Synonymous with Argentina, Malbec actually originated from Cahors, and makers are starting to claim it back…
Say ‘Malbec’ and you think Argentina. Why wouldn’t you? It’s a grape now synonymous with the country – particularly Mendoza – holding on to the title of Argentina’s signature wine for at least the last decade. But the original birthing place of Malbec was actually Cahors (where it is also known as Côt or Auxerrois), a small town in the South West of France.
Early (early) years, Emperors, Kings and Pilgrims all devoured the ‘black wine’ from this town, which benefited from its river connections (the Lot Valley bleeds straight into Bordeaux’s ports). Henry III even ordered the protection of Cahors merchants from Bordeaux tax; he was so in awe of the stuff.
Later years were not so kind; the Bordelais got their own back by blocking Cahors and other inland regions from using its ports until their own wines were sold. Further on, that infamous bug – Phylloxera – destroyed all of Cahors vines, along with most of Europe’s. Then in 1956, severe frosts wiped out almost all of Cahors vines.
Cahors picked themselves back up – gaining Appellation d’originel controlee* recognition in the 1970s and resisting the urge, as many did in, to adopt the popular Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot. It wasn’t until the 2000s that makers began to take notice that their grape was smashing it in Argentina. With a lot of bulk of offer, it was easy to see why the ripe, plump cherries and chocolately tang of the Argentinian style was turning consumer’s heads.
Today a sense of revival bubbles away. Rather than compete with South America’s offering (they can’t – the climate and soil), Cahors makers have either invested in their rivals, or have started to craft more memorable, distinctive wines, with many now adopting organic and biodymaic styles.
Cahors offer up dark, ink-like wines with black cherries, plums, herbs and a savoury edge; very different to the rich, fruit-driven style made in this variety’s new found home. Traditionally, they were full of powerful tannin that needed years to soften. Even after a good few years, and even more hours opening time, mouths were left dry and stained.
This new era of makers are producing Cahors that’s more restrained, approachable, ready for drinking now(ish), and leave a lot less mouth-stain. They are also incredibly good value; with something similar in terms of care and quality from its neighbours Bordeaux, demanding at least twice the price.
Some of our favourites:
Family owned Clos Triguedina is one of Cahors leading estates. While it is mainly Malbec that is grown here, Jean-Luc Baldès uses some of his 57 hectares for blending partners, Merlot and Tannat, as well as a few whites.
This is a classic re-invention of the black wine – dark, ripe full-flavours with freshness that ensures it’s approachable. Leave to decant while you are preparing your Sunday roast.
If you are completely new to Cahors, their Petit Clos offering delivers a fresher, fruitier style, which proves to be a perfect introduction to this dark wine.
Where we buy: £16 at The Wine Society
Château du Cèdre
The Verhaeghe family have been making wine in the Lot since the 1950s. Now certified both organic and biodynamic, their Chateau du Cèdre delivers ripe fruit with sour cherries and a black olive saltiness. Smooth yet fresh, it’s a pure delight.
Where we buy: £21, Organic Wine Club
La Fage Coss Maisonneuve
A 100% biodynamic Malbec that shows exactly what subtlety in a big wine means. Its natural production means the wines are fresh yet firm, dark fruit and spicy scents.
Perfect for Autumnal to early Spring drinking, a real find and at around the £23 mark, worth its price tag for that special occasion.
Where we buy: £23, Buon Vino
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*AoC = AoP. The long standing AoC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) system for wine is now replaced by an new quality ladder with the top step being an AoP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée).