Cahors: does the Malbec comparison help or hurt?

cahors_malbecPromotional authorities in the French region of Cahors are mounting a campaign that ties their little-known region to the well-known grape, Malbec. Is it a good move?

Known as “the black wine of Cahors” for its inky character, Cahors wines had their heyday in the early 14th century when production was high and half of it was exported. Then, rivalry with downriver Bordeaux led to taxes and levies that severely crimped exports and thus renown.

The marketing campaign today exclaims, “Cahors is back, Cahors is black, Cahors is Malbec!”

Hitching the Cahors wagon on to Malbec train is easy to understand. The grape has experienced sharp growth in popularity over the past few years. But Malbec has also become the signature grape of Argentina, which has almost three-quarters of the world’s Malbec plantings and is stylistically and literally oceans apart from Cahors.

So I wonder if the folks from Cahors are setting expectations incorrectly since Malbec is often understood to be big, soft, and gentle (a Bloomberg story suggested it was “stealing” Merlot sales). Those are not terms usually used to describe the wines of Cahors, which, though some can be charming and surprisingly age-worthy, can have fearsome tannins and acidity. In fact, in my book, A Year of Wine, I suggest trying a Malbec from Argentina and “black wine” of Cahors as a way to understanding the term “rustic.”

I brought a couple of Malbecs to a late summer grill-fest at some friends’ house, bagged them and poured them blind. The two wines were the Clos la Coutale 2007 for about $11–a firm but somewhat modern Cahors–and the Bodegas Salentein for about $19–not the most over-the-top Malbec form Mendoza. Generally speaking, I described the Cahors style as having higher tannins, less fruit, lower alcohol and more “rustic” and the Argentine style as having more fruit, higher alcohol, and generally a plusher feel. Although the assembled group was able to nail each for what it was, they were divided on which they liked better, particularly with the grilled meats, which improved the Coutale for those who favored the Salentein.

Maybe the new slogan should emphasize food? “Cahors Malbec: meat, your match.”

In other news, a friend who has consumed many Argentine Malbecs over the past couple of years recently admitted to getting bored with them. So maybe Cahors should just play the Cahors card in case the seeds of a Malbec backlash are germinating?

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45 Responses to “Cahors: does the Malbec comparison help or hurt?”

  1. As a fan of both Cahors and Argentine Malbec, I’m finding that Cahors is being made in a more Argentine style these days. I love the structure and texture of the old style Cahors more than the softer, more supple modern wines (including Coutale). Nowadays, if I want an earthier wine from the SW, I’m likely to opt for Madiran rather than Cahors.

    BTW, the “Meat, your match” idea is some pretty great copywriting.

  2. Wait a minute — are you saying, gasp, the French wines are less fruit forward, more tannic, lower in alcohol, and more meant for food? And the New World Wine is more fruit forward, softer, and higher in alcohol? Stop the presses! – we’ve got an exclusive here!

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

    PS– Just giving you sh*t…got a break during harvest.

  3. couldn’t agree more!
    Who was it who described a “good Cahors” as “a wine you can stand a spoon in…”?

  4. While it’s an understatement to say that most people would not be able to tell you the who’s who of grapes behind my beloved Cahors, one can say that Argentina has done a very good job of putting it on the public’s radar – which is good for France too. When cooking food from SW France, I would still prefer the rusticity of Cahors and the even more beloved 89’s.

  5. I wonder if your friend is really bored with Malbec, or whether he/she is just encountering more mediocre ones. It wasn’t that long ago that it seemed difficult to find a bad Argentine Malbec, now I rarely taste one that I think is worthwhile.

  6. It’s interesting that the French are promoting Cahors. I’ve had a couple but they’re devilishly hard to find outside of major markets, as opposed to Argentine Malbecs which are available in a wide range of prices everywhere.

    I’ve previously noted the three French orphans that have been successful in South America: Malbec in Argentina, Carmenere in Chile, and Tannat in Uruguay. All three were practically forgotten or banished to obscure AOCs back home, but have found new life in the Southern Hemisphere.

