Sat 21 Jan 2017
The ancient city of Cahors lies on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the River Lot, in southwest France. It was originally an outpost for the Cadurci people, the last of the Celtic tribes to resist the invading Romans armies around 50 B.C. Divona Cadurcorum, as it was called, became a major Roman city and developed economically and culturally through the Roman period and to end of the Middle Ages. Its dark red wine was exported through the Dordogne river and up the Gironde past Bordeaux — and around Europe — when that town was still emerging from the marshes. In a region known for its quaint and charming towns and villages, Cahors is one of the most quaint and charming of them all, filled, as it is, with remnants of Roman buildings and monuments and by a density of half-timbered Medieval structures. It’s three-towered Pont Valentré (1308-1378) is among the world’s most beautiful stone bridges.
The Cahors AOC applies only to red wines, made primarily — at least 70 percent — from the malbec grape, known locally as auxerrois. The vineyards are laid out west of the city, on terraces formed by the centuries-long meanderings of the Lot. The first terrace, along the river banks, is inappropriate for cultivation, so the vineyards tend to be planted on the second, third and fourth terraces. Like Bordeaux, Cahors is heavily influenced by the climate and winds of the Atlantic Ocean; unlike Bordeaux, it also receives, mainly in September and October, influence from the Mediterranean winds. The soil is silt-clay over Kimmeridgian limestone.
The wines under consideration today were produced by Chateau Lagrezette, a property dating back to 1503 that was acquired in 1980 by Alain Dominique Perrin, whose name is a by-word in the world of luxury goods for his steering of the development of Cartier International and his creation of the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art. Perrin poured immense sums into the restoration of the 15th Century castle at Lagrezette and the replanting and renovation of the vineyards and winery. Winemaker since 2007 has been Cedric Blanc; consulting enologist is the ubiquitous Michel Rolland.
The wines of Chateau Lagrezette are imported into the U.S.A. by Curious Cork Importers, Napa, Calif., and Denver, Colo. Image of the Pont Valentré from www.par-monts-et-par-vaux.eu. These wines were samples for review.
The youngest of this quartet of malbec wines and from the youngest vines, the Chateau Lagrezette Clos Marguerite 2012 is a robust (but not rustic) wine that aged 16 months in 40 percent new oak barrels, 40 percent one-year-old and 20 percent two years old. It features a vibrant dark ruby color and pointed scents and flavors of plums, raspberries and fruitcake bolstered by fairly rigorous, dusty, graphite-laden tannins with undercurrents of lavender, licorice and bittersweet chocolate. It is, in other words, a finely balanced feat of power and poise, and a fount of gushing black and red fruit flavors nicely restrained by structure. Now through 2022 to 2026. Production was 416 cases. Very Good+. About $45.
The Chateau Lagrezette Cuvée Dame Honneur 2011, Cahors, includes 5 percent merlot in the blend; it aged 20 months in new French oak barrels. The color is inky purple, an aspect that feels mirrored in the wine’s pungent notes of smoked plums, mint and cedar, licorice and lavender; as the moments pass, say an hour or two, the wine grows increasingly floral, in the violets, rose petals and lilac range, and takes on more depth of ripe and spicy black and red berry fruit. It’s a succulent wine, dense, silky and lithe on the palate, though any sense of luxury is strictly tempered by a profound element of graphite minerality and surging acidity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’26. Production was 2,784 six-bottle cases. Excellent. About $45.
A true vin de garde, the Chateau Lagrezette Cru d’Exception 2009, Cahors, show every sign of aging capability through, say, 2021 to 2026 or ’30. The wine is a blend of 87 percent malbec, 12 percent merlot and 1 percent tannat, aged 18 months in new and one-year-old French oak barrels. The color is a dark but radiant ruby hue; the whole tenor of the wine resonates with ferrous and sanguinary elements of iron, iodine and beef-blood, with subsidiary notes of black tea, mint, forest floor, briers and brambles. Scents and flavors of blackberries, blueberries and mulberries feel deeply spiced and macerated, taking a cue from swingeing acidity and a profound graphite/granitic mineral quality. One feels, it seems, the limestone-laced soil upon which the vineyard lies. Drink now through 2022 to 2029. Production was 7,000 cases, obviously the most accessible of these four wines. Excellent. About $45.
Le Pigeonnier, named for an ancient dovecote on the estate, is the flagship wine of Lagrezette. The Chateau Lagrezette Le Pigeonnier 2011, Cahors, is 100 percent malbec from 35 to 40-year-old vines, aged 28 months in new French oak barrels. The color — if that word is applicable — is totally opaque, with a faint glimmer of purple at the rim; it’s a deep, ripe, rich and spicy wine in every sense, but framed by intense flinty-graphite minerality, rigorous acidity and profoundly dense, dusty tannins. It’s also, paradoxically, bright and lively and feels young at just over five years old. The blackberry-currant-blueberry aspects teem with notes of iodine and mint, cloves and allspice, lavender and licorice and bittersweet chocolate that unfurl an exotic flair of cumin and ancho chili. The finish offers a chiseled edge of limestone, and the whole package glitters darkly like earthen ore. 14.5 percent alcohol. Brilliant winemaking. Drink now through 2025 to ’30, or, you know, it could be immortal. Production was 1,070 six-bottle cases. Exceptional. About $250.