Guest Wines Tour de France
A couple of hours drive North of Toulouse, is the attractive medieval city of Cahors with its distinctive Mediterranean feel. Easy to navigate, we parked just off the main street before taking a stroll around the city and along the River Lot. A walk around the old part of the city transported us back in time, soaking up the atmosphere amidst the medieval architecture and narrow winding streets.
Cahors has a great feel to it, quite bohemian with real heart and soul, bustling with life and shops that stay open over lunchtime! There were even a couple of vegetarian restaurants, Le Petit Salon being one. This is in contrast to it being one of the main regions for producing foie gras, so was very welcome and seemed quite progressive based on our experience so far!
Adding to the positive vibes of Cahors charms, we even managed to find a sim card for our ipad, unlike in other parts of France where we were rebuffed and told we couldn’t buy one unless we had a French bank card, eh? And again, isn’t this supposed to be Europe?! Thankfully, Rodolphe at the Orange shop on the main street, made our lives very easy getting us hooked up to the net in minutes, ahhhhh civilisation!
Next to the tourist office we made a beeline for the La Villa Cahors Malbec, which upon entering appeared to be a bar so when we tentatively asked if it was possible to taste the wines, Armand, the Promotions Manager, explained that it was in fact a tasting facility aimed at promoting the wines of Cahors and for 5 euros we could taste three styles of Malbec, which he would talk us through. It was just what we needed for our short stay in the area.
Armand was extremely helpful, explaining in excellent English about the different styles available as well as giving us a brief history of the region. He also suggested several wine merchants worth visiting based on our feedback of the wines he offered us. We came away with a much better appreciation of Cahors wines as well as a handy booklet ‘Cahors Capitale du Malbec’ that enabled us to explore the region and its producers in finer detail.
It sounded like there is quite a drive to reinvent the wines of Cahors and shrug off an out dated image, for example Armand highlighted to us that the regions’ wines were being celebrated as part of Le festival Cinédélices taking place on 3 October this year, an evening of Malbec Eroticus … oo la la!
The three wines we tasted were excellent examples and were split into the following categories:
‘Round & Structured’ – min 70% Malbec plus Merlot & Tannat but can have Cabernet Sauvignon & Gamay, no age in barrel, made to drink young, retail between 5-7 euros. We tasted Domaine de Chantelle 2009, app 5 euros, fruity nose – fresh red fruits, currants, soft tannins, light bodied, easy drinking and great for a BBQ.
‘Full & Tasty’ – 85-100% Malbec, use of oak app 12 months, 5-7 years ageing in bottle. Classed as food wines, matching with meats, duck and lamb, retail between 7-10 euros. Accounts for 40% production. We tasted Domaine la Borie 2009, app 7.50 euros, lovely dark concentrated fruit nose, spice, more brooding, chocolate, silky tannins, good length, balanced. Needs a couple of hours in a decanter.
‘Intense & Complex’ – 100% Malbec, matured for 24 months in oak, can last 10-15 years in bottle, matches well with beef, pate or chocolate, retail above 15 euros, may need 5-6 hours in decanter. Accounts for 10% production. We tasted Domaine la Borie Exception 2008, app 16 euros, deeper and darker fruits again from previous wine, prune overtones, stronger tannin, more structured, a lovely wine.
We were so impressed by these that we headed out to see if we could find them. Armand also recommended searching out Château du Cèdre, which is deemed one of the top producers and an excellent example of great Cahors Malbec.
Our first stop was at L’Atrium Georges Vigouroux, which is a wine warehouse on the outskirts of the town. We visited here first to see what range they had, as they are a large retail unit who sources their wines from selected producers and wineries, acting as a négociant for many, it was also the furthest away and it opened the soonest after lunch, many other shops didn’t open until at least 2.30pm or even 3pm!
We picked up a bottle of Pigmentum Gros Manseng 2012, at 7 euros, which won a Bronze medal at both IWC and Decanter Competitions, as well as Marcillac Cuvée Réservée 2010, combining Tannat and Malbec, at 8 euros. The Pigmentum was a demi-sec style with a honeyed, viscous mouthfeel, apricots, peaches and tropical fruits, soft acidity and a herbal undercurrent, a nice aperitif. Watch this space for our thoughts on the Marcillac.
