Already tired of malbec? Branch out from Argentina and take a twelve dollar trip to the grape’s ancestral home: Cahors. Upriver from Bordeaux, the village of Cahors rests on a kink along the Lot river in the center of southwestern France.
Here they grow malbec. Alot of it. 10,000 acres worth. Regulations require that any Cahors bottle at least 70% of it. They don’t make white (you’ll have to find a Vin de Pays du Lot for that).
Nevertheless winter and spring frosts can shatter malbec buds and ruin crops. Not very profitable. So Bordeaux mostly gave up on malbec after the phylloxera aphid and frost wiped out their vineyards. In Cahors, even the epic frosts of February 1956 gave them another chance to regraft reliable grapes like cabernet. Instead, they threw their lot in with malbec.
Mission la Caminade’s 2007 blend of Malbec and Merlot reflects this Cahorsin obstinacy but bends to more modern trends. First, the label flaunts “MALBEC – MERLOT”. French pride in place would prefer that region -not grape- says enough on a label. If it’s Cahors and red, you should expect a rich, tannic blend of mostly malbec supported by merlot and tannat. Hell, natives don’t even call the grape malbec (that’s the downstream competition in Bordeaux). Instead, malbec is known as auxerrois.
Yet Caminade’s 2007 tastes modern, balanced and fruit driven. Plum and berries dominate. It lacks the traditional tannic edge or gaminess found in Cahors such as Clos la Coutale’s 2008. Yet Caminade is not any less interesting. It reflects French tightrope walking. It wants to please palates trained on Argentina, while reminding them that fruit isn’t everything, with its line of pepper and mineral.
And why not ride on Argentina’s growing coattails? Cahors has lived beneath the shadow of Bordeaux for centuries. Malbec’s moment in the sun might as well reward Cahors’ choice to hold fast for eight hundred years to such a tricky grape.
Caminade pours a fine and affordable introduction to this other malbec. Enjoy it alone or with chocolate, molé sauces, or ripe blue cheeses. And when you feel more adventurous, try Clos la Coutale’s 2008.