Cahors

Malbec cahors

They say that you know you’re holding a glass of wine from Cahors if you can’t see your fingers on the other side of the glass through the wine. Which is why the malbec wine from Cahors is nicknamed “black wine”.

Peer into a glass of it, and it’s easy to see (or should I say ‘not see’) why.

cahor towel walnutsnoix

I didn’t know much about the wine, or the region, before my recent visit. I just knew there were allegedly a lot of truffles, foie gras, and duck dishes cooked up in the Lot. So when I was asked by some folks who were shooting a film about the regional specialties if I wanted to tag along with them, I happily accepted.

vines in cahors

(In addition to shooting the grapes, and getting a truffle or two ready for its close up, we made a video of me, too. Which, if I don’t come off as too much of a dork, you’ll see on the site when it’s finished.)

mark

I arrived a day before the two-man crew, which gave me a chance to attend the Fête de la Saint-Vincent, which happens annually to bless the wine harvest. I’ve discovered after living in France for a while, that that’s the best way to learn about wine: just go visit the region and drink. And if sampling a large chalice of red wine was good enough for the town priest, who gave the wine his blessing, it was good enough for me.

winemakers hand lunch menu

For one slightly crazy weekend, everyone in the village of Saint-Vincent Rive d’Olt, and nearby, descended upon the small town for hearty, and lively dinners of beef cheeks and other fare intended to fortify the wine growers and compliment the rich, rich wine of Cahors. How rich is it? It’s so rich, I had to use the word twice.

st vincent wine festival

And even though no one here needs an excuse to pull up to a communal table, it wouldn’t be France if there wasn’t a celebration involving a lot of very good food. Meal times here means sharing large tables, set with unlimited carafes of malbec that were never empty. As soon as one was drained, it was whisked away to the taps outside and replenished.

beef cheeks in malbec

Meals began with sips of Fénelon, a local apéritif that combines—depending on who you ask…red wine, walnut liqueur, and cassis (black currant liqueur). It was good, although a bit on the sweet side to my pre-dinner palate. So I stuck with the local red.

spigot

Dinners were a bit spiffier and weren’t served on trays, but passed around family-style. And although I was enjoying the food, I was transfixed on the hands of the inhabitants of the village, who obviously spent their entire lives in the vineyards, twisting, turning, and pruning vines.

beautiful carrots grapevine

Burly winemaker Arnaldo Dimani of Domaine le Bout du Lieu told me, while constantly refilling my glass, “You should be able to stand a knife up in a glass of Cahors, Daveed.” I don’t think he was kidding, although the more he poured, the more I worried about being able to get vertical myself afterward.

pouring wine in soup soup

And he even gave me a demonstration of faire chabrot, the local custom of pouring wine in an almost-empty bowl of soup, then drinking it from the bowl, like “a goat”.

last soup gulp soup1

I love the custom, but I don’t think it’s something I should try at any swank dinner parties back in Paris.

And yes, we managed to get out of bed the next day, to visit some of the local vignerons (winemakers, who hold a Rando-Malbec, a 3 1/2 hour free-style walking tour of the region, where eleven vignerons hold a sort of open house for the hikers, fortifying them with wine, and letting us taste the various cuvées from their cellars.

cournou

Not on the walk, but a few kilometers away was Le Clos d’un Jour, which I was especially interested in visiting because winemakers Véronique and Stéphane Azémar age some of their organic wines in enormous, and obviously very heavy, clay amphoras, which are made in the town of Castelnaudry, in neighboring Gascony. The potter also makes the famous cassoles, used for baking cassoulet.

clay wine jugs

Recently a friend in Paris asked me about the organic wines sold in the supermarkets, skeptically, because they cost roughly the same amount as other wines. She wondered how they could really be organic and still sold at a similar price? So I put the question to Stéphan (whose wines aren’t sold in the supermarket, but cost roughly €6-€17 in shops), and he said, “Organic wine costs almost the same to produce as other wine because we’re not spending money on chemicals and pesticides.”

wine urns where duck is king

With only 7 hectares (17 acres) of land, using handpicked grapes, he only makes about 20,000 bottles of wine a year. And some of it ends up in his Un Jour sur Terre (which has a double meaning: either “one day on earth” or “one day in the soil”), and is aged for about one year (364 more jours than just un) in the clay urns, rather than oak, so it has a clean, mineral flavor, rather than notes of anything oaky or woody.

