Cahors

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To say that the Malbec of Cahors has been the wine of kings, popes and tsars is not an understatement. From the Middle Ages onwards, the “black wine of Cahors”, as it was known, was enjoyed by such notable figures as Henry II of England, Eleanor of Aquitaine, King Francis I, Peter the Great of Russia and Pope John XXII (who was born in the area). Experts in the 1700s wrote about the high quality wines of the region, as did the French agronomist Dr. Jules Guyot in an 1868 text, where he also described Malbec’s excellent ageing potential.

In the late 1800s, the phylloxera crisis - a microscopic louse or aphid that lives on and eats the roots of grapevines - devastated the vineyards of Cahors. Vineyards were replanted and the wine trade was rebuilt, only to have an extremely severe frost destroy a significant amount of the new vines in 1956. Since then recuperation has been a slow process, even after Cahors gained its Appellation de Origine Controllée status in 1971, and it was not until the arrival and the subsequent popularity of South American Malbec in the 1990s that interest in the region and in its star grape was revitalised.

As is also the case with Burgundy, to understand the wines of Cahors it helps to have a basic understanding of its terroir. Although there are nine distinct types of terrain in Cahors, handily they can be divided into two neat groups: the terraces of the Lot river valley and the overlooking plateau. The River Lot is bordered by a series of three steps which are called "Terrasses". The soils of the first and lowest terrace, closest to the river, is full of alluvial deposits and produces supple, fruity wines. The second or middle terrace sits a little higher on the slopes and has rather more limestone in its soil, giving fleshier wines and better structure. The upper or third terrace, with its well-draining limestone scree soil, provides the richest, most ageworthy Cahors wines. Two thirds of Cahors’ vineyards are planted on these terraces.

Above the terraces, a limestone plateau dominates the Lot valley. The Kimmeridgian soil is less fertile than that of the terraces and the plateau is less affected by the moderating influence of the river due to its altitude (300m). The correspondingly wide contrast in day and night temperatures results in slower ripening and later harvesting of the Malbec grapes. Wines produced here have less flesh but a greater finesse.

There is no requirement to specifically state where the grapes were grown and often wines will be blended from parcels of grapes grown on different terraces and/or the plateau.
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