An Invitation to Explore the Terroir of Cahors with the French #Winophiles



Around this time last year, I was invited on a press trip to visit Cahors in southwestern France. I’ve been interested in this region for a while, and I've shared pairings for wines from the region here on Somm’s Table a couple of times before. As you can probably imagine, I was absolutely thrilled at the chance to get to know it in person.

The region is completely, freak’n enchanting! Admittedly, it’s a bit tricky to get here. It’s locked in an awkward spot, tucked into a corner almost equidistant between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, but without easy access to either. Historically, this has been a problem for the region, since it was pretty much blocked from the major ports. Today, it’s still a bit remote. It’s about two hours from Bordeaux or about an hour and a half from Toulouse by car.  However, travelers seeking the less trodden path will be well rewarded by beautiful scenery, fascinating history, amazing food, and of course, great wine.


Cahors' Ponte Valentré dates back to 1308 and took 70 years to build. 

 

The French #Winophiles

Given how interesting I found the region, I’m so excited to be hosting the French #Winophiles event exploring the region next month. If you follow this blog regularly, you might’ve noticed that I participate in several wine blogger groups. Each month, we pick a topic (in this case, related to French wines), write posts on that topic, and then gather on Twitter to discuss. This is my first time hosting an event!

Join us on Saturday, October 19th at 8:00 am ET/ 11:00 am PT on Twitter and follow the hashtag #Winophiles. You’ll find us chatting about wines and food of this region, as well as travels through the region for those lucky enough to have been here.

Here's how to join us:


If you are a wine writer or blogger, this is your invitation to join in!
  • Contact me to tell me you’re in: Include blog url, Twitter handle,  and any other social media details. We just like to get a sense of who’s participating.
  • Send your post title to me by Tuesday, October 15th to be included in the preview post. I’ll be preparing a preview post shortly after getting the titles, linking to your blogs. Your title should include “#Winophiles.”
  • Publish your post between 12:01 a.m-8:00 a.m. ET on Saturday, October 18th. You can always schedule your post in advance if you will be tied up that morning.
  • Include links to the other #Winophiles participants in your post, and a description of what the event is about. I’ll share the HTML code that you can easily drop in your initial post — which will link to people’s general blog url. I’ll update the code to include permanent links to everyone’s #Winophiles posts once they’re up.
  • Time to get social! After the posts go live, please visit your fellow bloggers posts’ to comment and share. We have a Facebook group for participating bloggers to connect and share, too. If you need an invitation please let me know.
  • Sponsored posts are OK if clearly disclosed. Please be sure to disclose if your post is sponsored or if you are describing wine or other products for which you have received a free sample.

A Cahors Cheat Sheet


Just as this region is a bit remote, I realize that the wines can sometimes be a little bit hard to find. However, I think they’re well worth looking for as they tend to deliver great value for the money. I invite you to check out my previous post here for more background on the region’s history, but here is a cheat sheet:


  • Malbec is the star grape of the region. Wines must at least 70% Malbec, but some Merlot and Tannat are also allowed.
  • Malbec’s known aliases: Côt, Auxerrois
  • This is Malbec’s birthplace. (Nope, it’s not from Argentina). In the 16th century, University Professor François Roaldès referenced Auxerrois in a work on winegrowing. In this work he stated that it had been present in the area for at least 600 years.
  • The term Malbec was first used in the 18th century by the owner of an estate in the Médoc who grew a lot of it. His name was Mr. Malbeck. The word doesn’t come from “bad mouth” as is commonly thought.
  • 80% of bottles are coming from independent winemakers. 20% from local the co-op.
  • The region covers 21,700 hectares, only 4,500 of which are planted.
  • Organic farming currently covers about 17% of the region. (The average in France is less than 10%.)
  • The region is known for big, bold, rustic wines  . . .  but of course it’s more complicated than that. 


This house belonged to François Roaldès, the professor who referenced Malbec in the 16th century.

There are your Cliff’s Notes, but now let’s really get really geeky!


Digging Deep into the Terroir


The focus of this particular trip was on getting to know the terroir, and as soon as you see it you know it is special. The region is located in the foothills of the Massif Central and follows the Lot River. The Lot eventually flows into the Garonne River, which runs by Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast.





Cahors’ piece of the Lot is absolutely crazy. It winds back and forth like a madly wriggling snake for 60 km from East to West. They refer to each bend and turn as a “meander,” and it certainly meanders a lot. Combine that with the rolling slopes, given that it’s foothill country, and you have countless variations of terroir all contributing to the complexity of the wines.


Vineyards in the foreground, but in the background you can also see a meander and the way the land slopes up to the Causse.

There is also an upside to their awkward, ‘Baby's stuck in a corner’ positioning. They still feel some effects from the oceans, but they get waaaaaay less rainfall than Bordeaux, which means they don’t have the same problems with fungal diseases that occur in that region. Vine roots are forced to tap really deep down to access water, which tends to add more layers of complexity.