But the wine is meant to go with foods of the regions, and although duck (and black truffles) play well into the foods of the Lot, there are a few other specialties that merited sampling.

a little foie gras

One evening, amiable Chef Hervé Bourg at his restaurant Le Marché made us dinner that began with enormous slabs of velvety foie gras, sliced in eye-popping portions, which he very quickly seared and served with a giant scoop of freshly-diced black truffles held together with mascarpone. I watched him searing them off in the kitchen and the heavy smoke almost caused me to split, and the fire department to arrive. And yes, it was rich. But somehow I managed to eat the whole plate that was set down in front of me in the dining room. Luckily, the next course was a tad lighter.

cafe du marché

The food was interesting (although I’m still scratching my head over the main course served on a room-temperature rock), and the dessert was a knockout; warm mango tarte Tatin with coconut ice cream. I wasn’t sure this was “market-based” cuisine (unless there’s a grove of coconut palm tree I didn’t see, nearby), but it was really exceptional. And figured I ate enough locally-foraged truffles and foie gras in an effort to keep the Cahorian locavore contingent happy.

mango tart Tatin

My favorite lunch was at La Table de Haute-Serre. The amazing Chef Philippe Combet serves a special, multi-course lunch when truffles are in season. And even if you’re on the fence about these musky spores, this lunch in the dining room, overlooking the vineyards, was quite an experience.

3 glasses of malbec ham and truffles

I’d heard the chef was a very busy guy, and not prone to letting visitors intrude in his kitchen, but popped my head in the kitchen anyway, and the chef waved me in, so I got to see some of the cooking in action. He was searing bit pans of lamb chops (from local lamb), and mincing truffles to stir into a truffled risotto to pile alongside. Another cook was diligently rolling up country ham, after smearing each slice of crisp toast with a paste made of minced fresh truffles, and setting the curl of ham on top of each.

Right before checking out the pastel-colored plate of macarons, I joined the rest of the group at the table and an oeuf mollet was set down before each of us. I’m not sure how they cooked the eggs just-so, but the bright orange yolks made a silky backdrop to the earthy truffles liberally scattered over the top.

truffles and scallops

Right now they’re buying their truffles from various sellers, but the winery they’re attached to, Château de Haut-Serre, just planted a thousand oak trees, which should be producing truffles in around ten years. Which I would do if I could, since it sounds like a good, money-saving tip.

roasted lamb

We had to kind of race through lunch, because we didn’t want to miss the start of the nearby truffle market in Lalbenque.

macarons

But since we are in France, we squeezed in just enough time for a cheese course, which was a tartine (toast) of melted Salers cheese and truffles, before crisp tulipes (cookie cups) came out with a smooth oval of heavenly black truffle ice cream nesting inside.

tuiles

I wanted to try my hand at churning up a similar black truffle ice cream when I got home, and was planning to buy a small tin of minced truffles, figuring a pricey fresh one would be wasted on a frozen dessert. But Madame Gaillard of Hernas insisted—repeatedly, that I should only use a fresh one. And I knew that each and every one of you out there is dying to shell out a hundred bucks on a fresh truffle to make ice cream. But still, I had to resist the urge to splurge.

black truffle ice cream auxerre menu

As much as I love you all, I figured very few of you would be able to make black truffle ice cream with a real, fresh black truffle, so I’m saving my centimes for my next trip to Cahors. Or perhaps I should take up a collection…?

