The Deep Purple Wine of Cahors
The rolling hills of the Cahors wine region that twist gently along with the River Lot provide the tourist with many photo opportunities: villages beehived around the peaks of small hills, blue sky and vine-covered expanses, castles tucked neatly into hillside folds. It's not surprising that this area attracts huge numbers of visitors and foreigners looking to buy retirement homes abroad!
The Cahors vineyards date back to the Roman occupation. This makes them among the oldest in France along with Gaillac vineyards to the southeast.
Their history since then has certainly been noteworthy. Vignerons from Cahors were called to Avignon by Pope John Paul XXII in the 15th century to take care of the vines at Châteauneuf-du-Pape. François I had Malbec vines from Cahors planted at his palace in Fontainebleu. Russian Tsar Peter the Great treated his delicate stomach with Cahors and served it to distinguished guests, while the Russian Orthodox church even used wine from Cahors during communion.
Malbec is a red grape also known as Cot and Auxerrois. Wines carrying the Cahors appelation must be made with 70% Malbec, making it the grape of Cahors. Once used as the backbone for many Bordeaux wines, this thick-skinned, late-ripening grape produces deeply colored wines like its cousinTannat. Malbec is grown widely in Argentina and in small quantities in California.
The red wines from Cahors are generally powerful and robust, and deep in color. Indeed, the British once nicknamed wine from the region the black wine.
Resultant wines are dark and tannic, with a distinct taste that combines blackberry, raspberry and anis. As it ages, its tannins begin to lighten and the licorice note melts into the blackberry, offering up additional scents of tobacco and sweet prunes. The ability of these wines to age has traditionally depended on vineyard location. In general, vineyards planted along the chalky slopes of the rolling hills that dominate the Quercy landscape produce wines that are firmer in structure, tannins, and with more concentrated fruit due to lower yields. The best grapes are normally grown on the mid-slope, where the balance of nutrients seems ideal.
Along the long Lot valley floors — formerly a river bed — the chalky soil includes alluvial deposits formed by quartz pebbles, gravel, and chalky stones. From this land, lighter and more supple wines are born.
In more recent times, however, emphasis has shifted to the winemaker in determining the type of wine produced within the region. Some of Cahors longest-lived wines now come from the valley floors, whereas many wines served with a slight chill in local eateries are now produced from vines grown along the slopes.
As in other parts of the Southwest (and the world), some producers in Cahors favor the use of oak aging. If the juice is concentrated, the winemaker is skilled, and the wood is of quality, a resultant wine from Malbec can be lifted to a level never before tasted.