Though it is debated whether it is the best appellation in Southwest France, there is no doubt that Cahors is the most unusual. The red wines are made mostly from Malbec, a grape never used varietally anywhere else in France. The wines combine the raw, woody power of Malbec with the richness and balance of great Bordeaux, and the results are excellent. Only red wines are made, with the whites classified under a separate vin de pays designation.
An estimated 10,000 acres of vineyards are used for the production of Cahors. Most of the wines are produced in the eponymous village; Cahors is the capital of the Lot departément and has a rich history. About 3 million cases of wine are produced annually.
The town of Cahors has a long history, as a result of which it is a popular place for sightseeing. Unfortunately, the economy has been in decline since the Middle Ages, since many of the manufacturing plants once located there have moved to other towns.
Originally, Cahors was considered part of Bordeaux, and the wines were revered all over Europe by royalty and commoners alike. However, between the phylloxera epidemic and the separation of Cahors and Bordeaux, the reputation of the area was dealt a serious blow. In fact, Cahors did not receive AOC status until 1971. Since then, however, Cahors wines have gradually reclaimed their reputation, and are now known as great expressions of the Malbec grape.
Climate and Viticulture
As a result of Cahors' many soil types, the wines made here are quite diverse. The soil ranges from the alluvial limestone of the hillside terraces, to the clay of the higher, cooler hillside slopes, to the gravel banks near the river interspersed with quartzite pebbles. The vineyards located in these places each make different types of wine.
As is well known, Cahors is the only French AOC that makes wine with a high percentage of Malbec. While many Bordeaux châteaux still use Malbec in their blends, it rarely makes up more than 5% of the total mixture, and in the rest of France usage is even more uncommon. In Cahors Malbec must make up at least 70% of the blend! Cahors wines are particularly powerful, robust, ageworthy Malbecs. They mix the richness of Bordeaux Cabernet with the woody power of Argentine Malbec. This style is idiosyncratic and no similar wines exist, even in Argentina.
Producers do have the option of using up to 30% Merlot and Tannat. Neither are very common, so many of the wines are varietal Malbec.
Cahors wines' ever-increasing renown makes the wines easy to find in the United States and other countries. Almost all the Cahors producers are able to deliver the magic, but seven in particular should be noted.
- Château la Caminade: Caminade's La Commandery, generally available for about $25, is one of the better cuvées of Cahors. Easily recognizable due to its Bordeaux-like label, this powerful, structured Malbec could easily pass for a 5th or even 4th growth Bordeaux. Caminade makes other Cahors wines, but none nearly as good.
- Château du Cèdre: This producer's main wine is the basic varietal Malbec Cahors, but at boutique-like prices of $50-$70 this wine is far better than most basic cuvées. This handcrafted wine is rich, fruity, and powerful, but has a velvety texture. The Heritage cuvée is also good. Cèdre also makes whites here, but not under the Cahors AOC.
- Clos la Coutale: With a solid expert pedigree and very reasonable prices of $15-$20, Coutale's basic wine easily qualifies for the title of best-value Cahors. The wine boasts a good combination of tannin and fruit flavors. The brightly labeled Grand Coutale promises higher quality, but isn't as well-valued.
- Haut-Monplaisir: This producer often charges prices in the teens for their good wines. The basic wine, costing around $15, is simple but well-made. The Prestige cuvée is around $20 and correspondingly better.
- Château de Haute-Serre: Another good producer of value wines, Haute-Serre charges $20-$25 for the basic Cahors. With candied, roasted fruit flavors, dense tannic power, and a velvety texture, this wine is built for aging.
- Château Lagrezette: This producer's basic Cahors, with its Bordeaux-like label and impressive pedigree, is mainly made from Malbec and has powerful flavors. Lagrezette's most exclusive cuvée is the $100 Le Pigeonnier, which is made from pure Malbec.
- Château Lamartine: Priced at $15-$20, the basic Cahors is again the best value here, with woody, tannic flavors. The Benjamin cuvée offers more elegance, the Particulière more intensity, and the upper-end Expression and Cuvée du Tertre more exclusivity.
Cahors has no subregions, despite its size.