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Discover French Malbec, The Black Wine of Cahors

cahorsI am constantly amazed at the number of customers who attend the wine and food festivals that I take the Bordeaux-Undiscovered wines to. It is so pleasing to see you all and one question I have constantly been asked is, ‘do I have a good Malbec?’ Spurred on by the thought of a hunt I started searching for one. In recent years most people have fallen in love with Malbec via Argentinian wines. Malbec was introduced in the 19th century and its true home is actually in France . . . it originated around Quercy in Cahors. So, armed with this knowledge I set off to discover a good French Malbec that truly represented this grapes’ heritage and history.

cahorsFinally I came across Gouleyant Malbec made by French Malbec specialist Georges Vigouroux. The Vigouroux family helped revitalize the Cahors appellation in the early 1970s and were pioneers in saving the precious Cahors Malbec from devasatation in the late 19th century. These wines were once considered to be some of the finest in the world and were dubbed ‘the black wines of Cahors’ by the English in the Middle Ages. There are records of Cahors wines being sold in London in the 13th century and nowadays the only problem with these wines is their rarity.

Gouleyant Malbec Cahors SMALLGouleyant comes from the historic vineyards belonging to the medieval Chateau de Haute Serre in the heart of the Cahors. In the 1880s the wines from this estate sat on the same tables as those of the greatest chateaux in Bordeaux and Burgundy. The Vigouroux family saved these historic vineyards and restored the estate to its former glories. The vintages they produce are multi award winning and we are thrilled to have discovered this treasure trove of astonishing wines.

The inky black wines of Cahors are more structured and fuller bodied than their Argentinean Malbec counterparts and Gouleyant is no exception. It is a deliciously deep and dark wine with supple and expressive with soft, elegant tannins. Gouleyant has flavours of blackcurrant, elderberry, plump raisin and black cherry with smoky notes of violets, cocoa and liquorice.grapes malbec

Having such good tannic structure Gouleyant is ideal with steaks, roast duck, goose, beef and lamb. It also pairs wonderfully with slow cooked or braised meats, hearty casseroles, smoky Hungarian goulash, tagines, rich beef curries, osso buco and aged hard cheeses.

Beautifully balanced with great structure, I believe Gouleyant Malbec is a winner. I am convinced you will think so too. It’s exceptional quality and value speak for themselves.

cahors mapAbout French Malbec
Malbec’s parents are Prunelard and Mageleine Noire des Charentes. Prunelard is an almost extinct Gaillac variety which thankfully has been revived by wine makers committed to using Gaillac’s long lost varietals. Magdeleine Noire des Charentes is very rare indeed and is the mother of both Malbec and Merlot. The story goes that it was discovered in 1992 growing in a vineyard in Brittany that was abandoned more than 200 years ago.

Chateau de Haute Serre

Chateau de Haute Serre

At one point Malbec was grown in 30 different departments of France, a legacy that is still present in the abundance of local synonyms for the variety. It is known as Malbec in Bordeaux, Pressac in Libourne, Auxerrois in Quercy, Bouchal in the South West and Cot in Cahors. Local lore has it that it became known as Malbec as a Hungarian peasant by the name of Malbeck took the grape to the Medoc in Bordeaux in the early 18th century and it acquired his name.

vigourouxMalbec is still grown in Bordeaux in small quantities; the First growth Chateau Cheval Blanc uses a tiny amount of Malbec in its blend as do Chateaux L’Enclos and Gruaud Larose. However if you travel back in time to 1855 when the chateaux were being classified all the Grand Crus – they all had Malbec in their vineyards. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, documents show that Malbec was probably the most planted grape in Bordeaux when it is thought that approximately 60% of Bordeaux’s vineyards were planted with Malbec vines. Hugh Johnson mentions in his book, The Story of Wine, that First Growth Château Lafite’s vineyards were dominated by Malbec and that another First Growth, Château Latour, was mostly Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Chateau de Haute Serre

Chateau de Haute Serre

The reasons Malbec flourished in Cahors and declined in Bordeaux are simple: it was due to disease and weather disasters. The phylloxera epidemic in the late 19th century destroyed most of the vineyards in Europe. Phylloxera is a sort of aphid and was introduced from the USA by accident as botantists unknowingly brought home infected vines from America to Europe. A cure was found by grafting the vines on to resistant rootstock but many wine makers planted different grape varieties that were either more easy and quick to grow than their traditional vines or more readily available. In 1956 severe frost devastated many vines (this was an appalling year for freezing temperatures and snowfall across the globe) and most of the Malbec in Bordeaux was wiped out. The deep freeze hit Cahors too, but unlike Bordeaux, wine makers here saved their Malbec by replanting the crop. Malbec is a thin-skinned grape and was easier to grow in its home of Cahors as it is more suited to its climate than that of Bordeaux.

Bertrand Vigouroux

Bertrand Vigouroux

About Cahors Malbec
Cahors is the ancestral home of Malbec and it was from Cahors that Argentina gained its first Malbec vines in 1852. Cahors is a beautiful medieval city almost entirely surrounded by water. The town was established by the Romans on a wide meander of the River Lot near a spring revered by the Gauls. It lies in the old province of Quercy which is divided between the departements of the Lot and Tarn et Garonne today and is about 100 miles east of Bordeaux. The Cahors vineyards were amongst the first planted in France by the Roman Emperors, more than two thousand years ago.

In the 14th century Pope John XXII, a Cahors man born and bred, did much to promote the black wines from the region and they were exported across Europe. Wines from this area accounted for 50% of all exports from the port of Bordeaux in 1310. Cahors and Bordeaux actually became rivals and the black wines of Cahors were often added to those of Bordeaux to enhance their vintages. The Bordelaise imposed restrictions on the entry of wines from outside Bordeaux to their port which meant that no Cahors wine could enter the port before Christmas. However that didn’t stop the reputation of the black wines spreading. By the 1600s the wines were well known at the Russian Court . . . the Russian Tsar, Peter the Great, insisted that the tannic structure of Cahors wines cured his ulcer! There is even a grape named after Cahors in the Crimea.cahors vines

The medieval vineyards of Cahors stretch over limestone terraces along the valley of the Lot and over the great limestone plateau of the Causse. The climate is oceanic but is influenced by the Mediterranean. Cahors has lower rainfall than Bordeaux. In autumn, the southerly wind blows hot, dry air from the south that helps to ripen the grapes.

Gouleyant Malbec, Cahors 2012 is available from Bordeaux-Undiscovered at £9.99 a bottle.


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