14 August 2015

Party Like It's 3!

Our trip to Cahors was largely a lot of work, tasting 50 wines a day and learning about the region and about Malbec in general.  However, our small group from the US was able to stay in the Chateau de Mercues, just outside of Cahors on the Lot river.  And everything's better in a castle!

Now for the fun part of staying a castle built in 3 A.D.:  although wifi is only good in a 10 by 10 foot area, it is worth it for the view!  My room is in an honest to goodness turret!  With a view of the river, of course.  Not a bad way to spend an evening--even if we didn't get in until 2 a.m. most nights.

Why were we out so late?  To show off the range of Malbec all over the world, we had 2 huge wine dinners, featuring wines from the Northern Hemisphere and then the Southern Hemisphere.  The meals were so big that this was all I could take of the dessert at one of them!
Here's a fact about Cahors:  though it is the home of Malbec, only 10% of the world's production comes from the area!!  We much have had the vast majority of them at these tastings.
Want to see more about Cahors?  Check out these podcasts and videos...

Here was one of the flights at our Northern Hemisphere dinner.  Every course was paired with Malbec to showcase the versatility.  I might not have agreed with EVERY thing that we had Malbec with, but chocolate was particularly good, as were the beef and pork dishes.  Mushrooms too!  We all left every dinner with teeth stained black--showcasing the "black wine of Cahors".

Want to feel like a baller?  Well, how about a truffle buffet on top of the Valentre bridge??  This was the site of the last event for Malbec days, and we were doing our best to feel excited about tasting another 40 Malbecs, to be honest... but the scenery and food definitely helped.  I hope I've been able to impart the spirit of the Quercy people a little bit.

One last look from the beautiful Chateau de Mercues... on to more Southern France next on the tour!

What do a bunch of American's who have been force fed Foie Gras for 5 days crave at the end of a long wine tasting trip?  French fries, burgers, and beer, of course!!!

24 June 2015

Malbec: What Does The World Think?

Welcome to the home of the "French Paradox"!  My trip to Cahors with Malbec Days was sponsored by the AOC - and they hosted over 100 wine professionals from around the world.  They were obviously on a mission to spread the word about what makes the region special, but it was also intriguing to see what the perception was of the job WE are doing as ambassadors in the wine world.

Here is my small group from the USA, with our fearless leader, Michael Littleton of Bird Rock Imports, my liason for many great Southern French wines.  We are standing on the edge of the Lot River, the heart of the region.
 Michael is being filmed here as part of a documentary on what makes Cahors special.    My group is behind him, researching soil structure in the plateau.

Here is a great video of our program, featuring clips from some pretty great US Sommeliers:
 But let's talk about why all of us are HERE.  As we learned in seminars with winemakers, historians, and journalists, winemaking in Cahors predates the birth of Christ and is presently very chic.  Why would an appelation with such sex appeal need to go to such trouble to inform us of its charm??

That's because this region was at the height of its popularity before 1800.  It fell off the radar and Malbec didn't become popular until French expats in Chile and Argentina started exporting.  It might be a trendy grape variety at the moment, but if you search the web for "Malbec," half of the results will only mention Argentina.  So Cahors might be the capital of Malbec, but the average consumer is not aware of it.

I went to a seminar projecting Malbec's future internationally with wineries who grow the grape in the United States, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and France.  The counries with the smallest number of growers of Malbec were New Zealand (21) and South Africa (25), but they are also learning how to compete in the global market.
Now we get to a seminar I found it hard to stomach: "America the Fickle." Led by Roger Voss, European Editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine, we were reminded why people hate selling wines in our country.  Roger explained that Americans "buy with their eyes and dollar signs."  Where most consumers search for quality within their budget, we buy by label, then price, and THEN consider if the wine is good.  Sight is more important than taste.  Also wines over $15 are hard to sell in the US, and most French wine is higher than that level.  Another hurdle to overcome is that so few Americans speak French; Roger suggested it would be easier to sell French wines with Spanish labels!
And my new favorite term in the wine world:   The "Kardashian effect": Americans are always in search of the latest thing.  68% of wine sold in the states is from California, and the majority of that is bought by brand.  My takeaway from this is that consumers are so unsure of their decision-making when buying wine they want some kind of assurance that they are making the right choice.  If they don't know the brand name, it needs to have a buzzword they recognize:  Argentina and Malbec are two current buzzwords.  Our job now is to make Americans aware that Cahors is the original Malbec.

Here are couple of interesting tidbits about Malbec worldwide:
-Malbec has been grown in Chile longer than Argentina
-In the US, it is grown in CA, WA, OR,NY, VA, CO, and NJ
-In 2014, its only mention on social media was on Twitter
-There are 120 growers currently with plantings in Australia
-It was in a famous drink made in Russia in the 1700s
-1/4 of all the wine grown in Argentina is Malbec
Shown: the local farmers market (note the beautiful jars of duck fat for sale).  The AOC has been developing the market outside of the area for the past 30 years, and I hope that my colleagues and I can help take this promotion to the next level with a newfound passion for these wines with some of the oldest and most consistent pedigree in the world.

09 June 2015

Cahors Black Wine: A Brief History

The A.O.C. of Cahors has a fascinating history.  It was established in 1971, but winegrowing of Malbec goes back far beyond that.  In fact, its history in intertwined with Bordeaux:  the famous appellation used to buy "black wine" from Cahors to mix into its otherwise "weak" claret.

Here is the beautiful Lot river.  All of the grapes are grown along the river, with the lesser vines in the valley and better ones on plateaus with higher elevation alongside the river.  The vines grown on the valley floor are more fruity, basic, and less expensive; mid-level terraces are richer and more elegant.  The plantings farthest away from the river on plateaus, which are less fertile, higher elevation, and higher acid, make the most finessed, ageable wines of the best quality.  The river also provided Cahors with a way to move the juice easily so it could be sold.This river helped Cahors become a viable appellation, after all.

