If you are a Malbec lover, then you will agree with me that Cahors is one of the best wine regions in Southwest France. Known as the regions of “Black Wines”, Cahors is making a comeback with a little help from American winemaker Paul Hobbs. When I say “Black is the new Black” I mean it literally. Cahors used to be one of the biggest and best wine-producing regions during the middle ages and now after many trials and tribulations they are making a comeback.
I had the opportunity to explore Cahors in-depth with Paul Hobbs(he helped put Malbec on the map for Argentina) and Bertrand Gabriel Vigouroux(4th generation winemaker in Cahors). The discussion was one of friendship, honesty and passion. Both had a vision to revive the reputation of Cahors, and today they are making the best expressions of Malbec in Cahors. Their vision goes a little deeper, it was not just to make the best wines possible but to also help other winemakers and the region raise the bar on the winemaking process. The philosophy being “the rising tide lifts all boats”.
Cahors is a small, rugged and beautiful region in Southwest France, an old wine growing region with a fascinating history. The region has been producing wines since Roman times. It had achieved worldwide recognition in producing exceptional quality Black wines. The Middle Ages were Cahors Golden Age, it was the largest wine-producing region in France, exceeding even Bordeaux. Cahors began exporting its Black Wine to various countries in Europe and Russian. It was admired by the Czars, Kings and royalty for being a strong wine.
In 1241 the economy of Cahors came across a major roadblock. Bordeaux limited its ports to Cahors and imposed high fees and taxes on the winemakers. The environment became very difficult for winemakers to sell their wines. Starting in 1826 there came a series of natural disasters; phylloxera, mildew, black rot and later frost. They needed to replant, and so today Cahors is a very old wine growing region with new vines.
Malbec’s ancestral home is Cahors. The wines are referred to as “Black Wines”. They are deep, dark and opaque in color with firm tannins and deep concentration. Malbec is the essence Cahors wines , sometimes a bit of Merlot and Tannat are blended in. From natural disaster to resurgence, the Cahors AOC was formed in 1971. The AOC required the wines to have a minimum of 70% Malbec, though today many wines of Cahors are 100% Malbec. It is also one of the very few AOC’s in France that permits only red wine. The region is extremely special and quite rare as only 10,000 acres are planted.
Crocus Wines aims to revive the beauty of Malbec from Cahors with a new world vision. Crocus is story of passion, friendship, vision and rebirth. Bertrand Gabriel Vigouroux’s family has been producing wine in Cahors since the 1880’s. Cahors is the birthplace for Malbec, and so Bertrand seeked out Paul Hobbs. Who better to partner with than the world specialist on Malbec. Together Paul and Bertrand have formed a loyal friendship sharing one vision, to redefine Malbec in its birthplace.
Crocus is a sensual flower from which the spice Saffron is produced. Crocus has been grown in Cahors since the 14th century. The Crocus flower grows around the vineyards and thus the inspiration for the name. Crocus is the flower from which saffron is produced.
Paul shared his open and honest perspective on how his partnership with Bertrand started. Bertrand had contacted Paul in 2008. Paul flew to France to specifically meet with Bertrand and see the region. Paul was open and honest and admitted he had some hesitations and preconceived notions of the regions. Paul had heard the Black Wines of Cahors were too tannic, too acidic and too difficult to drink. He recalled reading an article in a prominent publication saying that said the region was too cold and too wet and that the grapes don’t ripen properly.
Paul tried to keep an open mind when visiting Cahors, as he recalled many said Argentina was too warm from growing Malbec, which we all know is a myth. Paul told stories about when he went to Cahors in December 2008. It was a really cool time of year, he set out to visit the cellars, the vines and the soils. During his visit he recalls enjoying plenty of foie gras, truffles and saffron in Cahors. His partnered had gained 20 pounds working harvest just eating foie gras, cheese and truffle. Jokingly, Paul says Cahors is a very dangerous place to work.
Aside from the foie gras and truffles, he saw things that were obviously intriguing: diverse soils, rocky terraces, plateaus, and terroir that was extremely interesting. He found the climate to be warmer and drier than Bordeaux.