(I mean, for a truffle. Although I wouldn’t mind if anyone wanted to pitch in for a gym membership, which I think I need, to work off all this food and drink.)

walnuts

Aside from truffles, in the more approachable category, the other specialty of the region is walnuts. And the best local pastry shop, Les Délices de Valentré, claims to make the veritable (definitive) one.

walnut tart

As tempting as the glistening-smooth top was, I didn’t think I could eat an entire 23 centimeter (9-inch) tart by my lonesome back in my hotel room, so I settled on a box of chocolates, which I didn’t have any trouble with.

And similarly affordable is the aftermentioned vin noir, the malbec, which is nicknamed black wine, and is also famous for darkening les dents of the locals.

black teeth

So if you go, give it a try. Although consider yourself warned: now that I’ve gotten a taste of the black, I think I just might have to go back.

black truffles in Cahors

Favorite Places In and Around Cahors

Château Plat Faisant
(Malbec wines)
Tél: 05 65 30 76 38
Saint-Vincent d’Olt/Les Roques

Les Delices du Valentré
(Pastry shop specializing in walnut tarts and chocolates)
21, boulevard Gambetta
Tél: 05 65 35 09 86
Cahors

Le Marché
27 Place Jean-Jacques Chapou
46000 Cahors, France
05 65 35 27 27

Domaine Le Bout du Lieu
(Malbec wines from Arnaldo Dimani)
Tél: 05 65 30 70 80
St. Vincent d’Olt

La Table de Haute-Serre
(Restaurant, with seasonal truffle menus)
Tél: 05 65 20 80 20
Cieurac

Le Clos d’un Jour
(Organic vineyard)
Tél: 05 65 36 56 01
Duravel

Ferme des Roucans
(Rocamadour cheese producer, open to public)
Tél: 05 65 31 32 46
Sabadel Lauzès

Henras
(Truffle shop and restaurant)
40, boulevard Gambetta
Tél: 05 65 23 74 06
Cahors

Restaurant L’Ô à la Bouche
(Excellent restaurant with seasonal truffle dishes)
134, rue Saint-Urcisse
Tél: 05 65 35 69
Cahors

Passé & Présent
(Antique shop with large selection of tableware)
33, place Rousseau
Tél: 05 65 23 03 31
Cahors

Hôtel Terminus
(Friendly, family-owned small hotel, with gastronomic restaurant)
5, avenue Charles de Freycinet
Tél: 05 65 53 32 00

Related Links and Posts

Truffle Hunting (Part 1)

The Truffle Market at Lalbenque (Part 2)

The Black Truffle Extravaganza (Part 3)

Cahors Office of Tourism (In French)

Embrace the Black Wine of Cahors (Examiner)

Cahors (Dr. Vino)

53 comments

  • In Australia, all our swanky dinner parties end up with people acting like goats. And we always spend $100 a head on dessert. Really, I think you should move yourself and your blog down under. :P

  • Its a tough life you lead David!

    I guess someone has to do it so the rest of us know what we are missing out on!

    Dylan

  • Lovely post, thank you!

  • Another region to consider.
    Great impression you gave us with this post. Thank you.

  • We finish off our cereal milk and cream soups by drinking them directly out of the bowl, like Johanna Spyri’s Heidi.

  • Beautiful post and photos David. I felt like I could almost smell it there. Looks like a special place.

  • Ah-h-h, thanks for the trip! I love Cahors wine and didn’t know that much about it. I’m bookmarking this one…gotta go, but I’m afraid I’d never want to leave.

    Thanks!

  • Bonjour David. Thanks for documenting the part of France for those of us don’t speak fluent (or otherwise) French wouldn’t normally see or experience. Great photos as usual-you have a wonderful eye. Truly enjoyed my stay in the Marais last November, Cafe des Musees and trying out Pascal Trotte’s marvelous butter. I even shared with my friends!