    Because I love second- and third-tier grapes, I hope the French are successful, but it will be interesting to see if they embrace the other orphans or loosen up the rules to allow for creative blending a la South America. (Cue laugh track)

  7. I like the rusticity of traditional Cahors. Conversely, from Argentina I actually prefer the cheaper, rougher Malbecs. I had a Archaval Ferrer Finca Altamira a while back and it was so polished I almost didn’t notice drinking it. Sure it was fruity and full. It just didn’t have any muscle to it.

  8. While it might help them in the short-term to latch onto another popular, currently popular, varietal, I don’t know if it’s worth it. In terms of building a long-term foundation, it’s best to establish a presence on it’s own, rather than rely on the other and risk the turning of tides.

  9. There is so much going on in both camps from a marketing school kind of perspective; new world advertising/mktg must include some element of brand awareness – it doesn’t necessarily need to be on the bottle itself – although again, some new EU legislation may change this

  10. As a Cahors producer I had to contribute to this post! Cahors is Malbec is just a simple fact (we’ve been doing Malbec wines for centuries ; my estate dates back to 1690). We’re proud of it, and we’re lucky Argentina did a good promotion of its name. I’ve been to Argentina and tasted great Malbecs, I also got awful ones. Same applies to any winemaking region you can pick, including France. So ultimately what matters behind the Cahors marketing tag line is that if you enjoy the Malbec grape, pay attention to Cahors and try them…if you can attend a tasting, it’s even better.

    As a matter of fact, Cahors and Argentina have been jointly attending and organizing the ‘World Malbec days’ for the past 2 years. It is not about fighting Argentina (our volumes can’t compare); it’s about diversity. There is not a good Malbec and a Bad one, there are many expressions of one grape (the Malbec) thru different terroirs (Argentina, Cahors-France, Chili, California, South-Africa, Australia, etc). Each has its pros & cons; that’s the beauty of wines!

    Last: should you come over to France close to Bordeaux, do contact me and I’ll make you taste great Malbec from Cahors: some over 100 years old! (I’ll pay for it!). Classic wines exist everywhere nowadays and in Cahors too…but you won’t taste them unless they’re imported…and this is the Cahors top priority today…we’re working on it! Marketing is playing it’s role; winemakers are focusing on what’s in the bottle. Next week is harvest time at my vineyard, and guess what? I have Argentineans at my place!

    When it comes to wine, always make your own opinion!

    Philippe Lejeune – Chateau Chambert, Cahors

  11. I find the comparison between Cahors and Argentina an interesting concept. A great move by the French to piggyback on lots of positive publicity.

    It is not insignificant that the Catena family has joined forces with the Rothchild family to craft Caro. Nor is it insignificant that the winemaker of the year dinner was held at Bodega Caro.

    To link the wine regions could help overall sales and acceptance of Malbec as more than a “lesser” varietal.

    But, to go further would be a stretch. Do we next link Rhone with Syrah?

    I prefer to look at the complete terroire, the grower and winemaker, the climate and the soil.

    And, I love wine as a complement or companion with food. It should not be a food group of its own.

  12. People who are exclusive Malbec drinkers (In retail they surprisingly do exist) will probably not like Cot. But I do think introducing Cahors to the consumer who is more adventurous would be a good idea. Even novice wine drinkers, especially the millenials, love to experiement. Introducing themselves to this market couldn’t hurt… not expecting Cahors to be the next big thing though.

  13. I think the marketing IS a good idea. Cohors is hurting outside of the region. So to attach it to the fast growing segment of Argentinian Malbec is a very practical solution. Although it is a bit deseptive, Cohors should certainly wine some converts.

    Your slogan is quite good, but I think it would get lost on its target market. I have enjoyed Cohors with food, but it ceratinly is not my favorite sipping wine. Although, I would rather have a bottle of average Cohors Malbec over an average bottle of Argentinian Malbec.

    Good post!

  14. Tyler,

    I’m a huge fan of Cahors and in fact visited there last summer. IMO, they blow away Argentinian Malbec which I find with few exceptions to be big fruit driven, unbalanced wines which are just not very interesting. They also do not pair very well with food unless bold flavors are involved. Even one like Achaval Ferrer which is known for it’s less modern style didn’t change my mind.

