Hello friends. Today we find ourselves in the beating heart of old-world Malbec. Today we offer the infamous “Black Wine of Cahors.”
Malbec used to be widely planted across France, but a double-whammy separated by a century put a stop to any momentum that varietal developed. Phylloxera in the 1850s followed by a horrible frost in the 1950s was a combination enough to convince the Bordelaise that Cab, Merlot, and Cab Franc were safer bets. There’s still Malbec in Bordeaux, but it has mostly been relegated to a curiosity.
Of course, Malbec has thrived in the new world, and nowhere more than Argentina, where it produces a sea of drinkable, delicious, well-priced bottles, along with the occasional profound (and higher-priced bottle).
But Malbec has an older home in the southwest of France, as well, where it has never gone out of fashion. Cahors (see location on the map here, not so very far away from Bordeaux), aggressively replanted Malbec after the 1950s freeze, and when it was granted AOC status in 1971, adopted the stipulation that at least 70% of any wine bearing the Cahors AOC name had to be Malbec.
If they’ve had success in the vineyards, Cahors winemakers have had a bigger challenge in the realm of marketing. To start with, they have several synonyms for Malbec, including Cot and (very oddly, considering this is also a white varietal in Alsace) Auxerrois. And of course, because this is France, the bottles almost never actually say Cot or Auxerrois (let alone Malbec!) but instead say Cahors, which, unless you have a rosetta stone that translates French regions into grapes, doesn’t do most of us much good.
Despite the challenges, however, these are wines to seek out. Malbec expresses itself completely differently in Cahors, presenting a tightly wound ball of structure and mineral in its youth and gradually unfurling into something perfumed and compelling. Taste a Cahors next to an Argentine Malbec, and it’s hard to believe they come from the same plant. Further, because they’re poorly understood and poorly marketed, wines from Cahors can’t command prices that reflect their quality, which means the good ones can represent exceptional value.
We have a good one today. Chateau Fontaynes is a family-run estate on one of the terraces above the river Lot, and they produce terrific, unfussy Malbecs from their vineyards on clay/gravel/silica soils. This is their flagship Cahors: 100% Malbec from their best vineyards, held back for a few extra years to let the beast begin to relax its grip. It begins with a sultry nose of smoke, earth, black tea leaves, and blackcurrant. In the mouth, it’s hugely chewy, rustic, full of black everything: black fruit and black tea and black soil (alc is 13.5%). For anyone stuck in a Cabernet rut, this is a fantastic alternative, offering similar levels of structure and chew. Pairing this with a fat ribeye on the grill is a summer evening unto itself.
First come first served up to 12 bottles, and the wine should arrive at the warehouse in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.