April 17 is Malbec World Day. Let’s talk about the homeland of this variety – the Cahors wine region.
Cahors is a dry red French wine. Very good wine, by the way. One my favorite.
Cahors is a small wine-growing sub-region in the south-west of France. Somewhere in the middle between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Vineyards are stretched along the Lot River. Along this river, wines from Cahors used to be transported to Bordeaux for sale. The center of this vineyard paradise is the small town of the same name, Cahors. Cahors is the historical homeland of the Malbec grape variety, also called Auxerrois or Côt in the south-west of France.
Terroir of Cahors is divided into 2 parts. Some vineyards are located on limestone, which is less fertile. Some soils are rich in yellow and red clays. They retain water and nutrients, providing vines with them. Here once upon a time there was a sea that formed these rocks. Another part of the vineyards is located on the alluvial terraces of the Lot Valley. The climate of Cahors is influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. Hot summer. Winter is wet. But unlike Bordeaux, there is also a Mediterranean influence. The Lot River softens the local microclimate. Especially in winter, when the cold air masses of the Massif Central can penetrate here.
85% of all vineyards in Cahors are planted with Malbec. Cahors is only red wines can be produced at least 70% Malbec. The remaining 30% may be Merlot and Tannat. Together with reds, wineries can produce white and rosé wines, and even sparkling. But they cannot be called Kaor. Most of them are produced under the name “wine of the Valley of Lot”.
Historically, Malbec was much more popular in southwestern France. Even in Bordeaux, it was one of the main varieties. But unfortunately, many vineyards were lost. In the second half of the 19th century, due to phylloxera, an insect imported from America, which destroyed a huge part of European vineyards and caused an epidemic, creating one of the biggest crises in the history of winemaking. And then the winter of 1956 had very severe frosts, to which Malbec was not resistant. Most of the vineyards were lost forever. It was necessary to plant everything anew. Vine growers began to plant less capricious varieties to reduce risks in the future. Merlot and Tannat, for example. Malbec was declined.
Renaissance of Malbec
However, this variety has found its revival far beyond the borders of its homeland – in Argentina. Famous and beloved Argentinean wines in most cases will be made from Malbec. But even in Cahors, ideological winemakers continue to revive the glory of Malbec. In 1971, Cahors was identified as a geographical indication by origin -AOC. This happened largely thanks to the lobbying of French President Georges Pompidou, who loved spending his holidays in the region. Since 2007, the Cahors Wine Union has been working with the Association Wines of Argentina to promote the Malbec variety worldwide.
70% of Cahors wines are sold in France and only about 30% are exported. Main export markets: UK, Canada, USA.
Wine history of Cahors
Wines in this region have been produced since the time of the Romans. Pope John XXII, originated from Cahors, spread Malbec plantations around Avignon in the early 14th century. In the Middle Ages, “black wine” (because of very intense color) from Cahors was popular in England. They say that it was on the table during the wedding of Eleanor of Aquitaine from Bordeaux with the King of England Henry II. It was the latter who opened the doors to the “black wine” in London. But due to the privileges that were given to winemakers and merchants from Bordeaux, first by English, and then by French kings, Cahors remained in the shadow of his older brother – wine from Bordeaux. Nevertheless, the clarets from Bordeaux were very pale, and producers often tinted them with wine from the interior of the country, including wine from Cahors.
Cahors in Russian Empire
French Cahors became part of the diet of sailors from different countries. So he came to the Russian Empire. Here they began to use it as wine for a church mess. And Cahors gradually becomes that cloyingly sweet and strong wine. One can hear the version that for the first time Cahors was brought by Peter I to the Russian Empire at the beginning of the 18th century. The emperor personally instructed the Synod to recognize Cahors as wine for church needs. Why did the wine become sweet? The fact is that before this, the clergy used Greek wines. They were sweet. Why? Because alcohol and sugar are excellent preservatives. In those days, without modern preservatives, fining elements and special equipment for transportation and storage, wine was quickly spoiled. A bit of sugar and alcohol and voila! Wine can even survive until Easter! Parishioners are already accustomed to the sweet taste of Greek wines. And they began to sweeten Cahors as well.
In the 19th century, the Russian Empire began to make its own “Cahors”. It was made in Moldova and Crimea. In Soviet times, the supply of wine for sacred rites was not taken into account. But they still continued to produce “Cahors”. During the Second World War, this alcoholic drink was even included in the norm, which was issued to recovering soldiers of the Red Army in hospitals.
If you have the opportunity to try Cahors wine, then I beg you, do not miss it. It is an amazing wine! Bright aroma with an abundance of forest dark berries and spices. A bit of underwood, cigars, coffee. Malbec gives the wine the aroma and taste of almonds and prunes. Powerful taste! This is a full-bodied wine with tannins and good acidity.
If you cannot find French Cahors, then celebrate at least today’s International Malbec Day with Argentinean Malbec. The French Malbec will have more structure, acidity, more complex flavor. In Argentina Malbec is grown in a sunnier and drier climate. Therefore, the wine here is more mature and with a more pronounced fruity aroma. Tannins can be a little softer and the alcohol higher. Choose your favorite Malbec style. Try Cahors, the Argentinean Malbec from Mendoza, and Malbec from other regions of the world.
The best combination of Malbec with food is considered – aged Cahors and truffles. The wines from Malbec are excellent with red meat!