal and Spain suffered from their devastated plantations, the South American country managed to make a big leap in production.
Some oenologists believe that this attack of phylloxera in the 19th century caused the extinction of several species of wine grapes.
In order to recover their plantations, the Europeans went looking for healthy seedlings precisely in Chile. But it took four decades for the situation to return to normal. In this time, the Chilean wineries walked with great and fast steps, conquering markets with labels of high quality and excellent cost.
MalbecAmong the cultures affected by phylloxera in France was that of a grape called Côt, which provided the production of a wine of intense red color and full-bodied flavor – it was even called “black wine”.
Shortly before the “wine cataclysm”, some seedlings were taken to Argentina, more precisely to the Province of Mendoza. The characteristics of this region (proximity to the Andes, thermal amplitude and low rainfall) made it ideal for growing grapes. In this territory, the grape got a new name (some say that in honor of a Hungarian winegrower named Malbeck) and surprised the experts by the quality of the wines it provided. Today, the region has about 900 wineries, which are responsible for approximately 60% of Argentina’s wine production.
But the great leap in Argentine malbec wines was provided by Nicolas Catena Zapata, who achieved excellent results when planting the grape on land with more than 1,500 meters of altitude.
In the wake of Argentine success, French producers stopped designating their wines as Côt and started putting malbec on their labels.
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