    The problem is that in the US there is a limited amount of Cahors whether it is a wine in a more modern style like Coutale or La Commanderie or a more old world style like Clos Triguedina (which is my favorite producer).Not alot of selection to sample. However, even the more modern versions are not ready when you pull the cork and do really need an hour or two to settle down, unlike the Argentinian wines which are really IMO more for drinking than to pair with food.

    I really wish that someone like Baldes was able to get his entire line-up into the US stores so you could see 4 different Cahors wines. All well balanced and age worthy, but with the intro wines being more plush, fruity, less tannic and terrific when young and then the true vin de garde which IMO compare with aged Bdx. Had a 1978 Prince Probus 2 months ago and it was an amazing wine.

    I understand the desire to expand the market, but it’s a doube edged sword. Certainly Cahors needs to make sure that people understand its made from the Malbec grape, or predominantly so, but it does other than this alone there are few direct comparisons to be made with its Argentinian counterparts.

  15. “good Cahors — …a wine you can stand a spoon in…”
    hmmm I thought it was “a wine you can stand on and eat with a spoon.” 😉

    Archaval Ferrer “…so polished I almost didn’t notice drinking it. Sure it was fruity and full. It just didn’t have any muscle to it.”
    geez, you want polish and muscle at the same time, won’t your palate get confused?

    “But, to go further would be a stretch. Do we next link Rhone with Syrah?”
    This is my fav…on the “how dare they?” front. Then what, Chablis with Chardonnay? Cote d’Or with Pinot noir?” Seems like a replay of the French wine laws all over again. Just what they were trying to make clear to the consumer all along.

    “Although it is a bit deseptive, Cohors should certainly wine some converts.”
    Yep, them Cohors are a bit deseptive bunch of grapes, making converts drink their wine. The idea.

    Seriously, I went to the Cahors tasting here in Chicago a few weeks ago, and I think that I have decided that Malbec is now worth drinking.
    Dr. V, you write that Malbec has become “…the signature grape of Argentina, which has almost three-quarters of the world’s Malbec plantings and is stylistically and literally oceans apart from Cahors”.
    Well, I say “Vive la France, Vive Cahors!”

    And for good measure, God Bless that stylistic ocean that separates the Argentine Malbec from its forebearer, Cahors. Six hundred years finally and truly makes a wine [Malbec] worth knowing and drinking.

    It is such a great idea that someone finally built a road or an airport to this little-known region so the wines can finally get out!

    Malbec, we hardly knew ye!

  16. My recommendation is to have your friend spend some time on the website that you get to if you click on my name. Really – it’ll do them a world of good.

    Thank you for your informative blogs. I have added you to my blogroll.

  17. By way of disclosure, I make a living importing Argentine wine (Vine Connections) to the US, about half of which are Malbecs. I also imported Cahors for a brief time (Domaine du Theron), so I may have some additional insight. I’m also a marketing guy at heart and it is indeed an interesting question whether tying Cahors to an explicit varietal is the way to go long term.

    There are a lot of good comments above already, but I would say that the issue for Cahors is really less about marketing than it is about winemaking. When we represented Domaine du Theron, we were excited by the wines themselves, not just that they were Malbec. The owner, Vic Pauwels (a Belgian), is a guy who saw Cahors’ future in its ability to create quality wines across the appellation, and to a certain extent wines that were typical in style but balanced enough for people to drink and enoy them. We agreed. This is the future of all emerging regions: the minimum quality that consumers encounter must be high enough not to turn them off to the entire region, and hold people long enough to try multiple producers’ wines to find the particular style they like best. Places like Cahors need not change the style of their winemaking at its heart, but to blindly go on making wines that are generally not easy to enjoy seems like a poor choice, even for those who want to remain “authentic”. Cahors can be made in a less astringent style and still not mimic Argentina’s sun-filled Malbec wines. That is a choice, not a matter of nature.

    Only at that point will people bother to choose a style of Malbec for dinner where Cahors is even in the running. I drink both (been a Kermit Lynch fan forever, so..).

  18. Ed’s comments are right on the money. I generally prefer European wines to New World wines, and while I have enjoyed several Cahors (including some I drank while spending a week in the region), I have also often been disappointed with many of them. I have found a number of Argentine Malbecs I like, some quite a bit, but also have found very many of them to be awful. There is a place in the market for both, and I hope Cahors can manage to capitalize on the Malbec craze. By the way, anyone interested in Cahors should read Michael Sanders’ “Families of the Vine,” about 3 winemaking families in Cahors.

