Easy to pronounce, inexpensive, and bursting with en vogue dark-fruited flavors, it’s little wonder that Malbec has seen the greatest rise in popularity of any grape in the 21st century. For most wine drinkers, the grape is synonymous with Argentina, where it thrives so successfully in the Mendoza highlands that it is the country’s most planted variety.
In that high-altitude desert with negligible disease pressure, it can be easy to forget the reputation for sickliness that Malbec once had. Back in soggy Bordeaux, where the Argentinians sourced their original vines from, the Malbec vineyards had staggered their way through mildew, mold, leafhoppers, shatter, and rot before a 1956 spring frost put the large majority of Girondin Malbec plants out of their misery. Today, there are over 28 acres of Argentine Malbec for every 1 acre in the greater Bordeaux area.
But Malbec’s ignominious thud in the Gironde did not spell the end for the variety in its native country. French ampelographer Pierre Galet has recorded over 1,000 local synonyms for Malbec, across 30 of France’s 96 départements. But the most plentiful plantings producing the noblest expressions are from the enigmatic Sud-Ouest, the misty Aquitaine hinterland that was held under the thumb of the domineering Bordeaux wine merchants for centuries. Heterogenous and scattered, Sud-Ouest wine is a category of shared history rather than one of common flavors, descriptors, or grapes. Without a doubt, one of the region’s most exceptional wines is the Malbec (or Côt, to the locals) that hails from the remote medieval bastion of Cahors.
Ever since the English reign over this corner of France from the 12th to 15th centuries, any commercial wine trade was entirely at the behest of the wealthy merchant houses of Bordeaux, which lies at the mouth of the Sud-Ouest’s river system. As ships trickled from Bordeaux harbor bound for wine-thirsty England, not a drop from the high country was even allowed into the city until every last barrel of lowland Girondin wine was sold. Even after the French crown drove the English from the mainland in 1453, the gravity of Bordeaux’s influence was too great for the hinterland to truly thrive, and the span between Bordeaux and Toulouse remains one of the more sparsely populated and less cash-flush regions of France.
But this is 2018, and we don’t need to appease some Bordelais wine broker in order to get our hands on an excellent Cahors - and we have, in the form of Carac Terre’s 2016 Malbec.
The global revival of interest in Malbec has led Cahors producers like Carac Terre to really step up their game, with an eye on export markets. Proud and self-assured, Cahors winemakers prefer their traditional rustic, tannic, and spicy expression of Malbec to the juicier Argentine wines.
Nevertheless, the wine still displays qualities you may recognize from great Mendozas - it is almost black in the glass, with bodacious dark fruit and toasty oak but well-balanced by acidity and tannin, and it is equally at home a la carte as it is paired with a robust red meat. There is no doubt that this is an honest farmhouse wine, rather than one steered to ultra-precision by chemists and salesmen. And perhaps the best part is that this wonderful introduction to the hermetic Sud-Ouest is just $14.99 per bottle.