Vinexpo 2009, which ran 21-25 June in Bordeaux, featured an interesting and obviously intentional juxtaposition. The Wines from Argentina pavilion was flanked by a more modest but still brazen presentation of the wines of Cahors, in southwest France, which considers itself the ancestral homeland of malbec, the grape that has made Argentina famous.
The ploy by the Cahors wineries worked as far as this writer is concerned – being rather familiar with Argentina’s malbecs, I was more interested in tasting the French versions. I sat down with Laurent Marre, a sommelier born and raised with the “black wine of Cahors,” who poured me several of the wines on display.
These were arranged from fruity and accessible to more tannic, expressive and expensive. Yet there was an impressive continuity of style and flavors, as one would expect from a wine region that has found its voice. These are large, tannic wines for the most part, with impressive structure, lots of fruit, and minerally finish. Although I am usually a fan of wines that do not see oak, I found myself drawn more forcefully to those that had been aged in new oak barrels for at least part of their lives – the oak gave structure and smoothed out the tannins. A skeptic could easily (and perhaps convincingly) argue that the oak stripped some of the appealing rusticity from the wine. But I felt the Cahors character came through even with the polish. That makes the choice a matter of preference, and probably price.
My favorite producers: Château Lamartine, Mas de Périé (organic), Le Cèdre (organic), Château La Reyne.
Argentina’s malbecs are cheaper and more accessible, which makes them more marketable to the U.S. consumer. But during my short tasting with Laurent Marre, we were interrupted several times by Argentine wine makers coming over to taste the “original” malbecs. So the savvy decision to place the Cahors booth near the Argentine pavilion reached a core audience.