Monday, October 20, 2008

A Weekend in the Cahors

After an agonizingly long train ride (6 hours) with my Franco-American butt in a seat designed for a French derrière, I was picked up in Agen by my Cahors winemaker, Fabrice. His hands and teeth were stained black from tasting and working on the fermenting wines, and that heady aroma of wine clung to him. God that smell rocks!

The next morning dawned foggy and very cool if not downright cold, and after some meetings and work I was looking forward to lunch with my aunt and uncle. They own a small mas (farmhouse) in the area, which my uncle, ever the bricoleur (handyman), has been rebuilding by hand. When he tires of a particular project or needs a break, he tends to focus on some smaller pieces of artwork that can distract him for a bit. Such was the case with his most recent creation, named “A Panic of Flowers”: it was painted as he listened to the news concerning the financial meltdown on Wall Street. Scattered in and out of the house are many of his works, including a huge sculpture sitting against an external wall that is, to me, someone who can barely change a light bulb, an evolving work of pure genius.

My aunt preparing lunch

My uncle showing off his "Panic of Flowers"

Painted Portals

The Sculpture

Artwork in the house

Lunch was a languid affair over the course of several hours, with locally-made rillettes de porc (shredded pork paté, absolutely heavenly), locally-made merguez, boudin blanc sausages and a fresh and aromatic ratatouille. I had forgotten how good that could smell, and it brought back many memories of my youthful summers in France with the family. Remember that scene from Disney’s movie? That’s what it was like. This was followed by an array of cheeses and finally some succulent pastries.

The table awaits

We drank a 2006 Château de Gaudou Grande Lignée, a Malbec/Merlot blend that had been aged in oak barrels to give it heft and add some complexity. Very young and tight, this needed to be coaxed out of the glass before offering rich, dark fruits and an elegant mouthfeel. Lovely with the food.

Tapping the 1733

Returning to the domaine, we found Fabrice pumping over the 2008 Tradition, Grande Lignée and Renaissance. He took a moment to pull us over to the tank with the 1733, his entry wine, a 100% Malbec focusing mainly on freshness rather than power or weight. The April 2008 frost had hit the Cahors region hard too, and he had lost about 30% of his crop. Still, the summer saw periodic sprinkles of rain, which the remaining grapes thirstily slurped up, ensuring their continuing health.

Tasting the just-fermented (and still warm) 1733

The 1733 hadn’t started malolactic fermentation yet but he let us taste it anyway and I was blown away: rich black fruits, fresh dark flowers and a zippy, almost searing acidity were followed by some puckering tannins. This was still wild and crazy, delicious yet never really coming into its own. The malo would soften it a bit and calm it down.

Pumping over the future 2008 Tradition

After I said my goodbyes to my family, he pulled me over to a section of the winery where the three tanks were undergoing remontage (pumping over). “Want to taste? It’s unfermented Malbec,” he offered, and how could I say no? He was offering me tastes of the Tradition, the Grande Lignée and the Renaissance, before these had even become wine. These Malbecs are from plots grown respectively at the bottom of the slope, midway up the hill, and at the top of the hill. Only the Lignée had started fermentation. The Tradition tasted grapey, powerful yet aromatic, there was more finesse to the Lignée with a streak of minerality and that gritty yeastiness one gets from fermenting wine, and the Renaissance was a powerhouse of the best of both. Too cool for words.

Dinner that night was a quiet but warm affair, as both Fabrice and his parents were exhausted from the harvest and all the work that goes into making wine. Still, it was nice sharing their table, discussing winemaking techniques, talking about the business (they were thrilled to have been well-reviewed by Gary Vaynerchuck on Wine Library TV – granted, he is selling the wine, though he does try to remain objective, the review’s the last one of the three Malbecs tasted), and generally chatting about things.

I left that Sunday, heading for parts South, specifically Carcassonne, where I’d be staying with my Minervois producer, Château La Bouscade.

Next: Monday in the Minervois.

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