Cahors is an Appellation d'Origine Protégée (AOP) wine region located in the south-west of France. The dominant grape varietal in Cahors wines is Malbec, which must make up a minimum of 70% of the wine, and which is known locally as; Côt, Côt Noir or Auxerrois. With the remaining 30% made up from either Merlot and Tannat.
There are approximately 4,400 hectares of Cahors vineyards, with a recommended vine planting density of at least 4000 vines per ha. Cahors only produces AOP red wines from around two hundred Domaines and Chateaux in the area. There are some white and rosé wines produced in the region, though they are sold as ‘Vin de Pays du Lot’. Today the leading wine growing and producing areas lie to the west of the town of Cahors.
The most important places are Mercuès, Parnac, Luzech, Prayssac, Grézels, Puy-l'Éveque and Vire sur Lot. Which are all located in the Lot Valley. The winemaking history of Cahors dates back to the Romans, with vines being planted in the region around 50 BC. Since that time vines have remained and their history has been entwined with the region.
Cahors enjoyed a great reputation for its wine from the Middle Ages until the late 19th century. Its ‘Black Wine’ was sold and shipped from England to Russia. Like many other winemaking regions, Cahors was hit hard by the phylloxera epidemic, which in the case of Cahors happened between 1883-1885.
Then in February 1956, Cahors was hit by severe frosts which wiped out almost all the vineyards of the region, which needed to be replanted. During replanting Malbec became the dominant varietal. Cahors was awarded AOC status back in 1971.
Most of the vineyards are located on the gravel terraces within the meanders formed by the Lot River. The lowest terraces are not ideal for viticulture; so vineyards have only been established on the second and third terraces. Besides this, there is increasing interest in viticulture on the limestone soil plateau called Les Causses.
The climate of Cahors is influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, and has hot summers and wet winters. In contrast to Bordeaux, it is also influenced by the Mediterranean. The river Lot is an important factor for the micro-climate of the vineyards, especially as the nearby Massif Central may occasionally cause winters with severe frost.
Cahors wines are renowned for their unique characteristics, because of its almost black colour which the local Malbec can achieve. This colour is how the regions wines earned the nickname 'black wine', which is indicative of a high concentration of polyphenols from the varietal skins. The regions wines can be powerful and robust, through with modern winemaking they can have supple and smooth tannins with a rich, elegant texture, developing vibrant aromatic characteristics and with excellent ageing potential.
Cahors wines can regularly reach 15% Alc/vol - they are not only some of the darkest wines in the world; there wines were also one of the strongest red wines. Pope John XXII, who was from Cahors, did much to promote the regions wines in the fourteenth century and the nearby port of Bordeaux. Though as the Bordeaux red wines became increasingly popular and the revered claret of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the stronger and richer Cahors vintages were reputedly used to enhance Bordeaux extremely profitable exports.