Several articles on this blog have, over recent years, told about how several of us have been impressed by the wines of he south-western appellation of Cahors in France (all red so far, although producers can sell both white and rosé wines from this region under the lesser-known IGP Lot label). A recent, and quite small, tasting showed me that the story continues, with some wines revisited and others discovered.
I organised this tasting for one of the clubs of wine-lovers that I manage in Paris (Club Epicure Paris), and I should add that they were as impressed as I was myself, perhaps with the added factor of surprise in their case since, probably like most consumers, they were still inhabited by the image of Cahors of bygone years as a rough, tough and unyieldingly tannic red wine that should be reserved for the most enduring palates only and then only after several years ageing. But things have changed and this observation poses the eternal problem of the time it takes to change a brand’s image, be it an individual or a collective brand. We were dealing with the latter case here of course, which is perhaps the most difficult to manage as one cannot control the quality of the wines from all the producers in a given appellation, any more than, without huge communication budgets, one can rapidly improve a collective image.
So credit should be given to the many actors on Cahors’ wine scene who have worked both individually and collectively over the past generation to bring about this radical change over the space of more or less fifteen years, even if several pioneers were at work well before. In this latter category one should mention the likes of Clos Triguedina, Chateau de Cèdre, Chateau de Haute Serre or Château Lagrezette, for example. But what is so refreshing in Cahors is the large number of excellent producers who have, around these names, taken up the challenge of making their essentially malbec-based wines in a far more user-friendly style, without losing the intrinsic character that comes from the specific climate of Cahors and the nuances brought by the different vineyard sites, age of vines or production techniques. Perhaps a special mention should also go to Jeremy Arnaud who, as marketing director for the appellation, had the vision to use the malbec grape as a key selling point on export markets, thus taking the sales of Cahors to levels that they would never have reached otherwise. It should be remembered that consumers in markets like the US, Canada or Britain have only heard of malbec since it gradually gained a good reputation through the wines from its largest producer, Argentina, yet very few of these people have ever heard of Cahors and even fewer know that Cahors is made with malbec!
Here are the wines that I tasted and a few comments on them, but they should not be taken as a « best of » selection, since there were no others present on this occasion. The majority were from the 2015 vintage, with some exceptions as mentioned. Most are also 100% malbec, although some of the first wines has about 10% of either malbec or tannat in their blends, as the appellation authorizes. The wines were tasted, bottles uncovered, in ascending order of their retail prices. I am not entirely sure that the higher prices are always justified, but, even at the upper level in this series, these prices are outstripped by some cuvées in Cahors and, after all, top wines do cost more to make so there is some level of justification.
Clos d’Audhuy 2015 (14 euros)
Vinification takes place in small stainless steel tanks of just 15 hectolitres. Gentle pumping over and cap punching over around 25 days aim to extract colour and aromas whilst preserving fruit flavours. The wine is then aged for 12 months in 400 litre barrels, of which half are new.
I do not remember tasting wines from this producer before, but this was a revelation and would qualify for the title of « best buy » amongst this admittedly short series. Delicious fruit flavours and refined texture makes this a real charmer. Supple and reasonably warm in a style that reminded me of certain southern Rhône wines. Very attractive wine (16/20).
Château Lamartine, cuvée Particulière 2015 (15 euros)
I am always a bit dubious about the numerous wines with cuvée names sur as « réserve particulière » or « cuvée tradition », as I am never quite sure what, if anything, those terms signify! This producer is regularly amongst the most relaible from Cahors and this wine has quite a bit of a slightly « gamey » character on the nose (reduction, which goes away with some airing), good crips freshness and excellent fruit. The tannins are there, just underscroing this substance and providing some perceptible textural effect. Good balance. (15/20)
Château La Reyne, Le Tradition 2015 (17 euros)
Another very reliable producer. The nose has a slightly earthy tone to it and the tannins are more powerful with a chocolate-like feeling to them. Yet they are well integrated and long rather than brutal. Nice clean finish. (14,5/20)
Domaine de Maison Neuve, cuvée Amandine 2012 (20 euros)
I has not previously heard of this producer and I bought this bottle on a local producer’s market near where I live. His entry level wines were quite rustic, but this one, from his best plots of old vines, has had barrel ageing that has certainly improved its texture and added complexity. The tannins are a step up in their intensity but have been well rounded by the barrel ageing. Although clearly not of the modern style of Cahors, this shows charecter and quality and will certainly age well too, even if it was the oldest wine of the series. (14,5/20)
Domaine Capelanel, cuvée Titouan 2015 (20 euros)
Rounded and quite fleshy, this has chocolate-like smooth tannins, good balance and pleasantly ripe fruit. (14/20)
Le Clos d’un Jour, Un Jour sur Terre 2015 (20 euros)
100% malbec, aged in earthenware jars for 18 months. This thing of using earthenware jars is a bit modish and, like most things « fashonable », I am not always convinced by the results. The idea, as I understand it, is to obtain slow and beneficial oxygenation of the wine in order to increase its suppleness, but without obtaining in the process ancilliary aromas that can derive from an oak container. The only problem, as with this wine, is that I find that this can obtain a different, and rather dusty, powdery flavour that comes from the earthenware vessel. When discussing this wine with the members of my club, some of them spontaneously said similar things, saying that it smelt of dust, so I am not alone in this reaction. The texture of the wine is also a bit granular, and I found it lacking in fruit, although the overall balance was good. Maybe there was also a slight cork problem here? (14/20)
BioDynamite 2014, Les trois terres (27 euros)
Produced by Philippe Lejeune, owner of Château Chambert, this has plenty of fresh and vibrant flavours. Its profile is perhaps more reminiscent of a good Burgundy that of the traditional profile one associates with Cahors. Not sure about the name, but this is good. (15,5/20)
Combel la Serre, Les Peyres Levades 2015 (30 euros)
I have regularly appreciated the wines if this producer whom I visited a couple of years ago. This is another excellent wine, fine and perfumed, and which manages to be both refined and quite powerful at the same time. I loved its freshness and length. (16/20)
Château Haute Serre, cuvée Géron Dandine 2016 (35 euros)
Fine substance, well drawn out and refined by lengthy ageing in barrels. This shows malbec at its finest from vineyards at one of the high points of the appellation on the very limestone « causse » plateau that surrounds Cahors. It does have a somewhat medoc-lile quality to it, and one should remember that malbec was the number one grape variety at, for instance, Château Latour back in the middle of the 19th century. (16,5/20)
Another impressive series of wines from Cahors. I highly recommend investigating this appellation which has succeeded in turning itself around in a major way.