Monday, 18 January 2010

Cahors wines and oak

In discussion with someone about the various levels of Cahors wines, I maintain the standard cuvees are always going to have more typicity at an early stage. But the prestige wines are more concentrated and absolutely pure Malbec which is, perhaps, why they sometimes come across as atypical. Give them time!

The "Le Cedre" (and I would guess prestige cuvees from other estates, certainly Lamartine's "Expression" and Haut-Monplaisir's "Pur Plaisir") wines are typically more concentrated and oakier than their junior counterparts although, for example, the 04 is more classic than the 05. Even then, I decanted a bottle of the '04 at lunchtime (a few days ago) and by 6.30 it wasn't exactly ready (still very much enjoyed though) so don't rush into any of these prestige cuvees.

The oak question seems to be quite divisive. As far as I can see, the oak barrel is a traditional means of ageing wine before bottling/consumption but in the modern era when there are other alternatives for the elevage, there are certainly too many using oak as a flavour component which, I agree, should be avoided. However, like any really good wine, oak is used in Le Cedre, for example, to assist with the elevage and contribute to the textural profile. If aged sufficiently, there will be little or no oak influence on the flavour of the wine but you will notice the leap in quality between, for example, Cedre's "Prestige" (now renamed simply "Chateau du Cedre") and "Le Cedre". A bottle of Lamartine's "Expression" in 2002 or 2004 has no discernible oak on the nose, only when it hits your mouth is it at all apparent and then only in the texture.

So, whilst I agree that oak is too often over-used, it does have its place.


  1. Just read a comment about oak posted on Tom Cannavan's by Alex Rychlewski who has recently visited DRC as follows:

    M. Noblet[cellarmaster at DRC], however, returning to his favorite theme, referred to the wine as "feminine and delicate". He also spoke of oak ageing as "un support, comme un soutien-gorge pour une belle poitrine" (or "something that provides support for, and highlights the wine's beauty, like a bra for a nice pair of breasts").

  2. Interesting observations with which (broadly speaking) I entirely agree. Pascal Verhaeghe is one of the great winemakers of France, and certainly consistently brilliant in Cahors. His Le Cedre certainly benefits texturally from his judicious use of oak, although in the taste it is muted. The wine is huge and very complex indeed, and certainly rewards careful cellaring, as it can be very long lived. Interestingly, Verhaeghe also makes a stunning Viognier, albeit in tiny quantities, where his use of oak is equally inspired (he uses slightly charred barrels, 50% new each year). This wine is a rival to some of the better Viogniers of the Northern Rhone. Imagine a Condrieu grown on the arzelle rather than granite, and you're very close indeed (although in fairness I cannot vouch for consistency, having only drunk the wine from 3 different years - each was different, but each was intense, powerful and long).