Feature Story, Game Changers

Game Changers | Cahors Malbec

Cahors has always been confusing to me: I knew the region mostly through reading books, where it’s often referred to as the land of “the black wine,” and I knew its major grape, malbec, through Mendoza, where it does, in fact, make dark, dense wines. But only some of the Cahors I’ve tasted are black. Others are far lighter, with edgy tannins and acidity—and, to be honest, I prefer them. They have the sort of structure that helps cut through pork terrines and roast duck. They have briskness, even grace. It wasn’t until recently, when I heard that Chilean geologist Pedro Parra was working in Cahors, that the differences between styles began to make sense. Parra, who’s a partner in Altos Las Hormigas in Argentina, has been one of the forces in the modern Argentine move to plant malbec in calcium-rich soils. Cahors, it turns out, has plenty of limestone—only it’s concentrated in the hills at higher elevations, not on the valley floor where most of the region’s vines grow. Contemporary Cahors growers are paying more attention to the region’s limestone terraces—and changing the definition of Cahors in the process.

Domaine Clos Siguier 2014 Cahors Les Camille Vieilles Vignes

Off 80-year-old malbec vines growing on clay and limestone, this counters Cahors’ reputation for big, black wines with its delicate red-fruit tones and sharp acidity. Aged in wooden casks for two years, the wine is ready now, the tannins fine and gentle. (88 points, $18; Jenny & François Selections, NY)

Château Combel La-Serre 2012 Cahors Malbec

“Super beautiful” is not an adjective applied often to Cahors, but that was the first comment this wine evoked from our panel. It’s not just about the aroma, a very southwestern-French combination of garrigue and truffles, or about the fruit, as firm as a perfectly ripe plum and not a bit over. The wine comes together quietly and precisely, the acidity sneaking through to bring out some red fruit while the gravelly tannins gently tether the flavors to earth. (92 points, $19; Louis/Dressner Selections, NY)

Château Combel La-Serre 2014 Cahors Les Peyres Levades

This is dark and gritty in flavor, but carries a freshness that makes it sing. Maybe that’s because of the blonde chunks of limestone that pave the vineyard, differentiating it from others with more clay. Or maybe it’s just the touch of Julien Ilbert, whose family has grown grapes in Cahors since 1901. Ilbert, who works organically in the vineyards, fermented this cuvée in stainless-steel tanks and aged it in old 500-liter barrels. The fruit is as dark as blackberries, with a floral-herbal note, like blossoming thyme; the structure is lean and firm, with a sense of energy that gives it length. (93 points, $45; Louis/Dressner Selections, NY)

Georges Vigouroux 2014 Cahors Château de Haute-Serre

Georges Vigouroux was one of the first people to resuscitate the wine scene in Cahors in the 1970s, planting vineyards and restoring the Château de Haute-Serre. Now run by his son, Bertrand-Gabriel, the property extends across 161 acres of the region’s rocky limestone ridges. This wine is the most classic of the Vigouroux Cahors we tasted, a cuvée fermented in stainless steel and aged in used oak barrels. It’s dense and chewy, packed tight with notes of spiced plums and dried fruit, with a hint of old leather and earth adding character. (91 points, $24; Saranty Imports, Stamford, CT)

Château Lamartine 2014 Cahors Cuvée Particulière

This 70-acre estate in western Cahors sits within reach of Atlantic breezes. The youngest vines to contribute to this cuvée are nearing 50 years old; the oldest were planted in 1952. That old-vine concentration comes through in the wine’s density, the dark fruit scented with chocolate and lilacs, while the Atlantic coolness reads in its fresh, sunny fragrance and elegant feel. (92 points, $24; T. Edward Wines, NY)

This feature appears in the print edition of Fall 2018.
Like what you just read? Subscribe now