At last month’s Wine Media Guild’s luncheon there was a bit of a showdown between the Malbecs of Argentine and Cahors. In the front room of Felidia’s we had 15 wines from Argentina, and three from Chile. In the back there were nine bottles from Cahors. I attended this tasting hoping to challenge my general dislike of Malbec, in all its fruity roundness. But I couldn’t help my preference for the brambly, rustic Cot, and so, after tasting though a few bottles from the southern hemisphere, I charted my escape to the north.
Vinified in Cahors, just southeast of Bordeaux, Cot was once a significant part of the Bordeaux blend–a black grape used to add color and body. With A.C. status since 1971, Cahors runs along River Lot and has undergone significant changes in the 2,000+ years that the area has been under vine. Its vineyards were reduced from 40,000 ha to nothing by phylloxera, and nearly 100 years later, in 1956, the hybrids that had been planted in place of the “black wine” grapes, were decimated by a terrible winter frost. Since then, Cot has grown to cover 4,200 ha, a small lot in comparison to the 20,000 ha that are now under Malbec vine in Argentina.
There are 280 domains in Cahors with an average of 15 ha each. With little funding, many opt to make wine in a “simple way”, and often times only one wine is produced per house. And, says Jean-Louis Carbonnier, the Representative of the International Malbec Association who spoke that afternoon, because the wines are imported by small importers in limited volumes, it doesn’t make sense to build a Cahor brand. In these wines, one finds greater acidity than what one typically encounters in New World wines. But Malbec, says Ricardo Giadorou, of Dolium Winery in Argentina, (who also spoke at the luncheon) is “more approachable for the American palate”. Argentine Malbecs are “big mouthful wines with soft sweet tannins…Something we can do because of the climate.”
And since I am generally not a fan of the “American palate”, the wines here are all from Cahors.
The Georges Vigouroux, Pigmentum Malbec 2005 (pictured above) and the Château La Coustarelle, Tradition 2005 are both surprisingly complex and under $15. The Pigmentum shows light tannins with aromas of black tea, and bright, dark berry fruit. The Tradition is like walking into a tea shop, full of earthy and bitter notes. Misleading, the fruit initially recalls that of an Argentine Malbec, but here, the acidity keeps it in its place by rightfully halting any of the fruit’s potential bigness.
Château de Haute Serre 2005 (pictured first)–Rich ruby in color and elegant, there’s integrated earth and mint with dark fruit, and an acidity that keeps the tannins from dominating the glass.
Château de Gaudou, Renaissance 2007 (middle image)–Floral incense and spice. One smells the tannins as the wine’s spine. Black plum and bloom, and blackberry, the tannins have a talc texture, which I found nice.
Château Eugenie, Cuvee Reservee de l’Aieul 2006–Charred wood soon gives way to black plum and eucalyptus mint, with silky tannins that do not interrupt the wine’s progression.