Black Wine of Cahors
Dark-fruited varietals from the true birthplace of the Malbec grape
About 130 miles southeast of the Bordeaux wine country, at the tip of a rocky peninsula formed by a U-shaped meander of the serpentine Lot River, lies the medieval town of Cahors, France. On both sides of the river alluvial terraces of clay, silt and hard-scrabble limestone rise into low, craggy hills where once Roman legions planted vineyards and where today grow the grapes for the wine locally known as Cot, Auxerrois and Pressac. This is the Malbec grape and — despite Argentina’s claims for its opulent, spicy dark-fruited Mendozas of the same designation — Cahors is the birthplace
of this signature varietal.
Since the Middle Ages, Cahors Malbec has been known as “black wine.” Of course, it isn’t black, but a dark, densely opaque, inky red-violet hue. Often blended with up to 30 percent Tannat and Merlot, these are dense, muscular wines, highly tannic and lean, with power to cut through fat-laden, truffle-rich French cuisine and traditionally used to bolster classic Cabernet-and-Merlot-based wines of Bordeaux. The terroir and its micro-climates are significant factors in the success of these wines. Due to influences from the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, Cahors enjoys a warm, sunny, dry climate that minimizes risk of fungal diseases. Lack of rainfall stresses the vines, forcing plants to send roots deep into the rocky soil for water and nutrients, resulting in superior, concentrated grapes.
The terroir also has distinct growing zones: sand and clay soils closest to the river result in wines that are more approachable, less tannic and more fruit-driven. On the second-highest terrace, there is a prevalence of more limestone and gravel produces wines with more structure, tannin and acidity but with less pronounced fruit. And from the fragmented limestone soils of the next-highest tiers come wines — usually 100 percent Malbec — of great refinement, richly- textured, with supple, well-integrated tannins and structured acidity.
Cahors Malbecs offer up dark-fruited flavors of plum, currant, cherry and blackberry with notes of pepper, herbs, earth, smoke and spice.
EXPERT WINE RECOMMENDATIONS
• JEFF SUKOWSKI
Famous Liquors 105 E. Roosevelt Rd.,Lombard (630 629-3330)
-2013 Mendoza Vineyards Gran Reserva Malbec (Argentina) $20. A nose of plums, blueberries, pepper, oak and cedar mingles with flavors of blackberries and currants. A velvety mouthfeel with firm tannins and acidity.
-2013 Clos d'Argentine Reserve Malbec (Argentina) $20. Dark red-purple with a rich nose of plums, blackberries and spice. A ripe palate of dark fruits and berries, black cherries, currents, chocolate and spice, with a ripe, acid-driven finish.
• BRUCE JAROSKI
Malloy’s Finest 580 Roosevelt Rd., Glen Ellyn. (630 469-4660)
-2016 Anne Amie Pinot Gris (Ore.) $18. Balanced and tart with a nose of apples and pears entwining with flavors of lemons and rose petals, with a long-lasting, dry finish.
-2014 Rutherford Ranch Two Range Red Blend (Calif.) $19. Scents of black cherries, raspberries and spice waft up from this full-bodied Merlot-based Napa blend to merge with a complex palate with overtones of chocolate, pepper, vanilla, and spice. With well-integrated tannins, the finish is long and supple.