We’ve all heard of Malbec. First thought that popped in your head? Big bold Argentinian Malbec. Right? This month with the French Winophiles we are exploring Cahors, France the original home of Malbec.
History of Cahors
This region sits in the south west of France about 100 miles east of Bordeaux in the Midi-Pyranees and is divided by the Lot river that does a half a dozen or more “S” curves through the area. The original home of Malbec, here it is often known as Côt or Auxerrois. First planted by the Romans, the Englishmen named the wine from this area “The Black Wine of Cahors”. It is said that if you can see your fingers through the glass, it’s not from Cahors. At one time widely known throughout the wine world, the 100 years war and later phylloxera dampened it’s growth.
Cahors is also the name of the city at the eastern end of the area that sits on the last of those hairpin turns of the river Lot. The Pont Valentré has become the symbol of the town. It is a 14th-century stone arch bridge crossing the Lot River on the west side of Cahors.
The AOC and the wine region
The AOC was founded in 1971 and produces only red wine. The terroirs here are divided into the Vallée – the valley that runs near the river; the Coteaux – the terraces up the sides of the cliffs and the Plateau, which sits at around 980 feet and has limestone soils. The wines of the Vallée and Coteaux tend to be more fruit forward, where as the wines from the Plateau have a bit more finesse due to the wide diurnal shifts (day to night temps) which make for slower ripening and a later harvest.
Countryside and local cuisine
The country side here is out of a storybook with villages perfect for biking, boating on the river and hot air ballooning. It is also home to many Michelin starred chefs, due in no small part to the abundance of truffles in the region. The annual truffle festival early each year brings people from far and near to bid on truffles from vendors walking the street. The region is also noted for chestnuts, wild mushrooms, foie gras, goose, duck and walnuts. All of these things play beautifully with the local wine.
While I was doing that fabulous Grower Champagne tasting last month at Valley Cheese and Wine, I was thinking about this month and our Cahors tasting. So…before I left, I picked up a bottle of Cahors and a cheese that Kristin suggested to pair with it. We later picked up two other wines to compare, of the 3 we ended up with 3 different vintages.
Château du Cèdre – Cèdre Heritage 2014
This wine is 95% Malbec and 5% Merlot
This family estate is run by Pascal and Jean-Marc Verhaeghe. They have 27 hectares of vienyards growing 90% Malbec with 5% each of Merlot and Tannat. They do have a little bit of white grapes growning with a hectare of Viognier and then a little bit of Sémillon, Muscadelle and Savignon Blanc. Vines here are between 10 and 60 years old.
Verhaeghe might not sound French to you. Well that would be because the name is Flemish. Charles Verhaeghe started a farm in the area in 1958. His father Léon had left Flanders for south west France in the early 20th century. They planted some vines and added to the plots each year. Charles bottled his first wine in 1973. His sons Jean-Marc and Pascal now run the estate.
The vineyard was certified Organic in 2012. The vineyard is divided into three parts. The largest section sits on lime stone soils, it has a southwest orientation and produces wines with very fine tannins. The other 2 plots face south. The soil here is red sands and pebbles with clay below. These wines have a bit more power.
Maison Georges Vigouroux
This Maison spans four generations since 1887 with Bertrand-Gabriel Vigouroux now at the helm as winemaker. In 1971 they replanted Haute-Serre, the first vineyard replanted in Cahors after the phylloxera. They increased the density of planting to reduce the yield and stress those grapes. They find that this increases the delicacy of their wines. They now own around 150 hectares of vineyards and are considered to be the premiere producers of Malbec in the region. They have 4 wineries and produce a variety of styles of Malbec.
Wine/Agro-tourism is also a focus for Georges Vigouroux. They have “La Table de Haute-Serre” a restaurant at the Château de Haute-Serre winery and are devoted to promoting the local products that enhance and pair perfectly with the wine. They do tours, workshops and cooking classes. The Château de Mercuès is a luxury Winery Hotel in Occitanie that immerses it’s guests in a high end wine country experience.
