Monday, May 31, 2010

Cahors, the Malbec Superstar: Tasting The Wines

Tour, talk, eat, mingle, shop, go sightseeing, meet the growers, visit the chateaux---all valuable and all interesting, but when it comes down to it, it really is all about the wine.

In one of the true highlights of the Journees Internationales du Malbec, we sit through a well-orchestrated guided tasting, with wines pre-selected by the UIVC dignitaries to showcase the three styles of AOC Cahors.

Not only were the wines arranged by style, they were also selected to fit into general price groupings of Under 7 Euro, 7--14 Euro, and Above 14 Euro.

In this one tasting we saw the past, the present and the future of Cahors Malbec.

The first Category, Rond et Structure, consisted of

Chateau Pineraie Malbec 2007 (Website here) 7 Euro; 100% Malbec; Bright, fresh, grapey, berry nose, light bodied with a bit of prickle, little tannin and light finish. The key here is absolute freshness; a bright and lively entry-level Malbec---more impressive because it comes from a traditional estate operating since the 15th Century, but keyed toward forward, fresh flavor.

Chateau Quattre 2009 (background here) 6 Euro; bit of doughy bread at first, which blows off quickly; crisp, edgy aromas and flavors; blackberry fruit; rounded, supple but with a tannic hit on the long finish. All stainless steel wine with fruit as the focus.

Rigal Les Terrasses 2008 4 Euro; 80% Malbec/20% Merlot; sweet candied fruit; extra light, fruity, slighltly bitter tinge at the finish. This is supermarket wine---not a judgement, but a destination, for the producers make this at an astonishing low price for supermarket distribution, and given that, it's an impressive wine.

The second category is Puissant et Gourmand; to me this is closer to the traditions of Cahors and the Black Malbec (or one could say, what my predilections and preferences lead me to think is the tradition of Cahors).

Chateau Les Bouysses 2007 -- Cotes d'Olt (website here) 8--10 Euro; a co-op wine; rich, smoky fruit; bit hollow in the middle and a brief, slightly green finish of menthol-eucalyptus; 10% new barrel so oak is apparent but not intrusive.

Mas del Perie -- Les Escures 2008 7.50 Euro; 100% Malbec; the word "perie" is Gascon for "rock" and signifies the rocky soil of the terrasses in this estate; it's also a very suitable name for this rock-solid iteration of Cahors; powerful , intense, dense, structured tight as a drum; cool menthol and eucalyptus on an astonishing long finish; wine with power and density and built for the long haul. (What Vinography says.)

Chateau Trotteligotte -- Klys 2006 (website here) 12 Euro; 100% Malbec; powerful, intense, brooding fruit; half aged in barrels for 13 months; impressively balanced; big and compact, yet still balanced and supple at this early age. A wine worth cellaring, I think.

(Note: For an excellent in-depth portrait of this estate, the people and the wines, go to Reign of Terroir for Ken Payton's report of his visit there.)

The final flight of three, labeled Intense et Complexe, is more diverse, with each wine showing unique stylistic flair. Not at all what I think of as traditional Cahors, but creative nonetheless, and showing some interesting possibilities for the future (while, it must be said, showing the dangers of lavish ripe fruit and dominating vanilla oak).

Chateau Croisille -- Divin Croisille 2005 (website here) 20 Euro; excellent quality of fruit beginning to age well; dense black fruits, with acids beginning to soften and tannins beginning to resolve; barrel vinified and obvious new-barrel aging before bottling. Soft, supple, oak/vanilla style emerging. Too much for my taste, but others will like the density of the wine and the enrobing oak.

Clos d'un Jour--Un Jour sur Terre 2007 (www.leclosdunjour.free.fr) 15 Euro; 100% Malbec. You can tell by the pun these people are whimsical; you can tell by the wine these people are audacious and creative. This wine was a revelation! In an attempt---a highly successful attempt---to create the effect of a "barrel without wood", the winemaker aged this wine for 1 year in terracotta anphorae; the porous earthy anphorae aged and slowly oxidated the wine without adding any oaky vanilla character; the result has a purity of flavor, a focus on lean, tight, juicy but not over-ripe fruit, that is truly, truly impressive---and so tasty that it's difficult to put down and move on to the next wine. All this, and only 15 Euro. My best of show thus far.

Chateau La Roques de Cana -- Graal Sanctus 2007 (Reign of Terroir says...) 86 Euro; 100% Malbec; concentrated, intense fruit; menthol, soft velvet texture; obvious 24 months of oak gives a pronounced sweet vanilla/oak spice character; little tannic bit with a long finish. A highly stylistic wine; not to my taste, but for what it is, impressive. Until, that is, one looks at the price.

All in all a good range, reflecting the diversity of both the Malbec variety and the capability of Cahors to produce wines at different price points and with unique stylistic flair. There are the obligatory supermarket wines, easy-going introductory wines, traditional wines, and big bruisers---but with the nature of the region, the soil, the grape and the winemaker showing through at all levels.

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