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Posts Tagged ‘Cahors’

Our final visit in Cahors brought Erin, Patrick and myself to one of the leading estates in the region, the Château du Cèdre. Located in the commune of Vire-sur-Lot, the domaine is run by two very dynamic brothers, Pascal and Jean-Marc Verhaeghe.

Pascal, Patrick and Erin in the vineyards..

The domaines holdings encompass approximately 27 hectares (55+ acres) of south and southwest facing vines planted predominantly to?.. you are correct.  Malbec. Tiny amounts of merlot, tannat, vigonier and semillon are also in the vineyard mix. The vine age range on is bewteen 21-50 years. In the photo above,  Pascal was describing to us the vineyard (seen below) that makes up one of the prestige cuvées  known as Le Cèdre (more on this later).

Malbec growing in the prestigious commune of Vire-sur-Lot

Although Château du Cèdre is arguably the most internationally known Cahors domaine, the enterprise is still quite modest in terms of size.  Including brothers Pascal and Jean-Marc, the team totals 12 personnes. That averages out to 1 person for every 2.5 hectares. Plenty of work to do and never a dull day!

Team mascot of the domaine.. Le Cèdre

After a tour of the vineyards, we returned to the domaine and headed towards the chai (cellar) to taste. Smack dab in the center of the domaine courtyard was this mighty cedar or cèdre. Just in case you forgot where you were, here was a gentle reminder!

tasting with Pascal Verhaeghe in the chai..

Once in the cellar, Pascal took us through the range of estate wines that are produced at Château du Cèdre.

LA GAMME 

Château du Cèdre Blanc: 100% viognier, fermented in 500L demi-muids, with elevage in 50% new barrel  andd 50% 1 year barrel. A big and rich white.

Château du Cèdre “Prestige”: composed of 90% malbec and 10% tannat. Fermentation in large wood foudre. A classic cahors in terms of flavor profile (deep plum, licorice etc) but with more supple tannins. A great introduction to the wines of the region.

Château du Cèdre “Le Cédre”: 100% Malbec, fermentation in wood (80% new, 20% 1 year). Elevage last for approximately 22 months  (80% new, 20% 1 year). Unfined, unfiltered.

Château du Cèdre “GC”: A  new prestige cuvée, first released in 2000. Composed of 90% Malbec, 5 % Tannat and  5 % Merlot.  Fermentation in 500L open top wood. Post fermentation maceration up to 40 days. 24 months elevage in the same wood vessel. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.

The grande finale..

Pascal wrapped up our visit by opening this 1998 Le Cedre that had been  resting in the cellar. Over the past 10+ years, inky black fruit and a monolithic structure had given way to soft plum, violets, a whiff of licorice. Warm tobacco nuances provided extra nuance, without overpowering this mature red. What a treat to try this ’98. (If you recall from an earlier post of mine, I had opened a ’99 back in Cali earlier in the year with several friends at dinner)

A huge thank you to Pascal Verhaeghe for this great afternoon at Château du Cèdre!

Next: Summer is here..Rosé, Rosé Rosé !!

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Happy summer solstice to everyone! Here is a disclaimer: The following photographs were not taken today, on this longest day of the year, but rather several weeks ago in the Cahors countryside. 

The incredibly beautiful and sunny weather that day made this series of pics so appropriate to post in celebration of this first day of summer.

Paul Einbund..so jazzed to be in Cahors!

After our visit at Le Château les Croisille and en route to our next rendez-vous at Château du Cèdre, Germain suggested that we stop and check out a section of his vineyards. Alongside the vineyard, we discovered this fantastic stone hut. These huts, known in the region as a “cazelles” or “gariottes”, dot the countryside wherever vineyards grew or shepards roamed.

Constructed entirely of individually found stones, and without the use of mortar, these huts were historically used by vineyard workers and shepards as a place to take a break, have lunch or perhaps take a cat nap during their long days of working outside.

