The Wines of Cahors

Stained glass at Clos Triguedina: Making the Black Wine

Cahors in the old province of Quercy is the birthplace of Pope John XXII, the pape in ‘Châteauneuf-du-Pape’. The town sits in a U-shaped bend of the River Lot, across which the fortified Pont Valentré, built in the 14th century with the help of the devil. Motto in Occitan: Sèm de Caors, avèm pas paur (We’re from Cahors, we’re not scared).

The Black Wine of Cahors enjoyed a splendid reputation in the Middle Ages and into the 19th century. The wines were shipped down the Lot and Garonne to be blended with Bordeaux or exported as far afield as England and Russia. Today, Clos Triguedina has revived the historical style by heating harvested grapes overnight in a prune oven. In the late 19th century, phylloxera reared its ugly head, and, in 1956, the Great Frost killed off all but one per cent of the vines. The region is still recovering from this disaster, and there remains, in terms of terroir, a great deal of unrealized potential.

Cahors is equidistant from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, with a Vent d’autan and Mediterranean climate in summer, and an Atlantic climate the rest of the year. Compared to Bordeaux, the winters are colder, but the summers hotter and drier. Spring frosts are a sporadic problem: in 2017, they destroyed some 80% of the crop. The heart of the appellation is in fact in the west of the delimited area, a few kilometres to the west of Cahors. The vineyards are planted on three main terraces in the valley of the River Lot, and up on the causse or limestone plateau. The causse yields more structured, long-lived wines, while the first and second terraces yield softer, fruitier wines (cf. Chinon, Saint-Emilion).

The view from the gravelly third terrace

Cahors is, of course, the ancestral home of the Malbec grape, known locally as ‘Cot’ or ‘Auxerrois’. The appellation is for red wine only, with Malbec making up at least 70% of the blend and Merlot and Tannat completing the remainder. Cahors can be reminiscent of Bordeaux, but is darker in colour with more plum, chocolate, and mineral notes, and heavier tannins that can make it austere in its youth. With age, it develops aromas of earth and sousbois with meaty, animally undertones. Other commonly cited descriptors include violet, gentian, ink, and liquorice. On the palate, acidity is high, but body and alcohol only medium. The best examples are aged in varying proportions of new French oak, and improve in bottle for a further 10-15 years: mature vintages pair like a dream with the local fare of duck, goose, game, mushrooms, and truffles.

Foie gras with mature Cahors from the Causse

Compared to Cahors, Argentine Malbec is softer and riper with a heavier body, higher alcohol, and lower acidity.

Leading producers of Cahors include Château du Cèdre, Clos Triguedina, Domaine la Bérengeraie, Château Lamartine, Château Chambert, and Mas del Périé.