In France, the South West wine region includes several disparate appellations situated south of, and inland from, Bordeaux. The most notable of these appellations are Cahors, Madiran, and Jurançon.
The ‘black wines’ of Cahors, the spiritual home of the Malbec grape (called ‘Cot’ in Cahors), enjoyed a splendid reputation in the Middle Ages and right up into the 19th century.
In the late 19th century, phylloxera reared its ugly head, and, in 1956, the Great Frost killed off all but 1% of the vines. Unsurprisingly, the area has taken a long time to recover.
Cahors is equidistant from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Compared to Bordeaux, the winters are colder, but the summers are hotter and drier.
The vineyards are planted on gravelly slopes in the valley of the River Lot and up on the causse or limestone plateau. The plateau yields more tannic, longer-lived wines, while the slopes and alluvial valley floor yield softer, fruitier wines.
The appellation is for red wine only, with Malbec making up at least 70% of the blend and Merlot and Tannat accounting for any remainder.
Cahors can be reminiscent of Bordeaux, but is darker in colour with more plum, chocolate, and minerals and heavier tannins that can make it austere and unapproachable in its youth. With age, it develops aromas of earth, forest floor, and animal. Acidity is high and body and alcohol only medium. The best examples are aged in oak.
Compared to Cahors, Argentine Malbec is softer and riper with a heavier body, higher alcohol, and lower acidity.
Some notable producers of Cahors include Clos Triguedina, Château de Chambert, Château Lamartine, Château Eugénie, Château du Cèdre, and Château Lagrezette.
Neel Burton is co-author, together with James Flewellen, of The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting.