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Cahors, the New Generation

Tom Cannavan, 04/13

the new generation

From left to right: Fabien Jouves (Mas del Périé); Julien llbert (Château Combel la Serre); Germain Croisille (Château les Croisille); Emmanuel Rybinski (Clos Troteligotte); Fabrice Durou (Château de Gaudou); Loic Aldhuy-Thévenot (Château Fantou).

I recently reported on a visit to Cahors with a massive tasting of 120 Malbecs of Cahors and a visit to arguably the region's most influential estate, Château du Cèdre. I also found time to have a dinner with six representatives of the new generation of Cahors winemakers and a sometimes slightly chaotic tasting of their wines. This rather unruly lot share an irreverent sense of humour and quick-fire propensity to bring each other down a peg or two if there's the merest whiff of pretentiousness, so whilst the evening was huge fun with some great food and terrific wines, I do hope I have got all my facts straight on vintages, blends and other details.

Pascal Pascal Verhaeghe of Château du Cèdre (left) was universally cited as the role model for this group. His decision to farm organically and then biodynamically, and his vision of Cahors redefined as a Burgundian model of Malbec expressed as a product of small, specific vineyard plots - terroirs - changed the game for the generation to follow. "I am a Burgundy producer," said Fabien Jouves when introducing his wines, a statement full of meaning though one met with a volley of affectionate abuse from his peers around the table.

The group talks more solemnly about the older generation of winemakers, and how their reliance on synthetic chemicals in the vineyard to spray against pests and diseases led to ill-health for many of them in later life. This groups embraces organic viticulture, or at the very least 'lutte raisonnée', the limited, carefully considered application of chemical sprays.

But changes in farming practice are not the only difference between the older generation and the new: "The older generation tended not to exchange information, or even taste any wines except their own," says Fabrice Durou. "We are not interested in history, family feuds, old grievances. We know it is a big wide world, and we have to cooperate," adds Emmanuel Rybinski as if speaking with one voice.

The group also cites the financial crisis and the tough market in which they operate as a factor that has made people think differently about the wines they make. Some of the cuvées here show huge ambition to make world class, and ultra-premium wines often in very small volumes. This generation is intent on improving Cahors in terms of its wines and recognition.

the wines

Château Combel la Serre, Cahors Coeur de Cuvée 2008, France
Julian returned to the family property in 2005, and has created three wine ranges based on 3 different soils - clay, clay and chalk and sidérolithique (iron-rich, red soils). This spent 12 months in barrels and has plenty of coffee and charry toast, but real freshness and very good fruit, expressively Malbec with plum and chocolate. 89/100. See all stockists of Combel la Serre on wine-searcher.

Château Combel la Serre, Cahors Elite 2009, France
Twenty months in all new oak, harvested at only 15hl/ha and given 60 days of cold soaking pre-ferment. Wonderfully fresh and vital - quite reminiscent of top Argentine Malbec in style (think Achaval Ferrer, Finca Sophenia), hugely creamy, dense and sweet. Deliciously creamy and sensory stuff from vines grafted onto original pre-Phyloxerra roots of ancient Malbec. 93/100.

Clos Troteligotte, Cahors K 2011, France
From next year this wine will be aged in amphora, small 150-litre red clay amphorae made in Toulouse from local clay. Very juicy stuff, this is deliciously black fruited and has energy and structure to spare. A really 'alive' wine with a lovely focus. The estate is in its last year of organic certification, and is moving to biodynamic farming. 92/100. See all stockists of Clos Troteligotte on wine-searcher.

Clos Troteligotte, Cahors K 2009, France
Aged in French oak for two years. The nose has the mineral, schisty, lightly smoky character of this soil, with the oak adding cedary notes, spice and the fruit elegant. Deliciously fresh and has elegance again. 92/100.

Mas del Périé, Cahors la Roque 2011
A biodynamic operation producing four wines from four parcels "like Burgundy," according to Fabien, and aim for drinkability allied to finesse. A 50/50 blend from barrel and tank. Deliciously fresh and direct fruit, superb tang and freshness here again, with delicious length and focus. Fabien also mentioned that he was taking delivery of concrete fermentation 'eggs' the morning after our tasting, with plans for some experimentation with this year's harvest. 91/100. See all stockists of Mas del Périé on wine-searcher.

Mas del Périé, Cahors la Piece 2010
Harvested at just 17hl/ha from la Piece parcel. Fabien bottles this in a Burgundy bottle. Salty character, also something warming and smooth like caramel. So fresh on the palate, that salty liquorice freshness married to very pure fruit. 93/100.

Château de Gaudou, Character de Gaudou Cahors Reserve 2007, France
Gaudou has 40 hectares of vineyards covering all slopes/aspects around a hill, and 70% of their wine is exported (including to Majestic in the UK and Vin de France in Ireland), thought their biggest market is the USA. Lovely cedary stuff, but suffused with deep black fruits. There is some whole bunch fermentation and carbonic maceration here, before two years in oak. Deliciously smooth and chocolaty tannins. 91/100. See all stockists of Château de Gaudou on wine-searcher.

Château les Croisille, Cahors Divin 2004, France
Germain Croisille joined the family domaine in 2008 having completed his viticultural studies. He met Pascal Verhaeghe of Château du Cèdre whom he cites as a big influence, he has been farming organically since 2010 and has introduced strict green harvesting as well as other quality initiatives. Since 2008 this cuvée has been made 'grain par grain' - literally picking the fruit grape by grape. A lovely, top selection with great mid-palate sweetness and a very silky texture that positively caresses the palate. Delicious. 93/100. Croisille has a wine in M&S currently. See all stockists of Château les Croisille on wine-searcher.

Château Fantou, L'Elite 2009, France
A farm with 21 ha of organic vineyards. Low yields is another watch-word here, as explained by Loic Aldhuy-Thévenot whose former career was landscape gardener before marrying into the family domaine and taking over its running with his wife in 2002. A lot of oak here, in the creamy mint and coconut spectrum, but there is a lovely density and quality of ripe Malbec too. A welter-weight of creamy and ripe black fruit on the palate, super suave and supple, the ripe tannins are big and at this stage quite drying, but the balance with the clean acidity and copious spice in the finish is good, the fruit concentrated and pushing through. 92/100. See all stockists of Château Fantou on wine-searcher.

My huge thanks to the young winemakers of Cahors and my apologies for any incorrect information and one or two missing notes. If they feed back corrections or clarifications I will update this page.

See our major feature on the Malbecs of Cahors.