INT: une gariotte de Cahors

For me, crouching, stepping inside and then kneeling in this modest stone hut consumed me with an immense feeling of serenity, beauty..sprituality. The chalky white stones, every one of them seemed to be perfectly place. The pure white light, pouring in through the openings in the ceiling..

And finally, looking upwards, nothing but blue, blue sky. This moment blew me away. Such a modest abode, but within it such amazing beauty. My sister once told me that each day she makes it a point to discover, cherish and remember at least one special moment, because every day of our lives is a gift.

It is a great message, and one that I try to practice everyday. I am very grateful to Germain for showing us his vineyard that day, and for allowing me to experience this very special moment.

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Château de Grezels

Our final day of International Malbec days brought us to the Château de Grezels for a farewell luncheon and tasting.

les escaliers..

While ascending the stairs of the Chateau towards the courtyard entrance, I stopped, caught my breath, and the turned around to this most serene view of the Cahors countryside and the Lot Valley.  Magnifique!

Ricardo Giadorou of Bodega Dolium

At the luncheon I also had the opportunity to chat with Ricardo Giadorou of Bodega Dolium. Ricardo gave a very thorough presentation the day before on the state of winemaking in Argentina, and more specifically Mendoza, where Bodega Dolium is located. As the sole representative from the malbec powerhouse of Argentina, I found his thoughtful and more objective opinions on the current state of Cahors very interesting. I hope that his hosts did too.

pile in! we are off to..Château les Croisille

After lunch, and without much of a game plan, I accepted an invitation from a friend of mind to accompany their group on a couple of afternoon winery visits. Why not! As if on queue, a young man in a small, economy sized car promptly pulled up and introduced himself as Germain, the son and young winemaker at Château les Croisille. Great! 6 off us piled into his car (with luggage in tow) and sped off.

La maison..

I ended up sitting on the front seat, on someone’s lap, with my head sticking out the window for the entire duration. Pretty hilarious..but we made it to the domaine located in the commune of Luzech. Thank you Germain!

inside the chai @ Château les Croisille

Once we got settled, Germain introduced us to his parents, Cecile and Bernard, who founded Château les Croisille back in 1980.  When husband and wife first arrived in the region back in 1979, they procured 30 hectares of vineyard land planted their first vines in 1981. Over the last 28+ years they have steadily built up the resources and reputation of the domaine. Today they produce a select range of wines, predominantly devoted to the region’s supertar varietal, malbec.

les vieilles vignes

After tasting through a range of wines and barrel samples, our group moved outside, where we were able to get a view of the adjacent vineyards, as well as these formidable old vines! No longer as efficacious as they once were, the vines had been grubbed up and were to be transported elsewhere. I was glad to see that they were not sumarily destroyed or used as fuel for the next family BBQ.

fromage!!

We then took a moment to snap off this group photo behind the family home at Château les Croisille. From left to right:

Paul Einbund: sommelier and wine director at Frances, San Francisco

Alan Murray: master sommelier and wine director at Masa’s, San Francisco

Patrick Comiskey: senior contributor/writer, Wine & Spirits Magazine, Los Angeles Times

Germain Croisille: fils, and next generation wine maker @ Château les Croisille

Bernard Croisille: père and founder of Château les Croisille

mumu: !!

A huge thank you to the Croisille family for hosting such an interesting tasting at the domaine! For additional photos of the domaine, please check out “les photos” to the right.

 

Prochain arrêt: Le Château du Cèdre in Vire-sur-Lot..

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Malbec anyone?

Our second morning at International Malbec Days got underway at the “Malbec Lounge” with a second (very) comprehensive tasting and presentation by a group of world renowned wine and soil experts.

The role of terroir as it relates to the specific identity of a wine..

First, renowned soil experts Lydia and Claude Bourguignon presented a summary of their research on the specific soils of Cahors. More specifically, they stressed the importance of biodiversity and health of the soil. The two soil microbiologists intiated something of a soil revolution in wine back in the early 1990’s  when they rallied french vignerons to critically examine and current state of the countries vineyards and its overwhleming use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. When Claude and Lydia speak, people listen. We were very fortunate to hear their thoughts on that day.

