David 19 June 2012
A few months ago I enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Rockpool Bar & Grill. The
wine list there is simply incredible and, at 160 pages, I'd advise skimming through it online to ensure you have at least a few minutes to converse over dinner. It's pure wine voyeurism.
I was after something I hadn't tried before and the sommelier recommended a Cahors. Cahors is a red wine, a town and an appellation in the Southwest region of France. The wine must be made from a minimum of 70% Malbec, with any remainder being either Merlot or Tannat. It's often referred to as the 'Black Wine of Cahors' due to its dark colour, density and robust tannins. Rumour has it, back in the good old days, Cahors was routinely added to Bordeaux to give the Bordeaux more oomph.
As with most regions in France, Cahors was devastated by phylloxera (an aphid-like insect) in the 1880s. Consequently, many of the growers left for a new life in Argentina, taking with them their love of Malbec and eventually making the country synonymous with the variety. For many decades the southwest region of France lay neglected and forgotten, however it's experiencing a resurgence as people rediscover the quality for which the area was once famous. It's now one of the most exciting winemaking areas in France.
As for the dinner, the sommelier was right, the Cahors was a real discovery and it was wonderful to try something new that surpassed my expectations. Since then I've jumped at the chance to taste new Malbecs and have put together a few I hope you enjoy.
1. Pulenta Estate 'La Flor' Malbec 2010
I recently discovered this Argentinian gem at a tasting. It's from the highly regarded Mendoza region. Fresh, juicy and appealing, it's full of ripe, dark fruits and Argentinian sunshine. What'll pleasantly surprise you is the combination of spice, acid and tannin that results in a wine that's leaner and more structured than the ripe fruit leads you to expect. The wine offers generosity without being overblown.
"Pulenta Estate's 2010 La Flor Malbec spent 6 months in French oak. It offers up an inviting nose of cedar, spice box, lavender, earthy minerals and black cherry. This sets the stage for a savoury, ripe, layered offering that over-delivers in a big way. Drink this outstanding value over the next 3-4 years."
90 points. Jay Miller. Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate, Feb 2012.
As an aside, when I was checking out the very smart Pulenta Estate website it struck me as rather odd to see several Porsches featured in the winery shots. It turns out the Pulenta family are the sole importers of Porsche into Argentina and recent legislation in that country demands that sellers of foreign made cars must export products to the same value. Sooo... by drinking this wine you are helping some poor soul in Argentina get access to their beloved Porsche.
Something to ponder as you enjoy this great value wine.
I can offer it for $20 a bottle. SOLD OUT - Check availability
Château du Cédre
Château du Cédre is regarded as the leading estate in Cahors, with critics regularly singing its praise. It's the only producer in Cahors to receive 2 stars from acclaimed author Andrew Jefford in his highly influential book The New France. Brothers Pascal and Jean-Marc Verhaeghe run the estate on organic principles and produce only 4 wines, with varying proportions of Malbec.
2. ChâteauduCédreCahors 2008
The composition of this wine is 90% Malbec, 5% Merlot and 5% Tannat. It lives up to the 'Black Wine' moniker with its dense, dark colour, however the wine itself is not that over-the-top, being more Bordeaux-like in structure. The word I keep coming back to is density. The wine, while lean in structure, feels like it has so much packed into it and this is where the power comes from. This seemingly lean yet dense contradiction is what I love about this wine. Cahors invented a technique known as micro-oxygenation in which oxygen is 'dribbled' into the bottom of the wine during production. Among other things, it results in rounder tannins and this is evident in this wine with the fine tannin structure.
I found it a delicious wine, full of dark fruit and sage flavours. This wine just delivers so much for the price when compared to Bordeaux. You could enjoy it with 'canard' as the locals do.
I can offer it for $39 a bottle. SOLD OUT - Check availability
3. Château du Cédre 'Le Cédre' 2007
This wine is 100% Malbec and the one I was served at Rockpool. What a great introduction to Cahors, it's an absolute beauty. Once again there's the inky dark and dense colour. It has a beautiful nose and on the palate it's plump and generous. A big, rich wine that has firm but surprisingly fine tannins, not as aggressive as those found in Cabernet. You'll find this a deep, warm and inviting wine, that's complex and concentrated. Perfect for cool weather and hearty dishes.
Here's a review from acclaimed critic and author Andrew Jefford:
"Scents of black plum, bay leaf, summer-evening tree bark and dry forest floor. On the palate, it's deep, spicy, warm and accessible, despite its great depth and power. The black fruit pack out the wine's core, rippling with meaty flesh, but there's plenty of fragrant tobacco and spice to add extra enchantment. 17.5/20.
And from Decanter Feb 2012: 'Their purest and noblest wine is 'Le Cédre' a pure Malbec selection. It's the appellation's gold standard, year after year'.
It was on at Rockpool for $145, which I thought was a pretty good price. Now I'm off to sniff a dry forest floor.
I can offer it for $74 a bottle. SOLD OUT - Check availability
Lastly, something really exciting that I thought would round out this Malbec odyssey; a couple of wines made from some of the oldest Malbec vines in Australia.
There's not a lot that hasn't already been said about Wendouree, one of Australia's truly iconic producers, so I'll stick to the basics. Wendouree was established in 1893 by Alfred Percy (A.P.) Birks and is situated at the northern end of the Clare Valley in South Australia. It has some of the oldest plantings of unirrigated Malbec, as well as Shiraz, Cabernet and Mouvédre (Mataro) and the wines are universally praised for their power, concentration and muscular tannins, as well as their ability to age.
Here's a quote from Halliday to give you an idea of the fervour that Wendouree arouses:
"The iron fist in a velvet glove best describes these extraordinary wines. They are fashioned with passion and precision from the very old vineyard with its unique terroir by Tony and Lita Brady, who rightly see themselves as custodians of a priceless treasure. The 100-year-old stone winery is virtually unchanged from the day it was built; this is in every sense a treasure beyond price... I could barely believe the beauty of the wines."
Wendouree wines are made in small quantities and held tightly by a lucky few. I have very limited quantities of a couple of wines from the legendary 1998 vintage that are in immaculate condition.
Wendouree Shiraz Malbec 1998 - I can offer it or $130 per bottle. SOLD OUT - Check availability
Wendouree Cabernet Malbec 1998 - I can offer it for $100 per bottle. SOLD OUT - Check availability