We found 2 wines locally from this producer:
Antisto Cahors 2013
This wine from Georges Vigouroux is 100% Malbec and comes from slope vineyards in Cahors (that would be the Coteaux vineyards we spoke of above). These are clay-limestone or gravel and silt on terraces overlooking the Lot Valley. They list the winemaking method as short maceration and long fermentation. This wine can age for 5-8 years.
They also do an Antisto Mendoza, the idea is to have the ability to compare Malbec from France and Argentina, done in the style of the region.
Atrium Malbec Cahors 2016
Another wine from Maison Georges Vigouroux. Their website speaks of the name of this wine in this way
“Place of convergence in the Roman house, the atrium is also the centerpiece of castles, the forecourt of cathedrals … Another theory also suggests that the word atrium is derived from the adjective “ater”, which means “black”: a a haven of choice for Malbec.”
The grapes for this wine are again grown on hillsides. It is a Cuvée from multiple vineyards and is aged on oak for 6 months. This wine is a blend, of the region’s 3 main varieties, Malbec, Merlot and Tannat.
The Atrium name is also the overall name for the group of boutique wineries that highlight the wines from Southwest France. They continue this local focus with wine/agro-tourism, promoting local products that pair perfectly with their wines.
Tasting and Pairing
When I picked up the bottle of Cèdre Heritage at Valley Cheese and Wine, I asked Kristen for a recommendation for a good cheese to pair. She set me up with a raw cows milk cheese from Sequatchie Cove Creamery http://www.sequatchiecovecheese.com/
in Tennesee called Coppinger http://www.sequatchiecovecheese.com/index/#/candice-whitman/
This is a semi-soft washed rind cheese with a layer of decorative vegetable ash down the center. This cheese is not a flavor bomb, rather it is comfortable, like the quiet but really interesting person sitting by the window.
In addition we picked up bleu cheese (gorgonzola), some prosciutto, sliced strawberries, fig jam, raw honey and walnuts.
For dinner we paired beef barbeque, herbed potatoes and a salad.
The wines spanned a few years and we tasted them youngest to oldest.
The 2016 Atrium had black plum and tobacco and unsurprisingly, as it was the youngest, seemed the brightest. I really enjoyed this with the gorgonzola.
The 2014 Cèdre Heritage gave black cherry and ground cinnamon. It had tart acid and opened up to give off more leather and barnyard.
The 2013 Antisto felt like the most complex on the nose with leather, black plum, fresh eucalyptus leaves. It was a little less complex on the palate, but I had a hint of black olive that appeared later as it opened. This went beautifully with the fig jam.
I will admit that all of these wines were purchased for under $20. I enjoyed them, but didn’t have my socks blown off. They all disappated fairly quickly on my palate. I look forward to locating and exploring more wines from Cahors and noting the differences in wine styles and vineyard locations. Perhaps a Malbec comparison with French and Argentinian wines is in order!
I look forward to hearing about the other Malbecs my fellow French #Winophiles tried, as well as their pairings and finding more wines from this region to search for!
The French #Winophiles
This group of writers monthly take up a French wine or region to taste, pair and discuss! If you want to join us for the discussion, it will happen on Twitter on Saturday September 15th at 8 am Pacific Time, 11 am Eastern Standard Time. Just jump on and follow #Winophiles!
Here are the other great pieces on Cahors!
Rob from Odd Bacchus tells the real deal on Cahors: A LOT to Love
Liz from What’s In That Bottle paints the place Red Wine & Black All Over
Wendy from A Day In The Life On The Farm tempts the crowd with Basque Chicken Stew paired with Black Wine
Payal from Keep the Peas gives us a bit of everything we want with White Wine, Red Wine, Black Wine, Cahors!
Camilla from Culinary Adventures With Camilla gets the party going with Grilled Lamb Sirloin with Cedre Heritage 2015
Rupal from Journeys Of A Syrah Queen inspires and delights with Crocus Wines – Exploring Cahors With Paul Hobbs
Jeff from Food Wine Click may be getting us in trouble with Forbidden Foods and Stinky Cahors
Jill from L’Occasion, will share Cahors: Your Favorite Wine For Fall
Break open a bottle of French Malbec and enjoy a selection of great reads!