  19. M. Lejeune: I’ll be in Cahors next Wednesday. I’m just a retailer, but I’d be more than happy to take you up on your offer!

    I’d like to know your opinion of Georges Vigouroux. As I recall, he was the first person in Cahors to put “Malbec” on his label–it was a rosé, and I used to buy it in Souillac at the Atrium by the six-pack. I remember thinking then that this was quite courageous.

  20. To the ‘wine mule’: I’ve posted an invitation for you through your blog; I’ll help you visit vineyards and meet winmakers next week if you want to! About ‘Malbec’ written on Cahors labels, I’m not sure who did it first as this resulted from internal brainstorming. In this brainstorming team you had Mr Perrin owner of Chateau Lagrezette that has been instrumental in pushing Cahors the way up, focus on quality. He was for displaying the ‘Malbec’ name on the labels and did it for his wines. Vigouroux pushed for it too…but I don’t know who got the idea first, one may have been faster than the other to print the labels! What matters is that all agreed putting the grape variety was key for the short term (to help consumers know the wine style); on most high-end Cahors however, the ‘Malbec’ name drops from the bottle which makes sense: identity (Cahors) then becomes more important. When it comes to complex wine the grape is only part of a whole story that matters a lot (the location, the vineyards, etc).

    Beware: when you come to Cahors you’ll be addicted. The sites are breath taking, even without the wine it is a superbe area to visit…but with the wine and food, you wonder if you should not relocate!

  21. Mr. Lejeune,

    I agree. We actually went to Cahors to visit the region and the wine tasting was a side trip. We loved this area and seriously have thought about buying there sometime in the future.

  22. Mr. Lejeune, you’re certainly right about the Cahors area. We spent a week near there (to the east of Cahors a bit) several years ago, and loved it. The biggest problem we encountered was finding a gas station.

  23. To me it is interesting. Both regions are in countries where the national average wine consumption is/used to be above 15 gal/person. That average has been drastically reduced. Both France and Argentina have curtailed their consumption rates.
    They have excess wines they now find, that they need to sell to reduce the inventory.
    On the quality side, in a place where everything you made would sell, now only the better quality is desired by the consumer. They are drinking less, so they want to drink better quality.
    This naturally drives up the ability to make quality wines, as they are the desirable commodity.
    Some of you may remember when Argentina first jumped into the US market –maybe 30-35 years ago. The wines were not good at all. They quickly pulled back and retooled their offerings. Within a number of years, less than 10, the wines brought in from there were completely different. And they were well received.

  24. Bobzaguy,

    What’s your definition of quality?

    To the average American consumer this is an overripe, fruit driven wine, rated 90 points by RP and costs $10/btl.

    To many others it is a well balanced wine that has the potential doe ageing 2-3 and well beyond on some wines,and pairs well with food, prices vary.

  25. My idea of quality is your idea. Well balanced with the potential to age several years and works best with food.
    I don’t pay attention to Parker for his wine-pointed suggestions. I do like to read him as a compendium of information about a region and what the different vintages are like. Then decide what to use. He is very valuable that way. Almost no one gets the access he has to so many different wine regions. I just hold my nose when I go past his rankings.
    His limits are that he can’t possibly eat something with every wine he tastes. So he can’t possibly know anything about specific foods.

  26. Great comments here! Sorry to have been away…

    @danfredman I didn’t know you were so into the wines of Southwestern France. FTW! Thanks for the nod on the possible marketing slogan!

    @bob – interesting observation. I’d say he drinks mostly malbecs in the $8 – $18 range.

    @Tom J – I’ve also enjoyed some lower priced Arg Malbecs bc they don’t get the big oak treatment.

    @Phil – thanks for joining the discussion! It’s always good to see a winemaker from SW France who is plugged in to online discussions… Yes, the diversity angle is a good one to push. It’s just that “malbec” has really come to be dominated by Argentina here in the US, which is so stylistically different than Cahors.

    @winemule – please send in a picture from your trip to Cahors!

    @Gary – thanks for sharing some details from your Cahors cache!

