Monday, May 31, 2010

A Cahors Of A Different Color...

2010 Journees Internationales "Malbec Days"
Cahors, France

What to do, what to do?

You're the ancestral standard bearer for Malbec, that singular variety of grape. You're the homeland, the originator, the area that combated the dictates of kings, the mercantile wiles of the Bordelaise and the devastation of phylloxera and oidium to persevere.

Then, suddenly, and to almost everyone's surprise, Argentina becomes the darling of the world with "your" grape in a New World soft, ripe, fruity, and oak-laden style.

If you're the Union Interprofessionnelle du Vin de Cahors you gather your grower and vintner members together, decide upon a strategy and aggressively go out into the market to tell your story and show your wine. And you bring your market to you.

For three days in May, at the Malbec Days in Cahors, I heard---and tasted---the story of AOC Cahors and the Black Malbec.

Tasked with the strategy of remaining true to the traditions of the region while attempting to be flexible enough in approach to attract new drinkers, the UIVC is attempting to do three things: 1. Maintain the traditional impenetrable long-aging style of Malbec that has endured for hundreds of years and established their reputation. 2. Establish a more distinct series of specific terroirs in AOC Cahors to emphasize the diversity of which the area is capable. 3. Allow and encourage growers and winemakers to develop new styles to provide more accessible and easy-to-drink wines.

The UIVC also realized that none of this would matter without getting the message out to the world about what was going on in Cahors, so they gathered hundreds of buyers, journalists, and bloggers from all over the world to listen to the message and taste the wines.

Any strategy, of course, can be fraught with peril, and the strategy here treads dangerous ground...perhaps by trying to do too much, or go in too many different directions---but the energy and enthusiasm and passion of the UIVC is readily apparent, with the results of their strategy on full display.

After a warm welcome and a stellar keynote address by Jacques Puisais, that eminent oracle of French taste, we engage in some hugely informative seminars on the local terroirs by Claude and Lydia Bourguignon, and a tasting led by the always provocative Michel Bettane.

And here is where the strategy begins to unfold itself in the wines. They are divided into three categories:

Round and Well Structured (or what I would dub fruity and fresh, structured, with softer tannins)

Full-Bodied and Flavorsome (or what I would define as the traditional massively structured style of Cahors Malbec)

Special Wines--Intense and Complex (the newer "international style" wines, usually marked by ripe grapes wrapped in new oak)

(Tasting Notes on wines to follow in the next post.)

Subsequent tastings largely reinforce this tripartite approach to winemaking that exists in Cahors. The tradition is there for those who want that and nothing else. But more 'consumer-friendly' approachable wines are there as well, to introduce people more gently into the nature of Malbec and Cahors. And for those who desire it, the current style of lavishly fruited and lavishly oaked wines will be available as well.

Beyond the tastings though, I left quite impressed with the dynamic nature of the people from Quercy and their determination to showcase themselves and their region through their wines. This land that straddles the winding Lot River with its terraces of soils, lush greenery, and fertile soils is charming, and provides the world a unique vinous proposition that is worth cherishing.

Next: The poetry of Puisais; the rumblings of Bettane, the enlightenment of Claude and Lydia Bourguignon, and a rundown of some tasty Cahors reds.

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