Safe in the knowledge that the shops back in town would now be open, we drove back into Cahors and popped into Sudreau for a bottle of Château du Cèdre, Le Cèdre 2008, after which we walked down a side street and discovered Lafon-Frères, which was a bit of a treasure trove of older Cahors vintages. We picked up a bottle of Chateau D’Aydie 2004, Madiran, made of Tannat with a small amount of another red grape, possibly Cabernet Sauvignon, having quickly read a rather promising review by Hugo Read about its potential, so we look forward to trying it.
Pleased with our visit to Cahors but reluctant to leave as we were enjoying it so much, we took to the road for the last leg of our journey to Bordeaux. Winding along narrow roads and across rolling hills we passed impressively large houses and quaint sandstone villages, one such village that inspired us to stop and look around was called Goujounac, each building was made of orange stone and steeply tiled roofs seemed particular to this area. As we strolled the small, cobbled streets, we came across a pretty white cat on a bench, then noticed a teeny grey kitten run off round a corner, on following we were delighted to discover a whole kitty family hanging out in the street. A very sweet sight indeed.
As we moved across and up the country, the scenery was changing and the vineyards disappeared, the landscape became more green and felt somehow more Northern European. We also started seeing more evidence of an English speaking population, the type of shops we were passing in towns, signs in English and drivers not constantly tailgating us (not that this is unknown in the UK but the French seem intent on perfecting this!).
Passing through Bergerac, in the Dordogne Department, vineyards once again opened out before us. This is an area that we intended to return to on another day as time was quickly passing and we did not want to arrive too late at Le Chateau La Tour de Chollet, in Sainte-Foy-la-Grande, which would be our home for the next month.
Arriving at the Chateau in the early evening, we were welcomed by Paul and Kirstie Rowbotham and family.
Check out our tales of life on a Bordelais vineyard in our next instalment.
Days 3 and 4 in Roussillon
My next job was to start sweeping the tops of the concrete tanks and top floor of the winery ready for washing down. Wow, Cinderella eat your heart out! Broom in hand, surrounded by clouds of dust I brushed and brushed and brushed, until the place looked clean.
We just about had time to get changed ready for a trip to Perpignan and a wine merchants called ‘Les Caves Maillol‘, where Guillaume, the shop’s owner, and his wife were hosting an ‘English wine tasting with Jonathon’. A good number of people turned up early and enjoyed the tastings and nibbles. I’m sure once the word spreads this will grow.
Back at the house, two mystery wines were brought out for tasting. It turned out they were both Malbec, one from the Languedoc, which I honestly would not have guessed, the other from the South West, a Cahors, which I almost got. Blind tasting really isn’t easy but it was very interesting.
I have been waking up with the village bells at 6am each morning and the chickens across the road are usually in full clucking action then. Saturday was the first morning I woke up to grey skies and the forecast for thunder storms was spot on, it started raining at lunch time and just got heavier and heavier.
The grapes need rain at this point just before harvest, even though it makes them swell it won’t dilute them too much as they will revert to what they were before. It’s the skins that need the water, as they are dehydrated and may not ripen fully if they lack fluid. At the moment they aren’t quite ripe, which is partly why the harvest is late, the hot topic of discussion in the wine community at the moment is that it’s been a strange harvest so far.
Today the tank cleaning needed to be finished, which meant actually climbing down inside each one – there were four to do. With the ladders lowered in and safety light tied on Georgia was first to disappear into the hole. It felt a bit like an Indiana Jones adventure finding some long lost cave and lowering yourself down into the unknown. I was a bit apprehensive but thankfully okay once in the tank and not claustrophobic, phew.
We cleaned two tanks each, which involved brushing the dry tank to get rid of all the bits, then rinsing it down with water. A cleaning solution was then pumped through the system.
It took the day to get the 4 tanks done and there was more still to do but we were due to head to Le Cave Byrrh in Thuir for Les Vignerons Des Aspres wine fair. So after a quick shower and change, off we went.
Keep following the series, read more here about the wine fair at Les Caves Byrrh and much more.