Cahors, the Hometown of Malbec

Cahors is a town in the southwest of France and one of the oldest wine-making region in the country. Yet, these highly historical vineyards almost completely disappeared after the phylloxera crisis (late 19th century) and the 1956 frosts.

The Romans first started planting vines there and easily transported wine, for business purposes, on the river nearby “le Lot”.

In the middle age, the “black wine” was extremely popular but saw its development slow down because of a mandate favoring Bordeaux. Wines from Cahors were not allowed to enter the port of Bordeaux before christmas time. By that time of the year, navigating was way more dangerous, and most ships already left with a shipment of Bordeaux barrels. Unfortunately for Cahors, this lasted for more than 500 years.

Nowadays, the appellation Cahors is vast and regroups 45 villages around the town. Summers are warmer and drier than in Bordeaux with lesser influence from the Atlantic Ocean. However, spring frosts and hail are more frequent.

Vines grow on two main kinds of soils : the alluvial terraces next to the river and, at a higher altitude, the limestone plateau. During my tastings, wines from that plateau seemed generally finer.

In the past, I wasn’t overly attracted to wines from Cahors as they used to be, for the most part, raw and rustic. However, after spending time there this summer, visiting wineries, and trying bottles from more than 30 estates, I can say that the improvement over the last few years is impressive.

The Malbec grape (extremely popular in Argentina) is dominant in Cahors. Locally called “Auxerrois” and native of the region, it must represent at least 70% of the blend. However, it is common to find wines made only with Malbec. The other grape varieties allowed in a Cahors blend are Merlot and to a lesser extent Tannat.

Malbec is a vigorous varietal with medium-sized grapes and bunches. Its skin is pretty thick (see pictures above). If cultivated with low yields, it makes a very dark, structured and tannic wine. The grapes should be harvested at a perfect maturity level in order to avoid raw and granular tannins, bitterness, and vegetal aromas. The best Malbec will offer nice fruitiness as well as spicy aromas. However, if overripe, cooked fruits and notes of prune will be dominant. In that case, there is a good chance the wine will lack freshness and will age prematurely.

Tasting Review

My tastings took place in various places : wineries, restaurants, at home with bottles that I bought and finally in the Cahors Malbec Lounge, a beautiful tasting room with a wide selection, in the town of Cahors.

Some wines are good and very enjoyable. On the other hand, some are average to mediocre, dry, overripe, and over-oaked. The best of them will combine good body, a fruity personality and some well-needed freshness. I also suggest not to consider the price a very important factor, as some very expensive bottles were disappointing.

Here is a selection of five cheap wines in which you shouldn’t be disappointed :

-Château Nozières, l’Elegance, 2010 : Ripe nose. Spicy and slightly oaky. Notes of black fruits. There is body and a lot of taste in the middle of the mouth. Nice finish. Wait two more years before opening.

-Château Lafleur de Haute-Serre, 2012 (2nd label of Haute-Serre) : Fruity nose, expressive and aromatic. On the palate, it’s pleasant, medium-bodied and smooth. The finish is short but tastes good. This wine has a different style than most Cahors, it is easy with a lighter structure, but very enjoyable nonetheless. In a hot summer day, it is refreshing.

-Château Paillas, 2010 : Warm and ripe nose. Notes of cherry and blackberry. Round wine on the palate with good structure. Spicy finish of medium length. Simple but pleasant. Open now.

-Domaine La Borie, cuvée Prestige, 2009 : Fresh nose. Red fruits aromas. Medium-bodied wine, juicy, and pleasant. The finish is a bit firm though.

-Rigal, Troisième Terrasse, 2010 : Ripe nose. Blackberry and plum notes. Hint of vanilla. It is fresh and lively in the mouth, with a slender shape. Nice tannic structure. Simple finish. Open within 3 years.

Some other estates work extremely well, contact me for more information.