There’s one Argentine malbec below (the lovely Colomé), but Cahors is getting star billing because I’ve been out in the region again recently. OK, so I go there a fair bit, but malbec is, after all, Cahors’ gift to the wine world (or south-west France’s gift to be strictly accurate). That said, Cahors has a lot to thank Argentina for. Argentina’s way with malbec inspired the new generation of Cahors producers to believe in their grape variety and their wine and to aspire to quality in a way that their parents, reliant on co-operatives and négociants and dogged by low prices, did not. There are more wines made from 100% malbec than there ever were before, especially at the top end (for marketing purposes wines can be divided into three levels, starting with Tradition and ascending, via Prestige to Special). And, hell, if this new generation of Cahors producers hadn’t seen the success Argentina was having with malbec, they’d still be calling the grape auxerrois, a name which guaranteed maximum confusion, as it belongs to a better-known, unrelated white variety of Alsace.
The young growers at the helm now are much more open-minded, experimental and keen to share their experiences with each other than their parents were. There are producers experimenting with cement eggs and aphorae (Emmanuel Rybinski at Clos Troteligotte has ten 150-litre, thin clay, bung-closed aphorae). There are 100% malbec wines that have have 24 months in new oak and 100% malbec wines that see none. There are biodynamic domaines (eg Fabien Jouves of Mas del Périé). There’s a producer bottling a malbec from his estate as a Vin de France (Fabrice Durou of Château Gaudou – see below) and another making a wine from grapes picked berry by berry and put intact into the barrel so that a carbonic maceration ensues (Germain Croisille of Château Les Croisille).
And there are white wines. How long before there is a Cahors white appellation? Not as long as you think perhaps. There were always white vines in the vineyards, but now there are wines made from viognier, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, sémillon and chenin blanc among others. Some are very good indeed, led by Pascal Verhaeghe’s Le Cèdre Blanc, a benchmark, barrel-matured viognier from vines he and his brother planted in 1988. Just outside the appellation borders, soil scientists to the stars, Claude and Lydia Bourguignon, have planted whites as well as malbec. Their first wines are due for release this year…
2009 Château du Cèdre, Cahors, £15.95, Lea & Sandeman
Perfumed, dense, full and very polished. Exemplary.
2008 Château de Chambert Cahors Malbec, £15.99, Sheldon’s Wine Cellars
The second wine of Chambert. Rich, ripe fruit, firm but glossy tannins. Biodynamically farmed and Cahors’ largest certified organic estate.
2009 Clos Triguedina Le Petit Clos, Cahors, £8.50, The Wine Society
The little wine of Triguedina. Not very little at all. Lots of depth and black fruit savour.
2009 Château Les Croisille, Cahors, £9.99, Marks & Spencer
Depth and substance, blackberry and mineral flavours, and nicely chewy.
2011 Durou Exception Malbec, Vin de France, £6.95, Lea & Sandeman
Succulent, bright, ultra-smooth young malbec from Château Gaudou in Cahors. Great value.
2010 Bodega Colomé Estate Malbec, Salta, Argentina, £16.99, Waitrose
From Argentina’s oldest winery and some of the highest vineyards in the world (at 2300–3000m); matured and partly fermented in French oak barrels. Dark, perfumed, seamlessly rich and fresh.