The old description of the “black wine of Cahors” tells you pretty much all you need to know: the wine was dense and tough. It was Malbec, which fell out of favor in Bordeaux when it did not graft well after phylloxera, began more slowly to be replaced by Merlot in Cahors, and then came back after its rediscovery in Argentina. Now most labels of Cahors also state Malbec in large letters. “The image of Cahors in the 1980s was rather rustic,” says Jean Luc Baldès at Clos Triguedina. “Argentinean Malbec is a different wine, it has different terroir and climate, but now people realize because of Argentinean Malbec that things can be different, Argentina’s success opened the door for us.”
I visit three top producers in Cahors and am impressed with the increased precision of the wines. At Cosse Maisonneuve, Catherine Maisonneuve is exploring her terroir with 100% Malbecs. Why does she make only monovarietals? “It’s the noble cepage, it’s perfectly adapted to climate. Merlot has only been here since the sixties; because they had planted a poor Malbec that was too productive, they authorized Merlot, but it’s the Malbec that really expresses the terroir.”
Tuesday morning: Cosse Maisonneuve occupies a sort of amphitheater rising up to the surrounding woods. Three 100% Malbecs come from different positions on the slope: Le Combal from the bottom (the most gravelly terroir) is fruit-driven with firm tannins, Lafage from the middle (more calcareous) is a bit softer, and Les Laquets from the top (clay on a limestone base) is fine and perfumed. From a nearby site with yet more clay and limestone comes La Marguerite, the finest of all.
The wines become increasingly fine going up the slope at Cosse Maisonneuve
Tuesday afernoon: Jean Luc Baldès has built up Clos Triguedina into one of the largest producers in the area. “There is no negociant in Cahors, so we are obliged to do everything, to work out techniques for viticulture and vinification, and to commercialize the wine,” he explains. He views his wines in terms of the terraces of Cahors. Rising up from the valley of the Dordogne, as you go progressively higher you come into different geological eras. His box of three wines, labeled Trilogie, has one each from the second, third, and fourth terrace. “The second terrace has clay on calcareous subsoil, which gives fruity notes; the third is at about 100 m and has round calcareous pebbles, giving a ripe richer, wine; and the third of clay and limestone, gives finesse and elegance,” he says. The eponymous Clos Triguedina is the classic assemblage from all terraces. His philosophy is that “Malbec can bring finesse and elegance, it does not need to be massive, it’s fresh and mineral.” His Probus bottling from Vieilles Vignes is the Vosne Romanée of Cahors. Jean Luc’s grandfather had a nursery as well as being a vigneron, so Triguedina now has some very old Malbec, around a hundred years.
The oldest Malbec vines in France are at Clos Triguedina
Pascal Verhaege at Chateau de Cèdre has a different philosophy, and believes that assemblage gives a more complex wine. “I came from Burgundy and I wanted to make cuvées from each terrace, but we get more complexity by making an assemblage from all three.” The wines range from entry level to GC, a Vieilles Vignes that’s made by barrel fermentation (the ends of the barrels are left off, and then the cooper comes to install them after fermentation has finished.) We compare current vintages of Chateau de Cèdre and GC with the 2000 vintage for Pascal to make his point that the difference between the wines increases with time: the effects of barrel fermentation are not a flash in the pan, he believes.
Tuesday evening: The strangest visit of the week comes at the end of the day at Chateau Lagrezette. I had emailed to make an arrangement to visit, and received a reply from Marine Grison, which seemed friendly enough: “contact me for all information so we can best prepare for your visit, we’ll arrange to visits the chais and have a tasting.” We arrived on schedule to find the tasting room deserted: should we just help ourselves and organize a tasting, we wondered? There was no way to summons help, but Lagrezette’s phone number was on the boxes that were lying all around so I called. I explained the predicament: no one to organize a tasting. “Ah, you have to have an appointment,” the voice said. I have an appointment, I explained, citing the email exchange. There was a pause. “Ah, you have the wrong sort of appointment,” the voice said. “Anyway, there is no one here and I am going home in ten minutes.” Bienvenue à la Belle France!
Lagrezette has a grand chateau but appears to be run by fonctionaires