Auch, Cahors, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Foie Gras, Gascogne, Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, Old Vines, Organic Wine, Rivesaltes Ambré, South West France, sparkling wine, Tannat, Viognier, wine tour, wineries
During my short time in the Gascony region of France I stayed at a lovely little farm in the countryside that produces the region’s specialty – foie gras! I had booked my accommodation through the Air BnB website and had chosen the place due to its central location (based on my touring) and for its lovely design/renovation. I was a guest in the home of Olivier and Jean-Luc, owners of Auberge de la Gouardère in Roquelaure, which is situated approximately 10km north of Auch. On my second evening, my hosts invited me to join them for dinner, and to try several of the specialties from La Gouardère that Jean-Luc had made. We had foie gras, pâté, duck rillettes and a dried duck sausage. I contributed some wine (no surprise there!) so we enjoyed a beautiful 1996 Rivesaltes Ambré from Château Montner, which had been made by my previous hostess. The wine is a blend of 40% Grenache Gris, 40% Macabeu and 20% Grenache Blanc that was aged oxidatively for 48 months. It was a fabulous pairing with the delicious duck dishes, with its rich flavours of dried fruits and apricots; very well-balanced sweetness with acidity. With the main course of a traditional Quiche Lorraine we shared some great conversation and a bottle of Grenachator that I had been given at Domaine Rimbert earlier in the week. I very much enjoyed my stay at La Gouardère and would hope to return some day.
I decided to take a bit of a leisurely scenic drive on my way up to Cahors so a spent a bit of time in Auch walking around the old town and cathedral, perched on top of the steep hill. Then I drove north, via Fleurance, stopped in the cutest little village – Flamens, then continued through Valence, Lauzerte, and stopped in Tournon d’Agenais, an old fortified hill town that dates back to 1271! It was a nice little town to wander around and there were some great views from up there as well. Then I continued on to my appointment at Château du Cèdre, located between Vire-Sur-Lot and Puy-L’Éveque, in the Cahors AOC. This is the region where Malbec (or Cot or Auxerrois as it is sometimes known there) comes from originally – the black wines of Cahors. The vineyards in Cahors are located on a series of alluvial limestone terraces, rising up from the Lot River. The lower terraces (1st & 2nd) produces supple fruity wines, the medium terraces (2nd & 3rd) produce fleshier wines, and the upper terraces (3rd & 4th) including the limestone scree produce the richest Cahors with the ability to age well. Also highly prized is the higher limestone plateau, which produces wines with less flesh but more finesse.
Château du Cèdre is owned by the Verhaeghe brothers – Pascal and Jean-Marc, who took over the family vineyard in 1988. Pascal is in charge of the wines and Jean-Marc is in charge of the organic vineyards. They began the process towards full organic certification in the early 1990s by banning all herbicides and were able to eliminate all chemical sprays by 2002. In 2009 they applied for organic certification and then in 2012 the first certified organic vintage was released. Approximately 70% of grapes that they purchase are also certified organic and this will soon be 100% as well. I was greeted at the winery and shown around the cellar and barrel room before Pascal came over to the winery to lead me through the tastings. I asked how the 2013 vintage was going so far and found out that it too would be delayed, as it was in many other locations throughout France. Also, there was a big problem with coulure (failure of grapes to develop after flowering, and Malbec is particularly susceptible) in Cahors this year, leading to the yield being almost halved. Most years, they are able to achieve 25-30 hectolitres per hectare but this year it would be closer to 15.