    @Audrey – three cheers for experimenting!

    @Ed – excellent comment and thanks for joining in the discussion. In your experience, did Argentina take actions in the early days of exporting to ensure minimum quality and/or styles for exported wines? or was it more firm-specific rather than at the industry level? Has anything changed recently given some of the comments here about some Argentine malbecs now being kind of ho hum?

  27. I think any comparison / discussions are helpful for everybody. Polemic topics suit perfect in a passionate table.
    I do not agree to take Argentinean Malbec to be judged by French “spetialists”
    It is naive and silly.

  28. would be great to hear from some of the early Cahors winemakers and what they were hoping to achieve back maybe 850 years ago.
    Was there even an Argentina then?

  29. 850 years ago the world was definitely flat. Columbus hadn’t been born yet.
    Henri I was there enjoying malbec…

  30. Wow! Pre-Columbian Malbec! What a rush that is!

  31. Just my 5 cent opinion: I doubt anyone of us would enjoy what was considered good few centuries ago (again this is just my opinion!). See what our grand-parents enjoyed for meal; and what we favor today: definitely a different taste in just 50 years. The taste evolves as our living condition does; so 850 years ago, probably anything fermented and a bit sweet (adding honey) looked great…and safer than spoiled water…but back to Malbec: what matters is how good we all are expressing our local gems (malbec grape + terroir). And maybe what we consider our best Malbec wines today; would have made Columbus or Henri I kill us for not respecting the wine! Making tannins silky could have been to them the biggest offence…who know?!

    Now I have to go, I’m preparing my Malbec harvest (D-5)!

  32. Just got back from vacation and am stunned to see so many Cahors fans. I always thought I was the only one. It’s like one of those apocalyptic movies where the hero (that would be me) finally discovers they are not the only one left.

    I agree with most of you; the best Cahors wines are generally the old fashioned, big, rustic, fruity, spicey, gorgeous ones. Argentine Malbec is generally nothing like this but hey, any press is good press I guess.

  33. Hi,

    Interesting opinion :

    “I had the opportunity to taste Cahors Malbec at a recent trade tasting in Chicago, as part of the 2009 US Cahors Malbec Tour, as well as in the Cahors region itself 2 weeks ago. My conclusion? Cahors is definitely back. While some Cahors Malbec can certainly be intense, powerful and, yes, quite nearly black in color, I found the best had an elegance and complexity I’ve not found in Argentinean Malbec. My favorite Cahors wines were deep ruby in color with a floral perfume and flavors of violets, dark red fruits, black liquorice and just a hint of eucalyptus. Their abundant but balanced acidity and tannins make them great ‘food wines’, pairing well with dishes like roasted lamb. Aging of at least 3-5 years will be rewarded.
    As good as they are, most of these wines are unfortunately not being imported into the United States. Go into any random wine shop and you’ll find 2, maybe 3 Cahors wines. However, one of the objectives of Cahors’ marketing strategy is to increase exports to the USA. Some domaines to watch for include Chateau Famaey, Chateau de Hauterive and Domaine du Prince. They, and others, are producing excellent examples of the new Cahors” (

    Cahors is back, but it will be the new black !? “Peut-être bien” …

  34. Felow wine drinkers,

    I left Montreal with my folks in 1982 to take over the family vineyard, located in the heart of the Cahors area: Quite a change!! We are now partner with François Pélissié since 2001 and my best grapes go in the Cahors Croix du Mayne blend since. At the time, Wine Spectator magazine was publishing no more than 4 or 5 different Cahors wine ratings(we started with a Smart Buy, 01 Vintage), explained by the fact they only publish ratings of wines imported in the US: only fair, why tell poeple about wines they can’t buy!!??

    In Quebec, Cahors is N°4 ranked amongst the red wines and has been imported there since decades. Nobody talked about Malbec in the early 70’s, Cahors was just unique and stood up by itself against the rest of the (at the time)old world 😉

    And then BAAM! “New World” comes up with a very simple communication program compared to our legal tangle: One grape, Malbec, one country behind the all wine industry, Argentina. Apart from the effeciency of the system, turns out Malbec perfectly fits the taste of the country that now is(or soon will be) N°1 wine consumer in the World!!

