Whatever happened to the ‘Happy Medium’? In the 80’s we were slamming tequila without a care in the world and now suddenly enjoying a glass of wine with dinner makes you an alcoholic. Even as adults it seems we are told what to do all the time (as well as how much and when to do it ). If only we could get to the place where we have enough common sense to do what we enjoy without overdoing it?
On that note, I would like to share my passion for wine which has been slowly but surely developing during my time in France. Yesterday I finished a fantastic course in oenology! Learning about viticulture and vinification (vines and winemaking) is fascinating. It blends well with my love of travel, languages, nature and people. After all wine is made all over the world, not least of all around here. Occitanie is the largest wine producing region in France. Both the former Midi Pyrenees region and Languedoc Roussillon (which merged to become Occitanie) are abundant with vines.
One of those places is not far from Toulouse; Cahors (kuh-or).
Cahors is in the Lot department and considered the birthplace of Malbec, the grape variety, or cépage in French. It is also intrinsically linked to Mendoza, an area at the foot of the Andes in Argentina, where there is a very important production of Malbec.
In Southwest France, Malbec is known as Côt or sometimes Auxerrois, and often referred to as the black grape, as it has a rich deep dark garnet/purple colour. Malbec is a full bodied wine with notes of (amongst others) plum, liquorice and black pepper. It can be aged a few years in the bottle and develop notes of truffle and leather. So decadent! It is often aged for some time before being bottled. For AOC Cahors it is required to have at least 70% Malbec and is sometimes blended with Merlot or Tannat, or other local varietals.
Wine production here began 2,000 years ago, when the Romans planted the first vineyards in the ancient province of Quercy. Le Quercy is a historic and cultural region including most of the Lot and Tarn and Garonne departments.
Malbec of Cahors quickly became famous, and began competing with wines from Bordeaux. In the 19th century, wines from the Lot were threatened by the phylloxera epidemic, but fortunately recovered during the next century. In case you don’t know, grape phylloxera is an insect, a kind of louse, that stowed away on some roots being transported across the Atlantic in the late 1850s which wreaked havoc in Europe and beyond. It nearly destroyed the wine industry in France. The infestation wiped out masses of vineyards all across Europe and went on to destroy plenty in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and California. Only the wine producing region of Chile was spared, and to some extent Argentina.
Nowadays there are 4200 hectares of Cahors vineyards. The vines that produce the richest Cahors wines are situated on hillsides of the Lot; those nearer the river produce fruitier wines. Grown in limestone soil, Malbec from Cahors is savoury and tart with firm tannins. They tend to have more structure and be a little less obviously fruity than the Malbec wines of Argentina, which are also fantastic. Malbec grapes have thick skins and are small and dark in colour. They produce wines with rich fruity flavours and medium tannin levels. You will find Cahors on the wine menu in a lot of restaurants and wine bars in Toulouse, which is about 110 kilometres away, less than an hour and a half by car.
A vigneron, or wine maker will tell you that great wine is made in the vineyard, rather than in the cellar. Exploring the vineyards of southwest France is a fantastic way to discover the wine obviously, but also the heritage of the land and its people. The Cahors-Malbec wine route follows the Lot River, which winds downstream to the vineyards of Cahors. The city of Cahors sits in a bend in the Lot River surrounded by steep hills.
In the sun drenched region of Occitanie vineyards are integral to the landscape which produces many other wonderful varieties in addition to Côt.
Les produits du terroir, or local products from the region include melon from the Quercy, le fromage de Rocamadour, and saffron. Saffron, more expensive than caviar, is the fruit of the blue plant (crocus sativus) brought to the region over a thousand years ago. Known as red gold, it is delicately used by many a local chef in the Lot region. Lovers of truffe (truffle), the sort of truffle found in the limestone soil, not the chocolate shops, will be happy to find it on the menus here. La noix du Périgord, walnuts from nearby Périgord are also a delicacy in the area.
Cahors is part of the Way of Saint James pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago. Another site not to miss between hikes or visits to the vineyards is the pont Valentré , a giant medieval bridge built in stone which spans the Lot River and is surely the most photographed place in the city.
La Villa Malbec à Cahors
Working together with the local tourism office, the Villa Malbec is an information and tasting centre at Place François Mitterand, in the town centre. It is a great starting out point for discovering Cahors, Malbec and the Valley of the Lot.
Hiking in the Lot valley will take you through varied landscapes laced with vineyards, through the Causses (limestone plateau) of Quercy regional park and along the rolling countryside to the valley of Vers.
Bonne degustation! Bon appetit et bonnes vacances!
I hope that you have enjoyed this post: Cahors, Malbec and more.
Follow me to keep up with me on my travels around beautiful Occitanie
…………………………..à bientôt Christina.
Thanks for sharing your love for wine, which is such a wonderful topic to immerse into. So much to learn – and wines differ from year to year. There was a day when I dived into these palate delights – but now I’m more about the pure enjoyment of a glass. Malbec is interesting. Some people are surprised to learn that Malbec is one of the grapes of Bordeaux blends, yet – Chile is what put it into the mind of Americans. However, we can find French Malbec’s in some stores! Only a small amount grown in California these days, but I have had California Malbec! 🙂
There is indeed so much to learn. I feel like I want to get my hands dirty as well and work the vendange (harvest). I have never had a California Malbec….but I sure would like to go back to Napa 🍷 and Oregon. Thanks for reading Frank, have a great weekend!