On the far right of this photo is none other than Paul Hobbs. That’s right, one of America’s brightest and most respected winemakers. Wonder what Paul is doing in the southwest of France? Well, talking malbec of course. In addition to his eponymous winery in California, Hobbs has been at the forefront of the malbec revolution for close to two decades.

Along with partners Andrea Marchiori and Luis Barraud, Hobbs founded Viña Cobos, which produces a range of wines of red and white wines from the winegrowing region of Mendoza, Argentina. The shining varietal here is none other than malbec, and since its first release in 1999, wines from Viña Cobos have garnered considerable attention and praise. Paul is an expert on malbec, so it was great to hear his perspective on the present state and future of the ancestral home of the varietal.

Mon coup de coeur.. Un Jour Sur Terre

More tastings that morning revealed what was for me the wine of the trip. Le Clos d’un Jour is a small domaine run by Veronique and Stephane Azemar in the district of Duravel. What made this malbec so memorable for me was that is combined both power and elegance so seamlessly. Along with the requisite, inkiness,black fruit and plum notes, the 2005 “Un jour sur Terre” (A day on this earth) displayed wonderful floral/violet and spice notes that provided an extra dimension of levity and brightness to a style of wine which can often feel like one is plunging into an abyss when taking that first sip.

Unfined and unfilted, yes..but also aged for 18 months not in oak, but rather in specially designed clay vessels or amphorae. Stephane explained that the reasoning behind this was to showcase the purist expression of the fruit and terrior while, evenly age the wine by providing steady levels of oxygen.

Dinner is served..Cahors style

Later that evening (after a very warm boat ride on the Lot River) we all sat down to a wonderful dinner featuring Quercy lamb paired with a range of malbec wines from both Cahors and Argentina.

Patrick, Paul and Co..

I took a moment between courses to jump up on a window sill and grab this fly on the wall view of my table and fellow dinner guests.

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Well, now that you know something about the wines of Cahors..but what about the local cuisine?
Below is a brief summary of the food specialties of the region. The next time you visit, be sure to seek them out!

Les Truffes!

Rare, seasonal and delicious, one cannot explore the cuisine of the region without considering this magical funghi. The season here generally runs from December to March, when the famous truffle markets in Lalbenque and Martel are held. These rare gems which tend to prefer limestone soil and is most often found growing on the rootlets of oak trees. Specially trained dogs or (not so specially trained) pigs have the superior nasal skills needed to uncover these delicacies.
Rocamadour cheese..thanks to Myrabella for the photo!
Perhaps the region’s very best and most famous cheese hails from the A.O.C. of Rocamadour (also a breathtakingly beautiful village). Produced as far back as the 15 century, this small disk-like fromage is made from goat’s milk. Rocamadour can be enjoyed a variety of ways: on its own, sprinkled with cracked pepper, warmed gently and served on warm toast and with a salad, or drizzled with honey!

Rich and creamy..foie gras

Duck, geese and of course foie-gras are all traditional specialties of southwest France, and Cahors is no exception. Not a fan of the super-rich and highly contraversial foie gras? Then try instead a more simple (and less decadent) duck confit or perhaps a pan seared duck breast in a Cahors red wine reduction.

Walnuts

Another important food product to be found here are walnuts, and more specifically those sold under the A.O.C. Noix du Perigord. Originally introduced to the region by the Romans, walnuts take on numerous culinary, alcoholic and healthful uses.  They can be found adorning a cheese plate, in salads, as an integral component to cakes and pastries, pressed to give a clear light oil or used in the creation of the local “vin de noix” a local liqueur.

Melons..thanks to Toby Hudson for the pic!

During the summer months, markets throughout the region will often feature the delicious and fleshy “Melons du Quercy”. These are grown on sunny and well-exposed chalky hillsides in the Quercy Blanc region.  The bright orange and sweet fruit center is perhaps best enjoyed on its own at the height of the season.

saffron?

