U.S. wine consumers have only recently discovered Malbec, the red wine grape that does so well in Argentina, and most of what’s coming to our market places is from South America, where it’s been produced for a very long time. But Malbec has an ancestral home, one in which it has never been especially well treated.
It does well in the southwest of France, in the Pyrenees foothills somewhat northwest of Bordeaux. In fact, for a time, it was a Bordeaux blend but discontinued a long time ago. In a way, the Bordelaise sabotaged the Malbec and other wines from the area described merely as “The Southwest,” an area planted with an amazing number of different varietals. As the Bordeaux merchants solidified their markets in northern Europe, they purposely excluded access to their markets the wines of Cahors, Gaillac, Agen, and other districts in the Southwest. Worse, they devised excessive tax and handling structures for those wines to make it difficult for them even to approach the markets.
Things are a little better these days, as Bordeaux wines become more and more expensive and transportation systems make shipping more egalitarian. I developed a taste for these wines in the 1970s and 80s when exploring the nearby (relatively) Corbieres vineyards and making pilgrimages to the renowned cooking of Michel Guerard in his three-Michelin-star inn in Eugenie-les-Bains. The red wines of Malbec and Tannat were so rich in color that they were known as “black” wines, the most famous being from Cahors, in my mind, the historic home of Malbec before it made its name in the New World.
That’s why I was happy to find a Cahors Malbec in Costco last week, the first for me in an American retail store. Of a good vintage — the 2009 — it is also from a distinguished estate, Chateau Labrande from “the Bishop’s Hill” (Puy-l’Eveque). It has the deep red expected in Cahors but is softened somewhat by the addition of Merlot (10%). Still a touch tannic, it could do with another year or two of harmonizing, but it is still a fine representative of a newly-popular ancient grape variety. At under $10, it’s very good value and offers a French wine experience out of the main stream.
Match it with a truffle-seasoned dish and think of the splendid view from the Esplanade de la Truffiere in Puy l’Eveque, and you’ll capture the very essence of the famous “Black Wine” of Cahors.