France's Cahors Wine Region: Bordeaux’s Country Cousin

In a way, Bordeaux is like the old British Empire. Although its dominance of the wine world has receded with the emergence of young wine regions like South Africa, South America, and Australia, the tentacles of Bordeaux’s influence are still seen in the character of wine all around the globe. 

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Consider South America, a continent as distant from France geographically as it is culturally.  The principle grapes used to produce South American red wine are not only mostly French, but often Bordelais in origin.  Cabernet Sauvignon, a huge player in South America’s wine scene, is the primary grape on the Left Bank of Bordeaux (Graves, Haut-Medoc).  Merlot, which likewise receives significant attention from South American vintners, dominates the Right Bank of Bordeaux (St. Emilion, Pomerol).  Even Carmenere, which is produced almost exclusively in Chile these days, was originally a key component in Bordeaux blends until its French vines were wiped out in the late 19th century by phylloxera.

But wait, you might say, you’ve forgotten about Malbec!  Surely Malbec, which has been so crucial to the international emergence of the South American wine industry, is truly Argentine.  Not so.  While it is the case that far more Malbec is grown in Argentina than in any other country, the grape originates from – you guessed it! – Bordeaux, where it traditionally formed a small portion of some Bordeaux blends.  One doesn’t find many Bordeaux chateaux using Malbec in their blends these days, but the grape continues to flourish in its true home, a little region near Bordeaux by the name of Cahors.

Cahors lies some 25 miles due west of Bordeaux on the banks of the Lot River, a tributary of the famous Garonne that separates Graves from Entre-Deux-Mers.  Often heartier and more rustic than Bordeaux, Cahors is emblematic of the broader region in which it lies, sometimes referred to simply as the Southwest.  This country region has always played second fiddle to its urbane downstream neighbor: In the past, Bordeaux merchants would deny Southwestern producers access to the Dordogne port until all the Bordeaux wine had been sold – in some cases even while enriching their own blends with grapes grown in Cahors and its environs.

The Cahors-as-country-cousin analogy is apt.  Bordeaux and Cahors aren’t far from each other, and Malbec is traditionally grown in both places.  One could say that they’re related.  But while a prototypical Bordeaux wine is all about refinement, power married with finesse, elegance and strength at once, a classic Cahors forgoes femininity in favor of a callus-handed masculinity, trades class for brute force, and generally conveys a meat-and-potatoes rusticity.  Traditionally known as “black wine” (though “purple wine” would be more accurate), Cahors tends to be deep, dark, and brooding.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.