Argentina may be the country that put Malbec on the worldwide stage, but the wine’s origins tie to France—particularly to a region called Cahors. Cahors makes up part of the South West France wine region, which is to the south and southeast of Bordeaux. Malbec is also grown in Bordeaux, where it is a lesser component in Bordeaux blends.
There are about 100,000 acres of Malbec planted worldwide, with slightly over 76,000 of it in Argentina, and approximately 15,000 acres in France. Cahors is located 130 miles east of the Atlantic Ocean, and about the same distance from the Mediterranean Sea, to the south. Its climate provides warm summer days with more sun than experienced in Bordeaux, which allows the Malbec grape to fully ripen and show its best. The viticulture area in Cahors covers about 25 miles along a curvy section of the Lot River, which eventually flows into the Garonne River, which goes toward Bordeaux—a port city.
The region’s wine history dates to Roman times and beyond. In the 12th century, “the black wine of Lot” was served at the wedding of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henri Plantagenet, who would go on to become the king of England. After the wedding, the demand for the wine from the region grew, and the ability to transport the wine via the rivers was key to its notoriety and reputation.
In 1866, there were over 140,000 acres of vines in Cahors, when the pest known as phylloxera arrived from North America. After phylloxera, many French American hybrid grapes were planted here, and by 1940, there were only about 12,000 acres of vines. The frost of 1956 obliterated the vineyards. The growers in Cahors who remained decided to replant with the region’s own grape, Malbec, along with some plantings of Merlot and Tannat.
Based on Cahors’ long history of growing grapes and their increasing dedication to making quality wines, the region was awarded Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) status in 1971. Under the region’s AOC guidelines, wine with the AOC Cahors on the label must be comprised of at least 70 percent Malbec, with blending partners Tannat and Merlot. The Malbec grape also goes by the names Côt and Auxxerois in the region.
Red wines from Cahors have firm, structured and moderate tannins with an elegance to them. The wines may have flavors of tart currants, black plum, savory herbs, black tea, black pepper, and spice.
Pairings for Cahors would include a peppered steak or burger, beef brisket, duck, lamb, dark-meat chicken, and pork shoulder. Dishes seasoned with black pepper, cumin, coriander, garlic, shallot, parsley, thyme, and rosemary should pair well. They will also pair well with mushroom dishes, roasted root vegetables, as well as lentils or black beans.
In 2007, the Interprofessional Wine Union of Cahors formed an association with the Wines of Argentina to create World Malbec Day, which is celebrated on the 17th of April. This day celebrates Malbec’s true home in Cahors, and its adopted home of Argentina.