Today is Malbec World Day in case you needed an excuse to raise a glass of the grape that is now synonymous with Argentina. The holiday “celebrates our essence, what our people do best and what best represents our growth and expansion as a country,” according to Wines of Argentina (WoA).
Malbec—originally a French variety—has become the iconic Argentine grape and enabled the country to become the world’s fifth largest producer of wine. It is planted up and down a 1,500 mile stretch from Jujuy in the north to Patagonia in the south. Malbec accounts for 35 percent of the 224,707 hectares (555,263 acres) planted with vines, WoA says.
For producer Achaval Ferrer, which makes wine in Argentina’s Mendoza region, Malbec represents 72 percent of its production, but 83 percent of its total 2016 sales, according to Julio Lasmartres, the winery’s sales and marketing director. The largest market for Achaval Ferrer’s Malbec is “by far, the United States.”
It is the same story Grupo Molinos, which owns Nieto Senetiner, Ruca Malen and Cadus wineries. According to Federico Ruiz, their U.S. sales manager, Malbec is not only the leading grape for the export market, but also for the domestic one.
Malbec makes up roughly 51 percent of Argentina’s wine exports. To put that in context, agriculture in general (soybeans, wheat, corn, etc.) made up a little more than 11 percent of the country’s GDP in 2016, according to the CIA World Factbook. Wine represented just a shade under one percent of the country’s GDP—estimated to be $879.4 billion—the CIA found.
In the last three years, Malbec sales generally have been flat with very low single digits up and down, Ruiz notes.
Last year’s U.S. sales of Malbec “achieved around 61 percent of the total sales of the winery”, says Lasmartes.
For Achaval Ferrer, the number of cases exported last year and in 2015 were about the same — 30,000. The difference was that in 2016, “we had a better mix of product and better value,” says Lasmartes, adding the difference in value grew more than 30 percent in 2016, compared with 2015.
However, the 2016 harvest was also the lowest one in 50 years, Laura Alturria, of Argentina’s Enological Technical Commission, told the English-language website thebubble.com. Citing climate change, she suggested reduced harvests were the new normal.
So enjoy Malbec, while you can still get it.