The Best of Cahors, France by Ron Kapon

In late May 2010 the Second International Malbec Days Conference took place in Cahors, France. There were 100 Malbec producers mainly from France and Argentina, 150 journalists, 400 professional buyers and 3,500 wine connoisseurs attending this three day seminar and wine tasting. The conference compared the wines of Cahors and those of Lujan de Cuyo, Argentina. There were tastings of over 600 different wines all made from the Malbec grape variety, trips to vineyards and wineries as well as a wine tasting on a barge cruising along the Lot River. The famous Bridge Pont Valentre was transformed for the three evenings into the world’s biggest Malbec bar lounge, and the nearby Espace Valentre was dubbed Cahors Lounge where for three nights guests could sample gourmet finger food from the area’s top restaurants, informally taste Malbec wines and watch the Cahors Malbec band and Argentinean tango dancers perform. The lounge also hosted an educational seminar dealing with the terroir of the Cahors appellation. There was also a dinner in the historic center of Cahors where we were able to talk to the winemakers and select our favorite Malbec wines to accompany the meal. I was lucky to be seated with famed California winemaker Paul Hobbs (and Malbec producer in Argentina) as well as Bertrand Vigouroux, the proprietor of my favorite Cahors wineries, Chateau de Mercues and Chateau de Haute-Serre. In 2008 Bertrand wanted to increase the quality of his wines and started working with Paul. It really shows. The Prince of Denmark, also a vintner (he is married to the Queen of Denmark), hosted a tasting and tour of his Chateau de Caix. A non-wine highlight was an early morning hot air balloon flight over the vineyards.
We flew to Paris and then on to Toulouse, which is the 4th largest city in France (1.1 million people in the metro area) after Paris, Marseille and Lyon. It was the capital of the former province of Languedoc and is now the main city of the Midi-Pyrenees region, the largest in France. It was less than an hour’s drive to Cahors which is in the Department of Lot within the Midi-Pyrenees region and has a population of about 30,000. This is a medieval city surrounded by the Lot River whose number one attraction is the Valentre Bridge. The bridge building (UNESCO listed) began in 1308 and was completed in 1378. It has three towers and was used for medieval defense of the city. In that century Cahors was a center of finance for Europe. French leader Leon Gambetta (1838-1882) was born there (his statue sits in Place Mitterrand), as was Pope John XXII.

Other interesting attractions in and around town are: Musee Henri Martin featuring works by the painter and an exhibit of the city’s most famous son, Leon Gambetta. Shop at the various truffle markets for the “black diamonds.” See the many “moulins” or windmills. Chanterie is a local museum devoted to wine. Saint-Etienne Cathedral (UNESCO listed) is the home to a museum of religious art and is a fine example of gothic architecture. Try to get to one of the painted caves featuring paintings and engravings dating back more than 20,000 years. There is a limit of 700 visitors a day so book in advance.
Cahors is an Appellation d’Origine Controllee´ (AOC), which is part of the South West France wine region. The AOC Cahors can only be used for red wines. There must be a minimum of 70% Malbec in any wine called Cahors with the 30% balance Merlot and/or Tannat. The grape is known locally as Cot, Cot Noir or Auxerrois. The name Malbec can appear on the label if at least 85% of the blend is Malbec. Malbec only fully ripens at the beginning of October. Hence the weather in September is especially important to a successfully produced Cahors. This is the only AOC in Southwest France to prohibit the use of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines can be quite tannic when young and definitely benefit from aging. There are many producers making a new style Cahors wine that is ready to drink when bottled. Although many growers produce white and rose wines, they cannot have the Cahors appellation which is solely for red wines. It was 90 degrees when I started tasting wines on the Valentre Bridge and I chose to only taste rose wines that hot afternoon. All the wines served during the conference used the Cahors ring-stemmed glass, which had an excellent resistance to breakage yet offered perfect transparence. 11% of the total acreage of Malbec worldwide comes from Cahors (19.5% if you include all of France), a total of 1.8 million cases. Argentina has over 71% of the Malbec plantings.The Malbec vine was brought to Argentina in the mid 19th Century by a French agronomist as a government program to improve all aspects of Argentine Agriculture.
There are Tender & Fruity Cahors wines that are 70-85% Malbec. They pair well with white meat, roast poultry or grilled meat. Their light tannins go with a mixed salad or fish casserole and most Provencal dishes. The Feisty & Powerful Cahors wines are 85-100% Malbec. These wines boast complex fruit. Duck breasts and Quercy lamb are their perfect partners. Try with crepes, walnuts and chestnuts. With age and once their tannins have softened they go well with cheese. Finally, there are the Intense & Complex Cahors wines which are 100% Malbec. The passing of the years makes them the perfect partner for lamb, foie gras, truffles and wild mushrooms. Rabbit with prunes, deer with cranberries and pear cooked in wine call for the “Black Wine of Cahors.”
The first vines were planted around 50 BC and during the Middle Ages the wine was known as “the black wine” (Vin noir). Tsar Peter the Great of Russia chose Cahors to be the Mass wine of the Russian Orthodox Church. Phylloxera destroyed the vineyards at the end of the 19th century. In February 1956, Cahors had severe frost, which once again destroyed almost all the vineyards. They were soon replanted and Cahors was awarded their AOC status in 1971. The vineyards are an equal distance from the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the Pyrenees Mountains. They are about 35 miles in length and 18 miles in width. Typical aromas characterize the terroirs of Cahors: violet, menthol, truffle, black currant, cherry, licorice and vanilla. During the second half of the 19th century Argentina adopted the Malbec of Cahors in the Mendoza region, at the foot of the Andes. Argentine Malbec has been rising in popularity over the past few years, as it provides the grape with a suitable climate for it’s ripening. Almost all of Argentina’s wine growing regions can support the growth of the Malbec grape as they are at high altitudes and sheltered from the rainfall from the Andes, providing the grape with around 320 days of sunshine a year.

Best Restaurants & Hotels of Cahors