Where’s Malbec from? Hmm, good question. Well these days its new spiritual home is Argentina, where it makes delicious, rich and sensual wines that go extremely well with their signature dish, a fat and bloody steak. That’s become the benchmark Malbec.
But prior to Argentina making this variety its own, it originally came from Bordeaux and South-West France. In Bordeaux it used to be in the vineyards a lot more than it is now, but it was very troublesome in the vineyard and the role it played in the Bordeaux blend (adding voluptuousness and weight to the structure of Cabernet Sauvignon) has been almost entirely replaced by Merlot. It’s still in some of the satellites of Bordeaux, as they’re called, which are the lesser outlying appellations (like Bourg and Blaye) and there’s a fair bit over the department border in the Dordogne, where they make Bordeaux lookalikes in Bergerac, often with more Malbec than Merlot.
However, the one area in France where it is the star player rather than a bit-part support act is in the appellation of Cahors, centred on the town of the same name on the river Lot in South-West France. The wines are at least 80% Malbec with the remainder either softened by Merlot or beefed up by Tannat (the grape of Madiran, also in the South-West), depending on the style the producer is after.
To be honest, until about ten years ago a lot if not the majority of Cahors was pretty average at best. The appellation had grown lazy and was making lots of pretty basic wine that did no justice to the potential of the appellation and the variety. There were of course some exceptions and a few outstanding producers, but not many. One of the great things about Argentina being so successful with Malbec is that this then caused Cahors to correspondingly raise its game. So now there are a raft of really good producers making some excellent wines, with that real Malbec lushness but also with a bit more elegance and structure.
One of leading lights of this renaissance is Château du Cèdre. I had a 2006 bottle of their flagship wine last night (£16), which was 90% Malbec with 5% Merlot and 5% Tannat. It was a really serious wine, aged in oak barriques for 20 months (1/3 new, 1/3 one year old, 1/3 two year old), designed for plenty of bottle ageing. It was a fantastic combination of luscious, rich and mouth-filling but also having structure, elegance, complexity and length. It easily had enough fruit, tannin and power to handle the oak without it sticking out at all. All very harmonious and integrated. What was also really pleasing was that with all the big structure and the huge core of fruit it was a very modest 13% alcohol. It would probably still improve for a couple of years, but was drinking extremely well after being decanted for a couple of hours, especially with a big fat Daube de Boeuf Provençale. Yum.
This is well worth a buy, as are many other Cahors that are over the £10 mark. I’d highly recommend this for the price, especially when you consider a serious claret (ie red Bordeaux) of that quality would cost over £30. Give it a go and impress your friends with your knowledge of the other place Malbec comes from.