By 1855 there were enough fine producers in Bordeaux that the powers that were divided the best of them into the hierarchy of the 5 “classed growths” that are still with us, and that is still as well respected today as it was then. Chateau names like Lafite, Latour, Margaux are now ones of legend, but once upon a time, the so-called “black wines of Cahors” were considered to be Bordeaux’s peer if not its superior.
Though certainly not the only reason for Bordeaux’s dramatic rise above Cahors in terms of reputation over time, Bordeaux’s geographical location definitely didn’t hurt it very much at all, and Cahors’ definitely did. Bordeaux is blessed by being situated directly on several large, navigable rivers (Dordogne, Garonne, and Gironde), while Cahors is located much further inland to the east. And though phylloxera hit Bordeaux hard, its often gravelly, even sandy soils are not the phylloxera louse’s preferred digs, so the damage was not crippling. Cahors was not so lucky., The dreaded pest devastated Cahors, and sadly Cahors never really fully recovered from it…That said, there is still a fine core of old producers that are joined every year by new, young vignerons looking to build on a great 1,000+ year tradition.
As mentioned above, the wines of Cahors were known to be “black”, and indeed Cahors’s grapes – primarily Malbec with Tannat and Merlot supporting (this one’s 90% Malbec and 10% Merlot), are not pigmentation challenged. Further, there’s a wide swath of dense and dry limestone and clay territory within the zone – locally called causses (this wine is grown on this type of ground) – whose soil serves to further darken and intensify vines planted on it. These are not the ultra-dense and bright Malbecs that Argentina’s climate and super-high elevations allow for, but good Cahors is still a dark and chewy wine with a lot more “mystery” than any bottle from Mendoza that I’ve run across…and WAAAY cheaper than any big-named Bordeaux for sure.
Instead of going with a traditional southwestern French menu (it’s a regional cuisine with a fair amount of hard to find and/or pricey ingredients, and lots of labor intensive, all-day-to-prepare dishes) I opted for a Turkish spread: a first course of creamy, minty green pea soup, and then a main course of kofte kebabs with a garlicky purslane and sun dried tomato salad with yogurt and pita bread.
Chateau Lamartine Cahors 2008
Deep, blackish crimson/purple color. Elegantly earthy nose of blueberry, plum, and blackberry fruit, with clear aromas of molasses, dark chocolate, cloves and nori seaweed. The full body is sleek and plush in texture with stiff but smooth, slightly peppery tannins, and a vivid, “crunchy” acidity which makes a great foil for the rich and clean flavors of black cherry, blackcurrant, juniper berry, and licorice. Dry and balanced candied watermelon finish.