Sunday, April 17, 2011

World Malbec Day - Malbec from its Birthplace: Cahors in France

Picture: Malbec World Day

Today, April 17, is World Malbec Day. When people talk about Malbec, at least in the US, they talk about Malbec from Argentina. Indeed, over the course of last 20 years, Malbec has become Argentina's signature grape. But Cahors in the South West of France is were it all started and were Malbec originates from. I met one of the Malbec producers from Cahors - Dominique Resses - about a year ago and wrote about his Malbec here. I am republishing the posting - slightly modified - on World Malbec Day.

Picture: Dominique Resses, Malbec Producer from Cahors, France and Christian G.E.Schiller

The South West of France

The South West is a wine region in France covering several wine-producing areas situated respectively inland from, and south of, the wine region of Bordeaux. These areas, which have a total of 16,000 hectares of vineyards, consist of several discontinuous wine islands. The brandy-producing region Armagnac is situated within the Gascony, one of the wine islands.

Even though Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc are grown in certain parts, the South West remains first and foremost a veritable mosaic of ancient grape varieties, unique to the region, including the red grape varieties Négrette, Duras, Tannat (now also the signature grape of Uruguy), Malbec (now also the signature grape of Argentina) and the white grape varities Colombard (at some point very popular in the US), Mauzac, Manseng, Courbu and Baroque.

Picture: The Wine Regions of the South West of France

The South West of France is also known for a its delicious regional cuisine: Foie gras, Jambon de Bayonne and Cassoulet, to name a few.

There are 18 AOCs, 20 Vins de Pays, with the following the best known appellations, from the south-west up to the north-east:

• The Pyrenean Piedmont: Irouléguy, Jurançon
• The Gascogne Basin: Côtes de Gascogne, Madiran, Saint Mont
• The Garonne Basin: Gaillac, Fronton, Côtes du Brulhois
• The Lot Valley: Cahors
• The Aveyron: Marcillac


Cahors wines have a long history. The wine industry was developed by the Romans, who planted vines in Cahors even before they got to Bordeaux. The “ black wine” of Cahors reached its heyday in the Middle Ages, when they were on the table at the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine with Henry II of England in 1152. But Bordelais winemakers saw the Cahors wines as a competitor to their own wines and introduced taxes and levies that hindered Cahors’ export out of Bordeaux, and, in turn, its reputation. In addition, in the late-19th century, phylloxera nearly destroyed the wine business in Cahors. The vines recovered eventually. Things looked pretty bleak until 1971, when Cahors achieved AOC status.

The dominant grape variety in AOC Cahors wines is Malbec, which must make up a minimum of 70% of the wine, with Merlot and Tannat making up the rest. Cahors wines are notoriously tannic when young, benefiting greatly from aging.

Malbec, Cahors and Argentina

Cahors is the birthplace of Malbec. Yet, in America, if you know Malbec, it is probably because of its transfer to Argentina in the late 19th century. Argentinian Malbec is very popular in the US now and Cahors tries to piggyback on the popularity of Argentine Malbec in the U.S. The Cahors region is waving its flag and reminding people that Malbec came from somewhere else before it hit Argentina, and that Cahors would like some attention. Some producers, including Dominique Resses, are even starting to put the word "Malbec" on their labels.

La Caminade

This estate has been around since well before the French Revolution, resting in the hands first of the clergy and then, since 1895, in the hands of the Resses family. The Resses family, with others, has been instrumental since the 1950s in the rebirth of Cahors as a major wine-producing region.

What we tasted

2007 Mission La Caminade Cahors $9.99

Tasting notes: Medium garnet in the glass, smoked meats coupled with cassis and black cherry on the nose, a medium-bodied wine, in the mouth the wine has a supple leathery quality, with some stony minerality that gives way to more cassis and black cherry notes with a dusty finish.

2006 Château La Caminade "La Commandery" $19.99

97% Malbec and 3% Tannat; leafs are thinned and yield is limited to a maximum of 40 hectolitres per hectare; and grapes are 100% destalked and sorted fallowed by a long maceration and maturation in oak barrels of which 50% are new each year.

Tasting notes: dark red in the glass, hints of stones and smoke with black cherries and cassis on the nose, a full-bodied wine, with nuances of damp earth, black currant, smoke and licorice on the palate,”La Commandery” is a textbook Cahors.

Chateau La Caminade, Cahors, France

Rick’s Wine and Gourmet, Alexandria, US

Wine Traditions
3604 Ridgeway Ter
Falls Church, VA 22044-1308
Phone: (703) 333-2853

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  1. Your post is so nicely written! The Cahors Malbec has an elevated and fruitier finish if you compare both. It is also the Italian heritage in Argentina that brought the Malbec to Argentina. Great posting on Malbec Day! Cheers! et Vive Cadurcia!

  2. I knew some about the history of Malbec; now I know more!! Great post!!