In the tasting room, Pascal poured me the 2011 Chatons du Cèdre to begin. It is a blend of 90% Malbec and 10% Merlot, made in a very easy-to-drink style from bought grapes. It spent 15 months on fine lees in concrete tanks. It is medium-plus ruby in colour with cherry, ripe red fruit and spice on the nose. It is dry with medium acidity, softening tannins and flavours of ripe red fruit. It is well-balanced and rounded with a medium finish. The 2011 Cèdre Heritage Malbec does have 5% Merlot added and the grapes come from the 2nd and 3rd terraces as well as the plateau. The fermentation process was kept at cooler temperatures in order to maintain the fruit. Punch downs occurred only at the start of fermentation (4 times per fermentation vessel) and after that the cap was just moistened daily for a couple of minutes. 80% of the wine was aged in tank for approximately 18 months while the remaining 20% was in older oak. It is medium ruby in colour with aromas of floral, darker fruit and a hint of savoury. It is dry with medium acidity and tannins – quite approachable. It is medium-bodied with flavours of dark cherry, berry and hints of spice. Pascal offered me a comparison for the next wine – 2010 Château du Cèdre Cahors vs a tank sample of the 2011 vintage, as they had just completed the blending a couple weeks earlier. The blends and winemaking were the same but the weather had been a bit hotter in 2011 than 2010. The wine is a blend of 90% Malbec, 5% Merlot and 5% Tannat from vines that range in age of 17-30 years and are located on the 3rd terrace and higher. Maceration lasted 5-6 weeks and then the wine was transferred to oak barrels for the malolactic fermentation. The wines were aged for 22 months in oak – one third new, one third three-year-old and one third four-year-old. The 2010 vintage is medium purple-ruby in colour with blueberry, plum and cherry on the nose, medium-plus intensity of aromas. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and tannins and pronounced intensity of flavours of black fruit, blue fruit and spice. It is well-balanced with a long finish. The 2011 vintage is medium-plus purple-ruby in colour. The nose is still a bit tight but I got some dark fruit, black cherry and spice. It is dry with medium acidity and a round mouthfeel. After giving it a bit more air, I found violets and blueberries on both the nose and the palate with soft, silky tannins and a medium-plus finish. I asked Pascal for the key to the phenolic ripeness and silky tannins. He says it’s down to the pips, or seeds; they must be 100% dark brown and if you bite into one it must even be a bit sweet, that’s the key. The 2010 Le Cèdre is 100% Malbec from 30-50 year old vines from the 3rd terraces. It has been aged for 24 months in 80% new and 20% old oak and has not been fined or filtered prior to bottling. It is a deep ruby-purple in colour with medium-plus intensity of aromas of ripe purple fruit, cassis and blueberry. It is dry, full-bodied with medium acidity and medium-plus tannins and flavours of blueberry, cherry and spice with a very long finish. The ‘GC’ 2010 vintage is 100% Malbec from 50-62 year old vines and is made in a very “hands on” method. Each bunch is destemmed by hand and fermented in new 500L oak barrels with heads removed to allow access. The must is warmed or cooled accordingly with small water-filled pipes. After the wine has been pressed off, the same barrels are re-filled for malolactic fermentation and barrel aging of 24-30 months. This wine is starting to open up nicely; it is deep purple in colour with a rich, complex nose with pronounced intensity and aromas of violets, blueberries and black fruit. It is dry with medium acidity and medium-plus-plus tannins. It has flavours of dark fruit with some floral hints and is elegant, complex and a long finish – delicious! We finished off the tasting with the Vintage Malbec, made from late-harvest grapes and fortified to 16.5% alc/vol. Pascal wasn’t sure of the freshness of the bottle that was open on the tasting bar but poured a bit for me to smell anyway, before opening up a new bottle. That first pour was highly floral but a bit oxidative and starting to lose its freshness. The pour from the new bottle was a deep ruby-purple in colour with aromas of walnuts, floral and black fruit. It is sweet, but well-balanced with the acidity. It has flavours of hazelnut, black fruit, spice and fruitcake with a long finish – quite lovely! Pascal graciously sent me on my way with a bottle of the 2008 Le Cèdre, which I have not yet opened, but am saving to share on the right occasion with friends who will appreciate it.
After my visit at Château du Cèdre I drove just a short distance to their neighbour, Clos Triguedina, which has been in operation by the Baldès family for seven generations, since 1830. The current proprietor is Jean-Luc Baldès. The name of the winery comes from the Occitan phrase “Me triga de dina”, which means “I am longing to dine”, which is what the Pilgrims of St Jacques de Compostela would say when they would stop here to revive themselves. The estate is made up of 65 hectares covering the 2nd, 3rd and 4th limestone terraces and is planted with 75% Malbec, plus Merlot, Tannat, Chardonnay, Viognier and Chenin Blanc. The vines are planted at the higher density of 8000 vines per hectare, which is double the required minimum of the AOC.