Yes saffron! In the last 10-12 years or so the crocus sativus has enjoyed something of a renaissance, as local farmers (particularly in the Lot and Cele valleys) have re-introduced this crop. Harvest time comes around October, when the delicate and pale mauve flowers litter the landscape. All harvesting of these fragile flowers must be done by hand and on a daily basis. It takes approximately 200-250 flowers to yield 1 gram of the finished spice. Expensive, but oh so worth it!

Lamb du Quercy

Perhaps the quintessential dish to pair with the deep wines of Cahors is none other than Quercy Farm lamb. Raised on the limestone plateaus of the region, the ewes nibble on the sparse grass and fresh herbs that grow alongside. Locals admit that these grasses and herbs are transferred directly to the meat, which contributes to its unique and delicious flavor.

Bon Appétit!

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overlooking the Lot river and Cahors

After our lunch and tasting on the Pont Valentré, our group boarded a bus and headed west approximately 20 minutes and along the Lot river, to a fantastic locale overlooking the vineyards of Cahors.

What a phenomenal place to conduct a tasting! Over the next hour or so, we tasted through 18 different wines from Cahors, ranging from fresh and more vibrant examples to intense, super ageworthy cellar candidates. Please check out “Les Photos” for pics of  my tasting highlights.

Anthony Rose

Our tasting was moderated by Anthony Rose, a wine writer and journalist based in the UK. Mr. Rose is perhaps most well known for his column in The Independent. He has also written for such publications as Decanter, The World of Fine Wine and the Oxford Companion to Wine. Since 2008 he has also been a member of The Wine Gang, a webzine comprised of 5 British journalists that review and rate wines with a focus towards the consumer.

A perfect setting..

Mr. Rose’s presentation was engaging, thorough and very informative. Sitting beneath the shady trees was an ideal spot for participants to taste through the extensive lineup as well as listen and take notes.

Cahors pup

Sitting beneath a shady tree was also a great place for this Cahors cutie to take his afternoon nap!

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morning at le Château de Mercuès..

My first full day in the region on Cahors started with a glorious morning and breakfast at the Château de Mercuès,  a Relais et Châteaux overlooking the Cahors countryside and the Lot river. The Château’s history is important to the region, having been the the summer residence of the bishops of Cahors since the 13th century.

Castles and wine..

Today the property’s current owner Georges Vigouroux maintains an impressive wine cellar showcasing the domaines wines (yes, they make very good Cahors too!) as well as a gastronomic restaurant. For more photos of this magnificent property and jewel of Cahors, please check out the “les photos” link below right!

Le pont Valentré..all decked out

After breakfast, we made the 10km drive to the nearby town of Cahors. For the next several days, this town, and the lovely bridge pictured above was truly the global epicenter of malbec! Le pont Valentré is the symbol of Cahors, having been constructed during the 14th century. On this particular weekend, it was all dressed up, and served as a hosting venue for multiple Cahors producers.

Old school..

Adjacent to the bridge, I discovered this very traditional wine press also on display..

Alan, Paul, Vanessa & Patrick at International Malbec Days 2010

After a morning of seminars moderated by the British journalist David Cobbold, our group convened at the rivers edge for a brief respite before attacking lunch and a comprehensive tasting of wines from the region.

sous le pont..

Apparently, up until a week prior to our arrival, the weather in Cahors had been rather cold and rainy. As you can surmise from the photo above, the weather on this afternoon could not be more perfect. Warm, pleasantly sunny and dry. Can I please get a light chill on that malbec..?

A post prandial degustation sur le pont..

And after lunch, we hopped onto the bridge to begin our tastings and meetings with the wines and producers of the region. A particular highlight for me was my tasting with Château Haut-Monplaisir. This 44 acre domaine is owned by husband and wife Cathy and Daniel Fournié. Together, and with the help of Pascal Verhaeghe at Château Cèdre (more on this excellent domaine later) the Fourniés are producing what I believe to be some of the tastiest wines of the region. Luckily, the wines are also represented in the USA by Vintage59 imports.

A Cahors worth seeking out..

 

Next up:  A wine country tasting with Anthony Rose

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