The Black Wine of Cahors

Château Lagrézette © T.Joly
Original home of the Malbec grape, the AOC Cahors stretches along the Lot River amidst beautiful landscapes dotted with medieval castles. A new generation of winemakers is recapturing the quality reputation of the past producing concentrated powerful wines for connoisseurs as well as fruitier, sleeker and more approachable ones.

[ Practical ]

Getting there
- By road
580 km from Paris on autoroutes A6a, A10, A71 et A20.
- By train
Intercités train from Paris Austerlitz to Cahors. The journey takes from 5 h 10 to 5 h 45.
- By plane
Flight to Toulouse, then car rental to reach Cahors located 110 km away.
- Hotels
Hostellerie du Vert in Mauroux
Le Bellevue in Puy l’Evêque
La Truffière in Puy l’Evèque
Le Vinois in Caillac
Château de Mercues
Clau del Loups in Anglars Juillac
Le Terminus in Cahors
- Bed and Breakfast
Château de Cousserans in Bélaye
Domaine Delmas in Parnac
Chemin Faisant in Puy l’Evêque
Le Mas Azémar in Mercues
Madame Ferron in Albas
Le Ballandre in Cahors
Le Gindreau in Saint Médard Catus
Le Vinois in Caillac
Table de Hautes Serres in Cieurac
Hostellerie du Vert in Mauroux
Château de Mercues
Le Bellevue in Puy l’Evêque
Clau del Loups in Anglars Juillac
La Vénus in Prayssac
Getting around
It is necessary to have a car to get to the wineries.
- Cahors wines
- Lot Tourist Office
Tel : 0565350709
Lazily snaking below limestone plateaus called causses, at the feet of medieval fortresses and through picturesque villages, the Lot creates some of the most beautiful landscapes of the namesake department. From Cahors and for about fifty km westward it also goes through the vineyard to witch the city gives its name. Promoted to the AOC status in 1971 and permitting only red wines, this appellation covering 4 600 ha is both old and new.

Lot valley © T.Morel
 Earlier than in Bordeaux
It’s an old one because viticulture was introduced to the region by the Romans some 2000 years ago, maybe earlier than in Bordeaux according to some historians. But, it’s also a new one because almost all the vines were wiped out by phylloxera at the end of the 19th century and then by an extremely severe frost in 1956. So, most of the vines you can see today have been planted after this date and they occupy three different terroirs. Lands with chalky subsoil enriched by alluvial deposits located near the river giving smooth, soft and fruity wines. Terraces situated on the slopes of the valley where the soil becomes more calcareous with altitude that give full bodied and rich wines, the highest ones giving the appellation’s best crus. Limestone plateaus, less fertile, more gravely, where the wines have less flesh but more finesse. However all wines have in common a dark colour earning them the nickname Black Wine.

Cahors vineyard © T.Morel
 Ability to age
This color and the ability to age are due to the dominant grape variety for centuries locally called Cot or Auxerrois. However, the winemakers of Cahors are now using the name Malbec better known in the world since Argentina produces very popular wines from this cepage. Appellation rules impose a minimum of 70% Malbec, the balance being made up by Merlot and/or Tannat, but it’s more and more common to find wines with a higher proportion or even 100% of Malbec. Vintners indeed believe that it is these wines that best express the typicity, character and potential of the appellation. However, Malbecs from Cahors are different than the ones from Argentina. They have more vivacity and freshness, more tannins and an exceptional ageing capacity.
This long but somewhat turbulent history of Cahors wines is recounted on a 120 x 6 meters fresco by contemporary French artist Chamizo. Combining legends, real facts and a good measure of humour, it adorns the wall of the port of Douelle.

Chamizo's fresco © T.Joly
 Exported all over Europe
Today a leisure boats base ideally situated 12 km away from Cahors, it used to be one of the main shipping points for the local wines that were first sent to Bordeaux by barges and from there exported all over Europe. Dutch and English people were indeed especially fond of them and legend has it that putting a drop of the "black wine of Cahors" to the lips of a dead man would bring him back to life. Maybe that’s why Russian czar Peter the Great only wanted to drink this wine insisting it cured his ulcer and helped his delicate stomach. He also forced the Orthodox Church to adopt it as its Communion Wine. Besides, the very influent bishops of Cahors did much to promote it all over the Christian world and in the Vatican.
Their former power is discernable through the numerous buildings they left along the Lot valley. At Mercues, the beautiful castle overlooking the right bank of the river was one of their fortresses then their summer residence up to 1906.

Château de Mercues © Boileau
 Activities related to wine
Transformed into a 4* Relais & Chateaux hotel in the 80s, it’s also a famous wine estate and its basement houses an up to date cellar where guests can watch the wine making process during the grape harvest season. Its owner, Georges Vigouroux, also runs the Château de Haute Serre situated on a causse on the other side of Cahors, on the south east edge of the appellation. There, he produces top red wines as well as an excellent dry white wine called Albesco and sold under the appellation Vin de Pays du Lot. This estate offers a wide range of activities related to wine and gastronomy such as cooking lessons, wine tasting and grape harvest workshops. In addition it boasts a restaurant serving dishes made up of local specialities such as truffles from January to March or saffron in October. More wineries are found on the causes surrounding Cahors, particularly near Trespoux.