During his visit to Cahors, Paul experienced a deeper understanding of the relationship between Cahors and Bordeaux, realizing that Bordeaux controlled Cahors and they basically taxed Cahor out of existence. Paul realized why Bertrand wanted a winemaker from America rather than Bordeaux.. The relationship between Bordeaux and Cahors has been one of animosity. Bordeaux shut Cahors down and that was the problem. There is no love lost between the two regions.
There were several problems Paul found on his initial visit to Cahors, There were issues with sanitation and over extraction. Many winemaker at the time thought that if a little was good, a lot was better. Bertrand was interested in improving the vines, the winery and the winemaking process. Winemakers in Cahors couldn’t get enough money from their wines to do what was essential to making quality wines. Hand picking was out of the question. There were many challenges with sanitation, farming, canopy management, green thinning, and hand picking was out of the question. How were they going to raise the prices on the wines, to pay for workers to do this manual, tedious processes? Raising prices was a problem. Paul, Bertrand and other winemakers decided to bite the bullet and decided to improve quality at a huge cost.
After his visit, Bertrand asked Paul to join him in a partnership, Paul said “let’s date before we get married”. So they worked together to see if they could align their philosophy, and Paul joined as a consultant. In 2011 they made their first wine, and Paul and Bertrand made their partnership official.
Bertrand Gabriel Vigouroux
Bertrand says his relationship with Paul is very special, though many people view it as strange; a Frenchman approaching an American guy growing Malbec in Argentina, to come to Cahors.
Bertrand’s great great-grandfather started the company in 1887. Bertrand is a 4th generation winemaker committed and passionate about Malbec in Cahors Bertrand wanted to elevated the status and quality of Malbec in Cahors. When he saw how Malbec became a superstar in Argentina, he bought a plane ticket to Argentina and visited different wineries,. He visited Viña Cobos(Paul Hobb’s winery) and tried many of Paul’s wines. Bertrand was blown away and thoroughly impressed with the wines and so he sent an email to Paul asking him to visit Cahors. In December 2008 Paul came to Cahors to taste and discover the region.
Asking Paul Hobbs to join him, was a hard decision, because France had many great winemakers and he was worried about perception. It was quite an unusual move for someone from France. In the end it was a beautiful friendship that had developed and Paul and Bertrand have been able to bring much-needed change and improvement to the region. Today Cahors is on the rise. Much respect is being garnered for its wine and winemakers. There has been a resurgence in popularity and quality of Cahors wine.
Crocus – Unique Terroir and Wines
Crocus wines are made with Malbec from highly acclaimed terroirs of Cahors on the Massif Central Mountain around the snaking Lot River. The vines are grown on the Plateau, Third Terrace and Fourth Terrace.
Bertrand says “Malbec is a Diva” it is not easy to work with. It likes limestones and so Cahors is perfect for that. Limestone makes Malbec very elegant and refined.
The Plateau – The Massif Central Mountain located in the heart of France, was formed during Kimmeridgian period (a sub-Jurassic period). The soils of Cahors are composed of Kimmeridgian limestone, also found in Burgundy and Chablis. The Plateau has an elevation of 980 feet and contains a layer of iron rich clays with rare blue clay, lending structure and energy to the wine.
Fourth Terrace – This terrace sits at an elevation of 788 feet and sits just below the ridge of the Plateau with a mix of limestone from the plateau and alluvial soils from the river. This mix offers red fruit and a rustic earthiness to the wines.
The Third Terrace – The Third terrace is closer to the river at an elevation of 558 feet. This terrace has ancient alluvial soils of clay, pebbles and sand, imparting elements of black fruit, supple tannins and they add roundness to the wines.
L’Atelier is a perfect example of that dark “black wine” of Cahors, Grapes are grown on the 4th and 3rd Terraces. This is a Malbec of structure of elegance. It is dark, purple, opaque color with aromas of rose, cherries and plum. On the palate you get elements of clove, cherries, and cinnamon . Has a wonderful mouthfeel of earthy tannins and nice fresh acidity. A real interesting Malbec and one that personifies the excellence of Cahors. At $20 this is an exceptional value for a quality French Malbec made by the best, Paul Hobbs and Bertrand Gabriel Vigouroux.
