The Black Wine of Cahors Turns Into Modern Malbec (Sometimes)

On a recent visit to Cahors, I gained an entirely new view of the effects of terroir on Malbec at two producers. At Cosse Maisonneuve, wines coming from the bottom, middle, and top of the slope of vineyards surrounding the winery showed a transition from fruit-driven at the base to fine and elegant at the top. At Clos Triguedina, Jean-Luc Baldès gave me a box of his Trilogie wines from the 2011 vintage to take home and taste at leisure. I have been waiting for the weather to cool down to provide appropriate tasting conditions for these strong red wines, and August Bank Holiday Monday in London seems the perfect occasion: cold and rainy. (Is this global warming? What happened to summer?)

To best demonstrate terroir, the Trilogie wines are 100% Malbec. Malbec is not a grape that occasions a lot of discussion of terroir. The basis for the old “black wine” of Cahors, it reached its peak in France in the fourteenth century, when Cahors amounted to as much as half of all exports from the port of Bordeaux. One of the dominant grapes of Bordeaux in the nineteenth century, it was replaced with Merlot after the phylloxera epidemic, when it also essentially disappeared from Cahors.

Malbec was revived in Cahors in the late 1940s; when the AOC was created in 1971, regulations required a minimum of 70% Malbec. Most people’s view of Malbec today, of course, comes from its success in Argentina (which now accounts for almost three quarters of world plantings). Yet this has not been bad for Cahors. “The success of Argentina opened the door to export and to making another style of wine. The Malbec from Argentina is a different wine, different terroir, different climate – even here the terroir is not the same 10 km away – that’s what we try to show with Trilogie,” says Jean-Luc.

The terroir of Cahors consists of a plain around the horse shoe bends of the river, rising up a couple of hundred meters to the south across a series of terraces. Each terrace represents a different geological era. Trilogie includes wines from the second, third, and fourth terraces.CahorsCrossFrom the second terrace, closest to the river, Au Coin du Bois comes from near the town of Puy l’Eveque, and its evident ripe fruits give a distinctly modern impression. The black fruits are balanced by a delicious counterpoise of acidity and savory notes. I might not go so far as to draw a direct parallel with the New World, but, this is certainly the most approachable of the Trilogie, and would be a fine introduction to the modem style of Cahors for anyone familiar with Argentine Malbec.

The reputation of the third terrace, a little higher up, is that the wines are richer, but in the case of Les Galets, which comes from the area of Vire sur Lot, I was more struck by its structure. With less obvious fruit and more acidity, there’s a more restrained impression. This is the most backward wine of Trilogie; the fruits can’t quite get out from under the tannins yet. Here you can see the resemblance with the old Black Wine of Cahors, known not only for its dark color but for its impenetrable tannins.

Petits Cailles lives up to the reputation of the fourth terrace for producing the finest, most elegant wines. Black fruits are supported by fine-grained tannins and good acidity, with just a touch of tobacco at the end. This shows most clearly the origin of Malbec in Bordeaux, and there’s a resemblance to the wines of the Médoc.

Trilogie expresses all the aspects of Malbec in one box, running the full gamut from a fruit-forward modern expression of Malbec, to a fine elegant Bordeaux-like impression, to the traditional tough youthful structure. It’s a fascinating combination of showing terroir with recapitulating the history of Malbec

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2 thoughts on “The Black Wine of Cahors Turns Into Modern Malbec (Sometimes)

    • The lowest terrace seems to be around 110 m, so just above the river, and the calcareous plateau (formally terraces 5-9) is about 300 m, so the third and fourth terraces would be between. Distance from the river to the fourth terrace varies but I think it’s about 5 km. Expositions probably vary with the folds of the land.

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