Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cahors: Malbec and Foie Gras (you knew there'd be foie gras, didn't you???)

So we're in Cahors, in the middle of the Lot, slurping down Malbec (with an occasional addition of Tannat and Merlot; but hey, it's the Malbec that's the center of this party). You have to figure there'll be foie gras.

And there was, there was.

From the very beginning, in the Malbec Lounge at Espace Valentre, until the final meal, there was foie gras. And a plenitude of duck in various forms, but we'll focus on foie gras here.

At the Espace there was foie gras on toast points, foie gras on pancakes, foie gras on waffles, foie gras in cute little ice-cream cones, even foie gras in macarons. I'm not altogether sure the world is ready for foie gras in macarons. Two great things, mind you; but maybe not so good together? Likewise the saffron macarons. Colorful, but a little disconcerting finding those flavors joined with macarons.

Oh, wait...foie gras! Right, then.

So, after a few days of bright sunshine and black wine---it was eerily normal to see my compatriots standing in the sunshine grinning happily away at the scenery, the food, the wine, whatever, displaying black-stained mouths---we gathered for a final festive meal at a chateau-museum overlooking the green swathe of the valley of the Lot below us on a lovely Sunday afternoon.

The light poured in on the medieval stonework and the great hall of the chateau was thronged with happy attendees, many of whom were still babbling with excitement and wonder from their morning montgolfier, a hot air balloon trip over the valley and vineyards below.

There was a chatter of activity as people exchanged business cards and e-mails and website addresses and took the final photos for remembrance, so that people were taking photos of people taking photos of people taking photos.

Amidst all this hustle and hubbub, the owners and winemakers circulated around and deposited bottles of their wines at our tables, then joined the revelries themselves. It was pleasant to sit and sip and reflect, then to discuss the wines with the makers, a genial but devoted lot (get it? lot? in the Lot? oh, never mind) with the pride of ownership mixed with the desire to have more people enjoy what they spend so much time and effort creating.

Malbec, and most especially the Malbec of Cahors, is a food wine. That term is bandied about with great frequency these days, but with Malbec it is essential, for few people would consume Cahors as a recreational wine, and even fewer are the connoisseurs of wine alone who sit in their tiny conclaves and sniff and sip and parse and mutter over infinitely smaller details of arcane wine lore while invoking magical words that few others know or care about.

No, this Malbec of Cahors is truly a food wine. Often a sullen brute by itself, it can be tamed with food, coaxed out of its acidic isolation and convinced to reveal its inner self.

Apply a little foie gras with its velvety richness, its earthy elegance, and the Malbec responds. The excessive austerity relaxes a bit and the flavors emerge. Corny, I know, but it is much like a flower opening as the day begins to warm and the sun makes friendly overtures.

This is lunch, with some old and some new-found friends on a sunny day in Quercy, so I'm not in note taking mode or mood, but the magic of the iPhone lets me record the wines that pass through my glass.

The Chateau Haute-Borie. although young, was quite amenable to the charms of the foie gras and lentils, a classic but not classically bound Cahors, in that it was already showing its nature, which would only soften and lengthen in future, I think.

The Chateau les Rigalets was a delight with the food; built on a lighter frame, but from that remarkably good 2005 vintage that seems to be aging so well right now, it was more elegant, more violet-infused, and silkier in tone, and seemed to come alive with the foie gras.

The Chateau du Plat Faisant was much in the same mold: stubborn by itself, but yielding graciously to the food.

And this is the resounding, repetitive note of the entire sojourn in the Lot: that the great majority of Cahors wine, and the nature of Malbec itself as the primary grape, simply requires the patience of age and maturation; that the slow, unhurried unlocking of tannin-bound fruit cannot be hurried too much.

Unfortunately, patience seems a thing lacking today, so intervention is often required for those who are impatient---and mind you, "intervention" can be as much the philosophy of 'vin natur' as the technological wizardry or ampelographic intervention of agronomists and oenologists, for intervention is intervention.

One hopes, though, that some of the lonely majesty of the impenetrable Malbec, made accessable only by time, remains to us---and I believe it will, from what I have seen of the people of the Lot.

If that is so, I will remain both happy and hopeful for this region and these wines, for there is certainly room for the 'vin natur' and the delightful anphorae wines (yes!; decidedly yes!!) and the fresher, fruitier, more immediate wines as well, for each has its appeals and uses to a world of wine drinkers.


  1. "there is certainly room for the 'vin natur' and the delightful anphorae wines (yes!; decidedly yes!!) and the fresher, fruitier, more immediate wines as well, for each has its appeals and uses to a world of wine drinkers."

    VERY well-said! Cheers!

  2. Thanks, Joe. High praise from the Dude. Now if they can just work on the brett, eh? :^)