Lot valley © T. Joly
 Prehistoric site
However, most of the vines and cellars are located west of Douelle and one of the first estates on the way is also one of the most well known : the Château Lagrézette. This fine example of Renaissance architecture in Quercy is indeed owned by Cartier’s tycoon Alain Dominique Perrin who welcomed celebrities from the entire world and thus contributed to increase the appellation reputation. It is situated near the peaceful village of Caillac where stand a nice Renaissance church as well as two other castles, a common sight in the Lot valley. Also boasting a nice hotel and a good restaurant, it is a perfect base to explore the surroundings. From there, it’ s only a few minutes to get to Crayssac, at the edge of the causse, where former quarries take you back to the prehistoric times, at the Jurassic period. Archaeologists indeed discovered there 140 millions years old prints left by shellfishes, molluscs, worms, turtles and above all pterosaurs a flying reptile the size of a gull.

Luzech © J . Morel
 Wines with an almost endless finish
As to the wine lovers they have only a few km to do to reach Parnac, one of the villages claiming the title of Cahors wine capital. There, pay a visit to the Château Saint Sernin where France’s only Polynesian winemaker produces good value fruity and nicely structured wines. And don’t miss the Vignobles Saint Didier, where the Rigal family makes great wines with an almost endless finish called La Vierge and Apogée.
A bit further, the Lot reaches Luzech, a medieval village nested in a loop of the river and dominated by the Impernal, a hill with scant Gallic and Roman remains. There, you can take a paragliding tour that gives unmatched views of this exceptional site where stands a powerful 13th century square keep, the only remain of a castle built on behalf of the bishops of Cahors who also owned the neighbouring fief of Albas. In peace times, they liked to spend the summer months in this picturesque village hanging on a cliff where winding narrow streets are lined with ancient houses, wine cellars dug in the rock as well as remains of the ramparts and the castle.

Puy l'Evêque © T.Joly
 Prettiest town of the valley
From the top, the view over the valley and the vineyards is gorgeous. Although it is much smaller, Bélaye shares many similarities with Albas. Houses dating back to the Middle Age and the Renaissance, the ruins of a castle once owned by the bishops and a cliff top setting. This natural lookout overlooks a sea of vines and few villages. Anglars-Juillac, snuggled up beside a Romanesque church and a medieval century castle. Prayssac, where a busy market takes place every Friday morning and the starting point of an interesting 13 km waymarked trail leading to dolmens and strange rock formations. It’s there, at Château du Cayrou, that you can find the only vines said to have survived the 1956 frost, the Clos de Gamot.
In the past the wines from this area where loaded aboard barges in Puy l’Evèque, probably the prettiest town of the entire valley. Situated on a hill overlooking the Lot river, made up of grand houses built in honey coloured stone, it’s a maze of narrow streets and alleys all leading upward to the summit where stand a church, a castle and a tower built between the 13th and 15th century.

Château de Chambert © T. Joly
 Promising winemakers
The square facing the city hall offers a nice view of the Lot valley and the last villages of the appellation. Vire-sur-Lot where are too of the most renowned estates, Château Gaudou and Château du Cèdre. Duravel, where less known but promising winemakers have settled. Gérard Decas, in Château la Gineste. Stépahen Azémas, in Clos d’un Jour, who ages some wines in earthenware jars. Laurent Nominé in Château Cantelauze, originally from champagne, who elaborates well balanced wines with silky tannins. South of Puy l’Evêque, the limestone plateaus also have some pleasant surprises in store. Particularly the Château de Chambert, a ravishing manor surrounded by vines and cypresses that stands near Floressas at the altitude of 300 m, one of the highest points of the appellation. In 2007 software magnate Philippe Lejeune bought it and hired wine consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt. Together they introduced sustainable agricultural and biodynamics practices and Château de Chambert is now regarded as one of the top estates. In addition to great red wines, it also produces Rogomme a traditional fortified dessert wine of Quercy with a 17,5% alcohol content obtained by heating the grapes during the vinification.

May 21, 2011
Thierry Joly 

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Abreuvoir 2007
Cotagé 2007
Essence 2007
Merlot de Cantelauze 2009
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Château de Chambert – Grand Vin 2007
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Malbec Original 2008
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Château Lagrézette 2005
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Château de Haute-Serre 2005, 2006, 2008
Cuvée Prestige 2005
Rosas Vinito 2009
Albesco, Vin de Pays du Lot Blanc 2009
- Château La Gineste
Château La Gineste 2007, 2008
Secrets 2005, 2008
- Château Saint Sernin
Cuvée Prestige 2008
La Tour 2005
- Clos d’Un Jour
Clos d’un Jour 2009
Un Jour… 2007
- Mas del Périé
La Roque 2009
- Vignobles Saint Didier
Malbec Original 2007, 2008
Apogée 2005