In idle hours, usually over an opened bottle of something north of 14% alcohol, we occasionally find ourselves playing the “what if?” game with wine history and letting our imaginations run wild. What if Europe’s vineyards hadn’t been ravaged by the phylloxera bug in 1863? What if the 1976 Judgment of Paris had broken the other way? What if a young general counsel named Robert M. Parker Jr. had decided to stick with his law books at the Farm Credit Banks of Baltimore?
Here’s another one we’ve been chewing over lately: What if the sun-kissed vineyards of the Cahors region in southwestern France hadn’t been required to run their bottles through Bordeaux’s ports? A little backstory: The dense, voluptuous Malbecs from Cahors, known as “black wine” for their deep, inky color, were for centuries among the most coveted in the world. Roman officers sipped it while regular soldiers drank Burgundy. Pope John XXII declared it the official papal communion wine. English kings and queens toasted with it at their weddings. Russia’s Peter the Great filled cargo hulls with cases full of Cahors Malbec.
But there was a hitch. Cahors lies 130 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. To reach the royalty of England and beyond, they had to go through Bordeaux. And the Bordelais, it turned out, were a jealous lot. They managed to secure tax exemptions for themselves, increasing their exports, and in turn imposed heavy fines and levies on their neighbors’ product, putting it out of reach of most and stuffing a cork in Cahors’ status as the favorite drink of the throne.
If not for that geographical and economic anomaly, the mesmerizingly complex 2014 Château du Cèdre Cahors we’re selling today might not be going for the bargain price of $14.99. A butterfly flaps its wings a little differently and you could be dropping the kind of cash needed for a bottle of Latour.
In spite of these historical machinations, Cahors has of late experienced a brilliant renaissance. For that, the vintners outside this small medieval village have the craze surrounding Argentinian Malbec to thank. But while Argentina makes for exuberant, opulent, fruit-bomb expressions of the grape, Cahors — the birthplace of Malbec — offers a different profile, showing classic Gallic finesse: tightly wound and lean, sleek and beautifully honed. No less an authority than Robert Parker predicted this resurgence over a decade ago. In a prescient 2005 Food & Wine article, Parker wrote of Malbec: “by 2015, this long-ignored grape’s place in the pantheon of noble wines will be guaranteed.”
Château du Cèdre, a 66-acre estate that has been planted with vines since back to Gallo-Roman days, is the standard-bearer for the Cahors region. The vigneron, Pascal Verhaeghe, has a mischievous smile and a preternatural touch for the soil. Along with his brother Jean-Marc, Pascal crafts wines that are quite approachable when young, but also age exceptionally well. In the warmest and most western part of the appellation, Verhaeghe’s 66 acres of manicured vineyards are the beneficiary of a unique microclimate, equidistant from the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, and the Pyrenees. Spread across south-facing slopes above the River Lot, plots have generous exposure to the sun, which shines hotter and brighter here than in Bordeaux, ensuring that grapes reach full phenolic maturity early in the season. Vines that are 30 to 45 years old spider deep into soil — 60% clay-limestone, 20% limestone, 20% clay-siliceous — sucking up the minerals that help lend this wine its incredible concentration and complexity. The result? Finely muscled, beautifully focused Malbecs with extraordinary tannins.
The 2014 Château du Cèdre Cahors “Cèdre Héritage” is 95% Malbec, 5% Merlot. Purple-black to the rim with aromas of cassis, violet, savory spices, and licorice.The attack is pure, rich, plush, and polished, with a core of velvet-textured blackberry, black cherry, violets, and dried herbs flavors. This is a powerful, elegant, multidimensional Malbec that wildly over-delivers for the price.
90 points from Wine Enthusiast. One of the finest expressions from vineyards once reserved for popes and kings. 600 bottles, only $14.99 from WineAccess today, thanks to the jealousy of the Bordelais.
Mixed review here. Our first bottle was corked. We enjoyed the second but think it needs to be paired with the right food to bring out its best. Its not one of our favorites -- we have a couple more bottles to experiment with food pairings.
Not a great Malbec. Seemed immature out of the bottle, with a bouquet of an unfavorable nature.
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