    Should we surf this wave: of course! We are too small for massive marketing anyway and our country has such a huge wine industry it can’t help marketing every single area!

    Last year, 4 Cahors wines made it in the Wine Enthusiast Top 100 and one in the Wine Spectator(our 05, TOP 53), did they compare the wines to the Malbec from Argentina? 3 times NO!! Get my drift? 😉

    As per the Coutale modern style(I heard a lot of this about the Croix du Mayne): we are struggling to get our wines imported and I don’t think it’s a matter of traditional or modern Cahors…Once we convince the US distribution we are worth the try, let the poeple taste and make their own choice: I have to confess I am no fan of purple lips and teeth at the end of a meal!! 😉

    Cahors is back, Cahors is Malbec: Spread the word my felow wine lovers!

  35. I am also a Cahors producer, nice to see topics about Cahors wines.
    We are not trying to copy argentinean wines when we say “Cahors is back, cahors is black, Cahors is Malbec”, it’s just an easy way to let consumers know that we exist for a long time and what they will find inside the bottle: A dark Malbec wine (It’s like some California Chardonnay when they write “Chablis” on the label). Malbec sounds to american people but three times “Cahors” it’s clear : Our brand and style is “Cahors”. Guess what, 3 years ago I didn’t know I was making malbec wines, I was making Auxerrois wines ! but I’ve always made Cahors wines.

  36. “Cahors is back, Cahors esta de regreso !”

    by Gabriela Malizia

    “Hasta Jay Miller -degustador para América Latina de Robert Parker- dio letra para echar
    leña al fuego: probó los “cot” de Cahors y su conclusión fue que “Cahors está de
    regreso” (haciendo alusión a la campaña ´Cahors is back, Cahors is Malbec!`). “Mientras
    que algunos Malbec (sic) de Cahors pueden ser ciertamente intensos, poderosos y sí,
    bastante negros, los mejores tienen una elegancia y complejidad que no he encontrado
    en los Malbec de Argentina”, agregó”

  37. Just had a 375 ml bottle of Clos Triguedina 2005. Beautiful after decanting/aerating. I wouldn’t open a full bottle unless you had 6-8 hours of decanting.

    Could never confuse this with Argentina. This wine will age like a fine bordeaux.

  38. Gary, thanks for the advice. I have a few bottles of 2005 Clos Triguedina, and suspected I should either wait several more years or aerate for an extended time. Now that’s confirmed by someone who’s had it recently.

  39. Hey Bob and Gary,

    Thanks for supporting our efforts and having some Cahors in your cellar!

    Generally speaking, I open my Cahors bottles mid afternoon to serve around 11PM (us guys can stay for hours at a table to eat and drink as you know!) as most of them really need to breathe…especially middle to high end Cuvees such as Treguedina.

    However, I think that’s kind of a general rule for a “complexe” wine.

    Thanks again and keep the spirit!

  40. Malbec is not good wine at all , no matter where it come from. I am French but thing this is the worst of all black

  41. We will be in France in late January to do a video about the wines and food of Cahors. Any advice on what we should film to give the viewer a sense of the region would be greatly appreciated.


  42. […] seems annoyed that Argentina has managed to position itself as the king of Malbec, if its current marketing push (“Cahors Is Malbec!”) is any indication. It’s intriguing to me that a French AOC […]

  43. It was during the International Malbec Days 2010 in Cahors :

    Enjoy !


  44. […] August 17, 2011 in red, red wine, usa, wine | No comments var addthis_product = 'wpp-256'; var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true}; Minor Key of Grapes Minor grapes are usually minor for a reason. Too acidic, too tannic, too sexy for your glass. Once in a great while, minor grapes also produce minor miracles. Think Cahors – a grape headed for extinction in France that takes an ocean voyage in its junior year of college to “discover itself” and ends up in Argentina. Goodbye Cahors, hello Malbec! […]

  45. Whatever the personal taste regarding Malbec, it is annoying to watch a rather well-known American winemaker (who spends some time in Argentina) saying in an interview that the Cahors wines are “… very rustic and therefore require modernization, upgrading…” (!) It is outrageous that people of recent arrival to the world and culture of winemaking should express opinions of such plebeian and myopic nature.)


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