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Cahors Malbec Days 2014: Enjoying the "Black Wine"

Delightful warm sunny weather was my first introduction to Cahors, a wine producing region once known for its "black wine" savored by popes and royalty.

The Cahors Malbec Days festival is fairly new, yet designed to showcase both the region and the grape. The three days of festivities kick off with a Monday morning symposium exploring Malbec at every angle: historically, scientific exploration into how tannins could be tamed, and its rating in the social networking world.

A combination wine tasting and lunch took place in the center of the village at the Salons de la Prefecture, where 38 vignerons and negociants stood at stands while delegates helped themselves to traditional small bites from the region.

Most producers had at least two wines of contrasting styles, such as the early drinking "tradition" (lower price point, stainless steel, typically a blend of Malbec and either Tannat or Merlot) which is described as round and fruity, and by low must have 70 - 85 percent Malbec with a price point 5 - 7 Euros. The "prestige" style is described as rich and 'gourmond,' and must have at least 85% Malbec for the name of the grape to appear on the label. It is typically aged 12 months in a neutral vessel and is priced 7 - 14 Euros. The most elegant style is called "cuvee speciale" and described as "elegant and complex." It can age up to 15 years, often has a percentage of new oak or is aged entirely in new oak, and priced above $15 though some producers offer wines well above $70 USA.

According to buffet table gossip, the favored wines included Chateau du Cedre, Clos du Chene, Chateau Les Croisille, Chateau Eugenie, Georges Vigouroux, Domaine du Prince, and Clos Triguedina.

As is the case in all French buffet lunches, these "little bites" are most delightful, allowing guests to litterally have a bite of everything. Catering was from David Blanco of Restaurant Cote Sud and was fabulous.

And in the evening, a spectacular event as we gathered in the Cathedrale Saint Etienne to see American sommeliers join the "brotherhood" of Cahors and receive medals. As I was traveling with these fun energetic somms, it was great to see them honored.

They included:
Caterina Abbruzzetti, Sommelier, Eno Wine Bar, Four Seasons Washington DC- USA
Beth Benz, Sommelier, Whiskey and Wine Off 69, New York City USA
Kevin Bratt, Sommelier, John Seafood, Chicago-Illinois, USA
Hannah Barett Grossman, Sommelier, City Winery, Chicago-Illinois, USA
Meghan Haley, Sommelier, Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab, Washington DC – USA
Brent Kroll, Sommelier, Neighborhood Restaurant Group, Washington DC, USA
Scott Mayger, Sommelier Telepan, New York City, USA
Julian Mayor, Sommelier, Bourbon Steak, Four Seasons, Washington DS, USA
Jason Prah, Sommelier, Acadia Restaurant, Chicago-Illinois, USA
Jacob Schwimmer, Sommelier, Paris Club Bistro & Bar, Chicago-Illinois, USA
Evan Workman, Restaurateur, BLI Fish, BLI Fish Shack, Private Dining, New York City, USA
... and after the ceremony, more vignerons and negociants poured their wine with cuisine served in buffet fashion.

Cahors Malbec Days: Day 2

Perhaps one of the most important things to understand about Cahors is that terroir is divided by vineyards in the "plateau" and the "coteau," meaning the valley floor and the hills.

On the valley floor, the soil is mostly alluvial, yet it is divided into a system of classification called "terraces" with the first two terraces closest to the river considered suitable for fruity, easy drinking wine production.

The third and fourth terraces can create more complex wine, as these are closer to the hills and one can find limestone and clay in the soils.

In any event, at a plateau vineyard we found international soil experts Claude and Lydia Bourguignon neck deep in a soil pit, exposing the roots of a vine and explaining how soil can impart minerality to the wine.

Following this was a tasting of plateau wines from a variety of producers. Here some favorites were Georges Vigouroux, Chateau de Cayx, Chateau du Cedre, Clos du Chene, Chateau Eugenie though all were quite good.

After this tasting we were invited to Chateau Armandiere, a lovely 'homey' winery owned by the charming Bernard Bouyssou.
Our little group tasted his wines, including a non AOC white and rose, and found them delightful.

That evening, we had a tasting and dinner at a historic castle ... this was a two hour tasting on a gorgeous lawn, and dinner inside a tent. I had met Heifara Swartvagher of Chateau Saint-Sernin in the garden, seeking him out after being very impressed with his wine.

Day 3

So today we visited vineyards in the coteaux - hills - where soil experts Claude and Lydia Bourguignon were busily exposing roots and explaining the vastly different terroirs that could be possible in even one single vineyard.

Their key takeaway point was that when vineyard owners know the various pockets of soil, they could use this information to better cater to the vine's exact nutritional and water requirements, "stressing" the particular parcel as needed. Also - and rather interestingly - it is possible that by knowing the soil structure one can adjust the harvest, picking grapes on one particular parcel earlier or later than another.

After this demonstration we had a tasting with 24 producers and 'negoce' with vineyards in the coteau. According to some of the sommeliers in our group, this terroir was the best yet. It is important to note, that like Burgundy, many producers have different plots in both the plateau and coteau.

It was here that I met the incredibly cool producer Emmanuel Rybinski of Clos Troteligotte, who had incredibly great labels (ticket in French) that just had the letter "K" that corresponded to the terrior. I especially liked this domaine at the top levels with 100% Malbec and often 25 months in oak.

This evening, we spent at the Relais and Chateau hotel and restaurant Chateau de Mercues - fabulous cusine! Yet before dinner, we had a tasting of Malbec from the New World.