The region has been investing in the study of its terroirs since the 90’s, as part of it’s push to increase quality. (They saw the success that Malbec was having in Argentina, and they decided to learn from it.) To simplify explaining this incredibly intricate terroir, they describe them in term of two distinct divisions: terraces and Causse terroirs.


On the trip, we were able to walk through the vineyards of Château Eugenie to actually see the variations and changes in the soils as you move up the terraces towards the Causse, so I’ll drop in pictures as I explain.

The terraces are areas carved out by the Lot river out of the plateau (we’ll get to that in a second). There are more alluvial deposits in these soils, coming from the river as it chiseled away at the slopes. The wines  from these areas are considered to be generally more approachable earlier on.

The terraces are further subdivided into sections. For simplicity, they focus on three distinct terraces, but there are actually quite a few more. Each terrace is defined by particular soil types, which tend to give different characteristics to the wines:


  • 1st Terrace -  These are the areas right next to the river, composed of young and fertile alluvial soils, whose silty sands and loam. Wines from this section tend to be light, airy, and fruity. A lot of winemakers see this section as their area for experimentation and play, so this is where you’re likely to find other, non-AOC grapes planted. (i.e. grapes other than Malbec, Merlot, Tannat.) 
  • 2nd terrace - Moving away from the river, up 5 meters higher in elevation. You’ll start to see more limestone, pebbles, and more presence of clay. Altogether, the wines tend to have more body and depth as compared to the first terrace.   
  • 3rd Terrace - You start to see even more pebbles and stones. This area splits into 2 main types of soils. Gravelly limestone (finesse) and a limestone with more clay mixed in (fruitiness and strength.) 

As you move past the terraces and keep climbing in elevation, you reach the Causse, a limestone plateau, at an altitude of 250 to 350 meters.
  • This plateau was formed by a sea which existed 150 million years ago.
  • It’s much less fertile than the terraces, and this terroir is also less influenced by the river.
  • There is a great diversity of soils here – it’s sometimes mixed with marl, sometimes strewn with limestone or red pebbles, sometimes purple soils, and there are pockets that are rich in iron. Some soils are particularly rich in yellow or red clays that retain water and nutrients and therefore provide the vine with constant water and mineral intake.
  • The Causse areas see more diurnal shifts (greater temperature fluctuations between day and night), and as a result, the grapes ripen later.
  • Wines from these terroirs tend to be less fleshy, but have greater delicacy. Overall, the wines are also more tannic and longer-lived.

Ok, this one isn't actually in their vineyards. It's elsewhere on the Causse, but you can see large amounts of limestone creeping out.
Admittedly, this pic is mostly here because the horses are really cute, but you can also see the vineyard slopes in the background climbing up to the Causse.
A stone hut in the vineyards.

As I mentioned in the cheat sheet, the region is known for big, bold, rustic wines, and yes, that’s fairly true. During this trip, my teeth were pretty much constantly dyed purple. (Y’all, we tried A LOT of Malbec.) However, as you can probably start to guess from all the variations in terroir, there’s also a lot of variety in the wines. 

We spent one morning blind tasting dozens of bottles of Cahors , so I really mean LOTS of Cahors!

  Then you have to add in winemaker influences. Some winemakers might focus on trying to express a specific terroir, while some might blend them together to get the best parts of each. Some winemakers are dedicated to the classic, rustic style; some are creating more polished, international styles; then there is also a new wave creating wines that strive for purity of fruit, but with less oak influence, just as we see happening elsewhere. Some wineries dabble in different styles. On top of all of that, there are quite a few winemakers experimenting with other varieties, particularly whites wines, but these of course, fall outside the AOC.

Altogether, there is way more going on here than meets the eye!

Before I go, I will leave you with a pairing for a wine from Château Eugenie, since we’ve just taken a look at their vineyards.

I had a chance to try their Reserve de Tours 2001 during a dinner on this trip at Les Hameau des Saveurs.




This is a pretty classic style, and with quite a bit of age on it at that. It had notes of licorice and leather on the nose, with a little plum and cedar. There were lots of tertiary notes on the palate, but still a decent amount of fruit given the age, and a smattering of herbs. The tannins were definitely still present, but were dusty and had smoothed out with age.



We enjoyed it with a delicious smoked duck breast.



If you ever happen to be in the area, Vin de Cahors has a tasting lounge downtown that can be very helpful as a starting point.

Thanks so much to O’Donnell Lane for inviting me on this press trip. Jill Barth worked with Vinconnexion to provide samples for some of the French #Winophiles, so thanks to them as well.

Come join in our discussion on October 18th!


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3 comments

  1. Fabulous article!! I will definitely link this post within mine!! Looking forward to chatting on Saturday. Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Amazing article Nicole. I want to get on a plane immediately. Susannah

    ReplyDelete

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