When most people think about Malbec, Argentina comes to top of mind.
But what many people do not realize is that the Malbec Grape – known originally as Cot, Cot Noir or Auxxerois, is native to an area in Southwest France known in modern times as the Cahors region
This area is located South East of Bordeaux and in the grand scheme of things, has become somewhat of a little known region. The wines that are produced here must be made with 70% Malbec, and allow a small amount of blending of the other Bordeaux varieties, though most wines coming out of the region tend to be higher in their % of Malbec in the final blend. They known to be very dark and rich wines, higher in tannin than their Argentinian cousins, and are often able to age longer. When compared to Mendoza Malbec these wines come across as more restrained in fruit flavors, with subtle oak and notes of cherry, unripe blackberry, raspberry, cocoa, leather, coffee, earth and a marked note of fennel or liquorice on the nose.
What many people do not realize is that most of the Malbec vines in the Mendoza region in Argentina can be traced back to their ancestors in Cahors. In the 19th Century, The wine region of Cahors suffered as the Wine Merchants in Bordeaux placed the wines from Cahors under siege. Because all of the wine in the region needed to be exported through Bordeaux, the wine merchants purposely placed the Cahors wines on the back-burner for sale until they had first sold all of their native Bordeaux. From a commercial perspective, this killed business for the winemakers of Cahors. Couple a corrupt trade system with vines plagued by Phyloxera – a pesky little bug that eats at the roots killing the vines… and wine makers were left with few options but to relocate.
And so they did… many to Argentina, in the Mendoza region, in hopes of using their knowledge to continue to make the wine they had always been making – Malbec. What they found in Mendoza was the same style of Alluvial soil as is found in Cahors.
So why does Malbec work so well in Mendoza Argentina? Without visiting or investigating the region, one would assume that the close proximity to the equator would make it too hot to grow Malbec when compared to the cooler Maritime climate of Bordeaux. But Mendoza has the Andes Mountains on their side. These are some of the highest altitude grape plantings in the world, and as we climb up the side of a mountain – the cooler growing conditions become. However, the growing season tends to be extended, and vineyards are able to achieve a level of ripeness in their grapes that can be difficult to reach in Cahors France.
Because of this, the typical flavor profiles of these wines differ. Malbec from Mendoza tends to be more fruit forward with darker black fruit – think blueberry, blackberry, and a heavier use of oak in the wine making process. Like all things, there are exceptions to the rule – and the two wines that I profiled in my last #winewednesday review on Facebook – proved that some producers in Mendoza try to imitate the French Style, while those that are in Cahors, are not doing their best to mimic the commercially successful Malbecs of Mendoza.
The reality is that when it comes to Malbec, while Argentina may not be it’s original home, Commercially it is where it thrives the most… however I recommend searching the French Section of the Wine List or Liquor Store for a Cahors AC – you just might surprise yourself, and help give a delicious underdog a leg up!