You see, the reason Bordeaux had such a profitable life early on was because it was along 2 rivers that empty out into the ocean and are a short trip to England, where it could be sold at a premium price.  The Lot River heads straight toward Bordeaux, so growers centuries ago had a great audience.
Chateau Haut-Serre's barrels.  Did the kings, popes, and tsars who loved Cahors so much listen to fermentation too??  These wines have been famous since the Middle Ages.
We are waiting for a Quercy (Cahors area) style buffet.  Which is largely consisted of foie gras and truffles, the 2 other things the area's known for.
But the area is best known for the wine.  Cahors, far from surpassing Bordeaux as a region, has been growing wine before the birth of Christ.  Its height of popularity was during the Middle Ages, and events like the week I attended have the express mission of putting Cahors back on the world stage.
Click HERE for a map of the AOC of Cahors in map form showcasing the terroir if you would like a geological reference.  For a historical reference, check out an induction of several sommeliers from the Northeast US into an ancient group that swears to uphold the standards of the land of black wine.
So, what is the region like today?  For starters, 90% of the plantings are Malbec.  Now, to claim the wine as Cahors, the wine only has to be 70% Malbec, with the remainder a blend of Merlot and Tannat (talk about another black wine!)  A whopping 80% of the vines are from independent growers!
Cahors went through many crises that should have shut down the entire appellation.  It is isolated by rivers and mountains from other regions within France, for a start, which provided a lack of integration.  More notably, phylloxera almost killed off the wine business.  In 1956, a severe frost coupled with negative-20 degree weather did a number on the crops.  And the French government taxes Cahors at a higher rate than the popular Bordeaux.
But the Quercy press on.  Here are some ancient vines at Chateau Cedre.  The DNA in Cahors is one of the most consistent in viticultural history.
The levels in Cahors have a lot of different factors, but the better the wine, these factors change: percentage of Malbec, longer ageing times, years the wines will last, and compatibility with food.  When some or all of these factors come into play, the price is higher as well.  One of the flagships in Cahors of better wines is higher density of soil, which is the lesson we are learning from an oenologist (above) and are seeing in the end product (below).
Though the fertile lowlands are great for crops such as vegetables, the plateaus are greatly preferred to grow high quality Malbec grapes.
The Lot sure is pretty.  By the way, Bordeaux folks did not make trade easy.  It took 3-5 months for grapes to get to Bordeaux by boat, and the wineries there were extremely focused on selling their own wines, rather than Cahors.  
As early as 1785, Malbec itself was mentioned as a varietal in a wine text.  Unfortunately, this region has a lot to overcome in the modern age to become viable once again, though Malbec is now famous in its own right.
Luckily, the region has proven itself resilient through what it has endured in the past, and will surely move on to a successful future.

08 May 2015

The land of foie...or "how would you like your liver today??"

I was invited last summer to Cahors Malbec Days, a celebration of all things from the land of Black Wine.  This is an international conference where we sat through endless seminars to educate sommeliers the world over about Cahors's place in history and the world scene of Malbec. 

But enough about that.  Right now, I'm going to talk about Foie Gras.
 Here is the first thing that I had upon my arrival in France (save the terrible whiff the minute I stepped off the plane of thousands of Frenchmen puffing cigarettes... seriously, is there anyone in this country that doesn't smoke)--some amazing nonsense of mushrooms with foie and egg on top.  Yummo!
You want more foie gras, you say?  Well, here you go. A friend from California (it was illegal there at the time) went to town!  Foie! Foie! Foie! (p.s. this link is how it can be ethical)
 It turns out that Cahors is known for two things:  1.  It is where Malbec originated  2.  Same for the best liver you have ever had in your life. (above is exhibit A, from a wine dinner after our first big tasting)
 Exhibit B: My friend Jerry is not quite tired of foie.  I love that this winery accented our plate of delicious liver with a side of sausage and more sausage.
 This is my kind of picnic.  To be honest, it's at D'en Segur in Tarn, about a half hour outside of Cahors.  But we're still talking about a bunch of goose liver on the plates, so who's counting, right??
 We also had some fabulous gazpacho in Tarn--doesn't tomato juice rejuvenate your constitution after your fat cells triple in one week??  I believe it does--and if that doesn't take care of it, I GUARANTEE that Rose will!!
 Still hungry? Here is straight-up foie on toast, plus seared foie with grilled apples on pumpkin bread... and melon.  with PROSCIUTTO.  of course.
 Not enough gratuitous meat in this blog, you are thinking?  Here's one of our courses in an after-tasting wine dinner.  That would be prosciutto-wrapped foie gras, of course.  And Malbec sauce to boot (we were a little overwhelmed with both liver and Cahors Black wine by now, but we tried to eat/drink it all.
 I've decided that this blog should be renamed "why Emily Garrison is not a size four."  And I will never have to explain why.  This luncheon had salad next to our foie gras pate!!! I was beside myself.
 Gratuitous meat shot.  The "sushi" was wrapped in ham. Go France!
 Maybe my favorite application of a whole lobe of foie gras ever.  Sliders!!!  At this point you might think, "are you kidding me??" Yeah, that's what I said too.
And finally, what would a salad be if it didn't have Serrano ham and Foie on top of it?  No more worries about those lunch salads having too much fat in the dressing, ladies!  Welcome to the land of the big, fat, juicy liver!  I myself was gorging on french fries.  Don't judge.  They certainly don't in Cahors.

Next week I'll actually discuss the wine we were there to study in France!!


- Emily Garrison, Shiraz Fine Wine & Gourmet