Winemaking in Cahors these days is a mixture of tradition, and the newer trend, making lighter, fresher, and less tannic 100% Malbec wines with a balance that highlights location and terroir. Traditional Malbec here can be fantastic, yet the older winemaking methods used usually result in bigger and bolder wines that need time for tannins to mellow out. I enjoy them both yet after living through covid, there is nothing like living in the here and now.
The crazy fun couple behind EcoCert organic certified Combel-la-Serre in Cahors, Julien and Sophie Ilbert, definitely lean new trend.
Their latest Malbec Rosé does as well, and also falls into the ‘2021 wasn’t an easy vintage anywhere in France’ category.
Let’s quickly talk about the heat.
Cahors tends to get warm during summer months. The Ilbert’s property at the top of the limestone Causse between 320 and 350 meters (1,050 – 1,150 feet) certainly feels it, but at least has a nice breeze. Yet the breeze does not help with drought, which is becoming increasingly common.
In more recent years, Cahors experienced chaotic weather. Unheard of hail and frost in spring and into summer, and violent rainstorms with microbursts that flatten even the largest trees. Young grapes often end up destroyed.
And then there’s unseasonably cooler weather.
2021 was a very cool and wet growing season, aside from a few days of massive heat in April. According to Sophie Ilbert, it was an ‘unclear year’. Luckily they did not suffer from frost, which decimated many areas, but the heavy rains during the spring and summer caused unfavorable conditions for the grapes and put a strain on their nerves!
Interesting to note Cahors (pronounced Ka-or, with a very light ‘r’) is similar to Napa Valley in that you have a river valley (in Cahors it’s the Lot River), gentle hills that reach up from the valley at different altitudes (the Cahors terraces), then hills that are higher still, plateauing in areas at the top (the Cahors Causses). The differing aspect and microclimates of each area give the new trend winemakers plenty with which to work.
Combel-la-Serre 100% Auxerrois (Malbec) Rosé, vintage 2021
L’épatant antidote à la chaleur du Causse, or The amazing antidote to the heat of the Causse
Chilled rosé definitely helps beat the summer heat!
I was extremely excited to taste this wine as each past visit, this rosé was already sold out. Being proactive, last year I asked them to set aside a few bottles after their bottling this past March.
The grapes in this wine are from Malbec vines on mainly limestone soils with clay loam on part of the Causse south of the meandering Lot River. The resulting wines are comparatively more linear and fresh, with great depth and length. Their average vine age of between 20 and 35 years means 2021 was not the first difficult vintage they experienced.
After hand harvesting mid-September, the grapes were direct pressed and the must put directly into a cement tank where both the vinification and aging took place. In fact, fermentation and aging of most all their wines is done in these tanks, versus oak barrels.
It starts a bit shy on aromas, yet not when you take a sip. A puckering punch of citrus acidity layered on top of a bowl of red berries and fruit that glide over the palate like river rapids flowing over rocks. Invigorating by itself with a bright and linear mid-palate showcasing pomegranate and pine, and a lingering finish, yet add some food and wow! We had a combo of beef and lamb keftedes / keftas, falafels, dips including hummus that cut through and softened the citrus component of the wine, literally making it sing on our palates. Definitely an excellent food wine– grilled items like meats, meatier seafood and veggies would be excellent too. And a fantastic value at 12€.
The challenge if you don’t live in France results from them not exporting it because it sells out quickly: just 2,000 bottles are produced annually. So if future travels include Cahors, email them ahead to save you a bottle and don’t hesitate to taste their other wines!
I want to note they do make three, ‘terroir’ 100% Malbec wines that lean traditional. They turn heads when I serve them – quality, impeccably balanced and reasonably priced year after year.
For additional reading: Combel-la-Serre, A Fresh Perspective on Cahors Malbec
Remember to always Savor the Harvest!