The Plateau and the 3rd and 4th terraces exemplify the terroir of this wine. Le Calcifère means “one that which contains lime”. The name comes from the high concentration of limestone in the terroir. A dark violet wine with notes of black cherries and wonderful baking spice. It is concentrated, lively, fresh, and powerful. Really enjoyed the firm tannins and savory finish.
The fruits for this wine come from the Plateau and the 3rd Terrace with high density planting. The wine spent 24 months in 100% French Oak barrels. It is dark and brooding with a deep amethyst color. It’s an intense and complicated wine with aromas of strawberries, raspberries and aged balsamic with notes of chocolate and spice, It is complex, elegant and powerful all at the same time. A well-balanced wine with nice minerality and structured tannins, It has a graceful long finish.
Quercy Saffron Recipe
With a name like Crocus ( saffron flower), I had to introduce a recipe using this royal spice from Cahors. Saffron maybe the most expensive spice on this earth($2000-$10,000 a pound) and only needs to be used sparingly. In Cahors during the harvest of Saffron, there is a festival in Cajarc, a village in Causses du Quercy. Cajarc is a 13th century village where the festival is still very authentic.
Bertrand and his team gave us a bottle of this saffron, he said “Saffron is grown in other parts of the world, but Saffron from Quercy is thought to be the purest in the world.” The quality of Saffron from Cahors is of exceptional quality.
Nina from Crocus Wines had a chat with the chef from Bertrand’s Michelin star restaurant Château de Mercuès. He prepared a recipe just for us, using this very special saffron from their property.
Chicken Breast Supreme Poached in Saffron Vegetable Broth – By Julien Poisot Michelin Star Chef at Château de Mercuès, Cahors
Ingredients, Serves 2 People
- Two Small Carrots, With Tops
- 2 Colored Radishes
- 1 Bunch of Wild or Green Asparagus
- 1 Large Spring Onion
- 1 Small Chioggia Beet
- 1 Stem of Rainbow Chard
- 2 Cups Vegetable Broth
- 2 Pinches Quercy Saffron
- 2 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
- 1/4 Stick of Butter
- Peel all the vegetables and shape them.
- Cook the vegetables in boiling salted water until just slightly crisp, chill them in iced water, drain and set aside.
- Boil the vegetables in boiling water, then add the saffron to infuse for 10 minutes
- Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and place them in the saffron broth, bring to a simmer and cover and cook for 8 minutes. After 6-7 minutes, add the vegetables to the broth to bring them back to temperature.
- Remove the vegetables and the chicken breasts, set aside.
- Turn off the heat and directly stir the butter in the saffron broth until it melts.
- Cut the chicken breast in half lengthwise. Arrange everything harmoniously in a soup bowl, and add the broth.
The French Winophiles
Check out what my fellow French Winophiles have to say this month on the beautiful region of Cahors.
- Rob from Odd Bacchus tells the real deal on Cahors: A LOT to Love.
- Liz from What’s In That Bottle paints the place What’s Red, Wine, & Black All Over?
- Wendy from A Day In the Life On the Farm tempts the crowd with Basque Chicken Stew paired with Black Wine.
- Payal from Keep the Peas gives us a bit of everything we want with White Wine, Red Wine, Black Wine, Cahors!
- Camilla from Culinary Adventures With Camilla gets the party going by pairing Grilled Lamb Sirloin with Cèdre Héritage 2015.
- Rupal from Journeys Of A Syrah Queen inspires and delights with Crocus Wines – Exploring Cahors With Paul Hobbs and Bertrand Gabriel Vigouroux
- Jeff from FoodWineClick! may be getting us in trouble with Forbidden Foods and Stinky Cahors.
- Robin from Crushed Grape Chronicles gets out the map and takes us to Cahors – Malbec from along the Winding River Lot.
- Jill at L’Occasion shares Cahors: Your Favorite Wine For Fall.