Malbec has all but become synonymous with Argentina, but long before Malbec became the Argentine king its home was in Cahors, located in Southwest France. Malbec has been grown in Cahors since time of the Roman Empire, and was a well known wine up until the end of the Middle Ages. Through a series of unfortunate events Cahors lost its popularity, and the grape varietal, Malbec was almost completely forgotten. However today, in part because of Malbec’s popularity in Argentina, Cahors is beginning to experience a rebirth as interest in their wine has been renewed.
The History of Cahors’ Wine
Wine, and specifically Malbec, has been grown and produced in Cahors since at least the time of the Roman Empire. In fact, their wine was well known throughout the Empire and was a favorite among the Roman aristocracy.
Fun Fact: The Ancient Romans called Cahors’ wine “the black wine of Cahors” in reference to its dark red color.
The wine of Cahors continued to gain fame throughout much of the Middle Ages. It was exported all over Europe, as well as Russia. It was commonly seen on the tables of kings, Popes, and many of Europe’s and Russia’s wealthy elites. By the 13th century, Cahors was one of the largest wine regions in France, even larger than its neighbor to the northwest, Bordeaux. But the following century was the beginning of the end for the famous wines of Cahors.
The 14th and 15th century brought war, plagues, and famine, decimating much of Southwest France, including Cahors. Then Bordeaux, in an effort to try to reduce the competition with their own wines, began making it more difficult for their southern neighbors to export their wine through the large port in Bordeaux. Cahors could never really recover from these events. Though the region continued to produce wine, it was only a fraction of the amount compared to before.
Then the disasters began again. In the 19th century the area was hit by phylloxera and shortly after a wave of Black Rot swept through the region, destroying a large percentage of vineyards. The area managed to recover, replanting even more vineyards than before, but rather than focusing on quality as it had in the past, the focus was more on quantity. Then the combination of two world wars, and an extreme frost in 1956 that killed nearly all of Cahors’ vines set the region back once again.
Cahors gained its AOC status in 1971, and today a renewed interest in Malbec is once again making this region relevant again. Today, there are new producers working hard to bring this once famous wine region back to life.
Even though we are talking about the same grape variety, the taste, aroma, and mouthfeel differ widely due to the climate and terrain differences. Here are a few key differences between Argentine and French Malbec:
Argentine Malbec (Mendoza)
French Malbec (Cahors)
Fruitier aromas and flavors, especially jammy fruits
Less pronounced fruit flavors, more savory notes
Normally 100% Malbec, with no other grapes blended
Can be blended with a small amount of Tannat and/or Merlot, although single varietal Malbecs are gaining popularity
Softer tannins, higher alcohol, less acidity
More tannins, lower alcohol levels, more acidity
In order for a wine to be called Cahors it must be made from at least 70% Malbec. The other 30% can be made up of Tannat, Merlot, or a blend of the two. Historically, it was more popular to blend the grape varietals, although recently the trend has been leaning towards Cahors made from only Malbec.
Did You Know: Malbec is also called Côt or Auxerrois in France.
The wine region of Cahors is only a fraction of the size it was in the past. Today it’s actually only about 1/30th the size of Mendoza. But thanks in large part to Argentina’s revival of Malbec, Cahors is seeing renewed interest in their wine. And many producers in the area are focusing on producing high quality expressions of Malbec that can compete in the International market.