Christelle welcomed me into the tasting room and led me through their portfolio of wines. We started with the 2011 Le Sec du Clos, which is one of the Moon Wines, or Vin de Lune, picked early in the morning or at night to maintain the cool temperatures, aroma freshness and reduce oxidation. Named for wines from back in the 17th century when the peasants would pick the grapes at night to hide part of the harvest from the landowner in order to pay fewer taxes and deprive the king of part of his harvest. This wine is a 50/50 blend of Viognier and Chardonnay from the upper plateau. It is very pale in colour and has a fruity nose of medium-minus intensity. It is dry with medium acidity and an interesting palate with flavours of citrus and a hint of nuttiness. Next up was something new to me – a sparkling Malbec rosé! The Bul’s by Baldès is made with 100% Malbec from the 2nd terraces. It is a pale salmon-pink in colour. It is very fresh with medium-small bubbles and red fruit on the nose and palate. Next up I tried a series of three wines, all 100% Malbec and all from the 2008 vintage, but each from a different terrace to demonstrate the effect of the different terroirs. The 2008 Au Coin du Bois comes from the 2nd terrace, made up of red limestone with some areas that are silty or pebbly. It is deep ruby in colour, with dark ripe fruit on the nose, with some of the aromas starting to develop into more of the dried fruit/fruitcake spectrum. It is dry with medium acidity and tannins with flavours of dried fruits and dark fruit with a long finish. The 2008 “Les Galets” comes from the 3rd terrace, made up of clay limestone with soil deposits that date back 500,000 years with a strong presence of iron, calcium and lava residue. It is deep ruby in colour with a rich fruity nose with a bit of minerality and sweet spice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium tannins and pronounced intensity of flavours. It has more complexity and elegance than the Au Coin du Bois, with flavours of dark fruit with a hint of menthol and a long finish. The 2008 “Petites Cailles” comes from the highest plateau, more than 200m higher than the others in the series, on clay limestone soil with a large presence of iron. It is medium ruby with hints of purple in colour with aromas of blueberry, violets and a real purity of fruit. It is dry with medium acidity and tannins. It has a lighter mouthfeel than the others, much more feminine, more elegant, lovely with a long finish. Although all were tasty, my favourite was “Les Galets”. Probus is the Grand Vin from Clos Triguedina, named after Emperor Probus from the 3rd century who allowed winegrowers to once again plant vineyards in Quercy (the former province where Cahors is now located). The 2005 Probus comes from the oldest part of the estate, on the 3rd terraces, with the average vine age being 80 years old. All the work in this part of the vineyard is done by hand and only the best grapes go into this wine, aged 18 months in new French oak. It is a very deep ruby in colour with aromas and flavours of violets, blueberries and spice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and softening tannins. This wine is still very young, and quite lovely! Next we moved onto something quite different – The New Black Wine. Back in the Middle Ages, Cahors was famous for its black wines, where part of the grapes or part of the must would be heated to concentrate the flavours and colour and stabilize the wine. Jean-Luc Baldès recreates this by drying a portion of the grapes in large ovens used locally to dry prunes, and then adding those dried grapes in with the fresh ones for fermentation. The image on the label comes from the stained glass in the tasting room. The New Black Wine 1997 vintage is medium-plus garnet in colour with pronounced intensity of aromas of fruitcake, prunes and raisins. It is slightly off-dry with medium-plus acidity, pronounced intensity of flavours of fruitcake, some salinity, prunes and figs with a very long finish. We finished with another Vin de Lune – Le Moelleux du Clos, which is a late harvest botrytized Chenin Blanc that spent 18 months in oak. It is pale gold in colour with a fresh nose of honey and orange blossom. It is sweet with medium acidity and a round luscious mouthfeel. It has flavours of citrus, spice, fruitcake and marmalade and is very nicely balanced.
As I was leaving Clos Triguedina, I noticed a great fence along the property across the street. I’m not sure whether or not it belongs to a winery, but the fence of barrel staves really caught my attention!