It's Malbec Day!

As we mark World Malbec Day on April 17th, consider this: in 1995 the Malbec grape, first introduced with such success in the mid 19th century, was in the doldrums, with only 9,746 hectares in production: that was 4.6% of the country’s total wine output.


By way of comparison, as I write, more than 44,337 hectares are under cultivation, making up 22% of the total plantation of grapes for wine, and Malbec is by far the most important variety produced in Argentina.


How did we get here, and how did this French grape from Cahors become the ubiquitous grape variety of Argentina, making my adopted home the world leader in Malbec?   


It goes back to a combination of changing fashion trends (pre-internet influencers if you like), and a tough, original, ingenious response to hard times.   


The Argentine wine trade was heavily damaged by the arrival of beer and fizzy pop in the 1970s onwards, when the country was also suddenly flooded with foreign imports.


Locally, consumption of Argentine wine plunged from 90 litres per person in 1973 to 55 litres in 1990. (90 litres is almost two litres per week, so considering the number of teetotallers I know there must have been some pretty serious problem drinkers around).


The knock-on effect of the change in trends meant that 36% of Argentine vineyards were ripped out between 1982 and 1992.


But what sort of wine were people drinking? Generally, it was mass produced cheap, rough wine, probably mixed with soda water to make it more palatable.


Of course, every crisis presents an opportunity, and Argentina’s wine regulator, the Instituto Nacional de Vitivinicultura (INV), seized it with gusto.


As millions of crates of cheap wine gathered dust in warehouses, and hipsters in Buenos Aires bars necked foreign beers and cocktails, the INV brought in new regulations banning the planting of high producing lower quality vines for the next five years, to concentrate instead on varieties likely to produce fine wines, including Malbec, long shunned because of its relatively low yield.


In many ways, they followed the example of Malbec’s founding father, San Juan’s Renaissance man Domingo F Sarmiento, who oversaw the revolution in wine production in the mid 19th century,


When Sarmiento brought over the Malbec grape from France, along with expert French enologist Michel Aime Pouget, it was to replace old, highly productive but low quality vines.


To bring us up to date, at the turn of this century, the New World producers were trying to elbow their way into a market dominated by France, Spain and Italy, who still produce half the world’s wine.


They decided to promote the single varieties that work best: Australia chose Syrah, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Chile Merlot and Argentina Malbec.


Between 1995 and 2018, Malbec established its hold over Argentina’s vineyards, increasing its surface area by 341%: and, crucially, the concentration on good quality wine has led to a boom in exports.


While in 1976, Argentina exported 450,157 hectolitres of wine (with 6% of it classified as fine wine, the rest table wine), last year 2.7 million hectolitres were shipped to 124 different countries.


Of those exports, Malbec takes pride of place: between 2004 and 2018, while exports of all wine increased 77% in volume and 255% in value, over the same period Malbec alone contributed 450% increase in volume, and an 823% increase in value.  Nearly half of all wine exports were Malbec or blends containing the grape.


In 2022, according to provisional data from the INV, 1.5 million hectolitres of Malbec were sold in foreign markets, worth US$509 million: and Argentina is now the world’s biggest producer of Malbec, with 70% of the market.


The synergy of climate, terroir and a little dash of je ne sais quoi produces a magic alchemy: so, whether you’re at home, on a Mendoza wine tour or visiting the Salta wine region, I hope you will celebrate today by lifting a glass of Argentina’s finest and toasting whoever or whatever is most dear to you….


  • You can read more about Sarmiento and why today is World Malbec Day on last year’s blog entry.   
  • Read more here about the heroes of Malbec, with a special mention for Marcos Etchart, one of our favourite producers at San Pedro de Yacochuya. As you’ll learn, my native home of the UK has had a special relationship with Malbec since the 12th century!
  • And be sure to bookmark Wines of Argentina for up to date English information on all Argentina’s wine production.  
  • Finally, if you can’t decide which bottle to open tonight, read about wine magazine Decanter’s favourite Malbecs from Argentina.



5 days
Group Size
1 to 4

Wine and History: Mendoza to Cafayate

Take the long and winding road from Mendoza to Cafayate, visiting lesser known boutique wineries in San Juan, La Rioja, and Catamarca along the way.

This deep immersion into the wine and culture of Argentina is perfect for those who want to combine an exploration of the rich history of the region with some of its best off the beaten track wineries, while driving through some breathtaking scenery close to the Andes.

Our journey begins in the hub of Argentine wine production, Mendoza, taking the iconic Route 40 north through the emerging wine regions of La Rioja, Catamarca, and Tucuman.

Apart from some out of the way family wineries which can only be discovered with local knowledge, we also explore some of the most impressive pre-Hispanic historic sites in Argentina.

Click here to view map route.

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3 days
Group Size
1 to 4

Classic Wine Route

Explore the varied landscape of the Valles Calchaquies and its excellent boutique wineries in this Argentine wine tour par excellence.

Our Classic wine route combines Salta's superb boutique wineries in the highest altitude wine region in the world with the breathtaking landscape of north west Argentina.

Apart from the ubiquitous Malbec, this area is known for its fine Torrontes and Tannat, not to mention its wine ice cream!

We can often combine this trip with our Salt & 7 Colours tour by taking the mountain pass of Abra el Acay, the highest road crossing in the world outside the Himalayas, at just under 5,000m altitude.

Click here to view map route.

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6 days
Group Size
1 to 4

Wine and History: Salta to Mendoza

Take the long and winding road from Salta to Mendoza, visiting lesser-known boutique wineries in Catamarca, La Rioja, and San Juan along the way.

This deep immersion into the wine and culture of Argentina is perfect for those who want to combine an exploration of the rich history of the region with some of its best off-the-beaten-track wineries, through some breathtaking scenery close to the Andes. Apart from Argentina’s classic red Malbec, we’ll be sampling lesser-known varieties like Tannat, and discovering the Argentine take on classics like Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Pinot Grigio.

Our journey begins in the highest altitude wine region in the world, the Valles Calchaquies in Salta, famous for its production of Torrontes, a white grape variety that is unique to Argentina. From Salta’s principal wine town of Cafayate, we take the iconic Route 40 south, through the emerging wine regions of Tucuman, Catamarca, and La Rioja, before arriving in the provinces of San Juan and Mendoza, producers of 93% of the nation’s wine.

Click here to view map route.

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3 days
Group Size
1 to 4

Bolivia’s high altitude wine

Allow us to introduce you to one of the world’s lesser known wine regions: Tarija in Bolivia. With vineyards at 1,850m, this is one of the highest altitude wine regions in the world.

The quality of wine, particularly its trademark Tannat red variety, has developed hugely over the last 15 years, while its traditional singani spirit distilled from white Muscat of Alexandria grapes is also excellent.

Join us for a unique and personalised experience in one of the emerging wine regions in the world.

This trip can be combined with hiking in Calilegua or a longer tour also incorporating the new wine region of Jujuy province, Fourteen Colours and Cloud Forest.