And don’t forget to follow us at Crushed Grape Chronicles and don’t forget, you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
Interesting that they didn’t last too long — was it a pop of tannins and then that’s it? Or were they all relatively soft? I always think of Cahors as tannic, but I think they’re trying to also make more wines that are drinkable right away nowadays.
I felt like they were all relatively soft. The tannins were really light. I enjoyed them, but the length on the palate was really disappointing. I had wondered if some of this was because they were wines grown on the slopes rather than the plateau. Can you speak to that with the wines from Cahors that you are familiar with? And…I do think that “immediate drinkability” may have been some of the issue, especially with the Atrium which I think might be a super entry level wine (especially considering it’s price point). Can you direct me to some of your favorites? (and I would love to find some of the white wines you mentioned from the region!)
I loved the wine I found by Georges Vigoureaux
Wendy, I had so hoped to find the Haute-Serre but my wine store did not have it in stock. I believe that would have been a much higher quality wine than the Atrium and Antisto that I picked up. Not that they were bad, mind you, but they did seem like the less expensive entry level wines from Georges Vigoureaux. I look forward to finding some of their other Malbecs to try. And…spices! I was mentioning to Payal my spice test and I would really love to incorporate that into dishes to test. Your tumeric scented rice is inspiring!
Love the cheese plate… the cheeses and garnishes sound amazing with Cahors malbec!
I actually edited out a bit about pairing with spices. I was thinking of you when I tried it. Madeline at Wine Folly had a bit about spices with Malbecs somewhere in a post and I pulled out a bit of Cinnamon and allspice to sprinkle and test. She had said that it could really change the character of the wine. I found that it really did, but since I was using the powdered spice rather than having it blended, the spice was overpowering my senses. It is something I would like to go back and further investigate.
Your pairings looked great. For under $20, I’m OK with a short finish if the initial impression is good.
Indeed! I agree $20 with a short finish is fine. I was just really curious as to if this was typical for the region and wines, or specific to the bottles (or vineyard locations) for what I chose. Any insights?
Very interesting read Robin! It’s been a number of years since I’ve had a Malbec from Cahors. Your cheese platter looks great by the way!
Thanks Casey! I do love a good cheese platter. I want to dig deeper into the region. Reading about the wines that some of the other French #Winophiles tried, let’s me know there is so much more to explore!
I’ve really enjoyed reading the articles from the Winophiles on this region. We’re certainly inspired to do some further tasting/research and love the pairing ideas, thanks Robin!
I’ve recently been to Cahors and visited Georges Vigoureaux at Haut-Serre! His château is absolutely gorgeous, his wines fabulous and the onsite restaurant is incredible. I love Malbec and until my visit, I had no idea that Malbec originated in France. The Malbec rosés from there are perfect for summer when Malbec is a bit too strong of a wine during such hot days and, of course, Malbec is perfect now that Fall is on its way.
I can’t wait to find the Haut-Serre! The wines I found by him were much more entry level and I have heard wonderful things about his other wines. The photos I saw of the Château are stunning. It is definitely a place I would love to visit. And now I will search for the rosé, I’m still waiting for it to be cool enough here to really enjoy a malbec. We have started into fall, it was only 85 degrees for this mornings walk! LOL
As a Malbec enthusiast (arguably the grape that got me into wine), Cahors has been high on my list for a long time. I had no idea that the region only produced red wines, very interesting. I love how medieval it seems as well!
Well…..I did find out that there are some white wines produced, just not under the Cahors name. I am interested to find those. And I’m dying to visit, the snaking Lot River looks enchanting!
Aw thanks for thinking of me, cheese, and wine in the same sentence 🙂 I can see how the powdered spices might compete with the already somewhat voluptuous Cahors Malbec. I think Cahors Malbec would def complement warm spices melded together in a dish.