  • C’est bon! Thanks again for letting us travel along! The photo of the wine stained tap on the barrel is priceless.

  • Sounds like a fantastic trip! That Rando-Malbec is a great idea, especially for those of us who tend to travel by train and other public transport (plus, no drunk driving).

  • Daveed, this is the trip I’d like to go on with you. Any way we could do it as a tour sometime?

  • sipped a few ourselves a couple of years ago while spending a lovely week in the Lot!
    quite good but different from Cab’s, Pinots, Rhone, etc but that is one great reason for exploring France as well as regional cuisine!

    if interested, there are a couple of excellent books about Cahors wine making “Families of the Vine” and “From here you can’t see Paris” about running a Dordogne restuarant – both by Michael S. Sanders through Amazon – both most enjoyable and informative!!!

    Off to Auvergne this May to try their wines which never make to the States as do few Cahors especially since Chile is the hot Malbec exporter these days.

  • Great article and great photos. This is exactly the kind of food and photo articles I miss from Gourmet.
    The photos just popped off the screen. The photos of the fois gras and the one below particularly impressed me. What camera, lens and was this in natural light. I’m hungry for France.

  • I love Cahors – sluurrppp! It’s one of those rare decent French wines that still doesn’t cost the earth here in the UK. I’m certainly now tempted to visit the region.
    My mum lives in the Loire Valley, and while the area is stunning, I can’t stand the local red wines. Thin, watery, and you most certainly can see your fingers through the glass. Hmm, maybe I should suggest Maman moves to Cahors…

  • Thanks, David! This is making me yearn for that part of France. I spent a week there a few years ago and it remains one of my favourite areas. Did you have a chance to sample any good Vin de Noix? I fell in love with it and managed to figure out how to make it when I secured some green walnuts at home. Such a friendly, lush and oh so beautiful area. I also love some of the wines from that region. Thanks for reminding me of good times and good food…ah the duck…

  • I have GOT to learn not to check your blog before lunch if I’m ever going to lose any weight! The pictures are amazing, as always. Thanks so much, David!

  • It was the photo of the fresh fois gras that stopped my reading cold. Luscious! Tempting! The freshness jumps off the page. It’s almost enough for me to want to get on the next plane to France. As for the toast with ham and truffle paste, now that’s what I call food! I can taste it in my head.

    Cahors, the black wine. In Paris, there is a tiny, rustique-style restaurant called Lescure. Tucked away in a corner of rue Mont Thabor at 7 rue de Mondavi in the first arrondissement. The Cahors has long been their main wine focus.
    I fully understand your enthusiasm. It is delicious and deep and rich and wonderful and intense…yes, I do go on….

  • Bridget: Yes, most people come to France and hit Paris and/or Provence. But places like the Lot, and Brittany, are so special and quieter. And it’s nice to learn more about the regional wines and foods, which you can really only do by going there and tasting them for yourself.

    Tami: I didn’t taste any of the vin de noix, but I do make my own green walnut liqueur!

    Bare Cupboard: I do like the red wines from the Loire, but you’re right that Saumur’s can vary dramatically. I do love Sauvignon and Sancerre, though.

    Charles: Thanks for the compliments! Gourmet was wonderful and the writing was so good, I’m flattered by the comparison. If you’re interested, I did a post on My food photography gear, that you might find interesting.

    Nancy: Actually I discussed doing a trip to the region, and including Cognac which isn’t far, but most folks want to come to Paris.

    Maybe in the future I’ll do one, because the truffles and other things from the Lot, and nearby, are so special. Perhaps if you get a group together, we can do it all over again! : )

  • I used to work near Cahors and I loved the way the region always had two names for the streets, the French and the Occitan.

  • If I were actually restricted to true locavorism, I think I would have to move to Cahors. Cahors has been my favorite wine for a long, long time (wish it was easier to find in California) and truffles and foie gras are pretty much awesome.

  • Black truffles, foie gras and wine in the French countryside..what an amazing life you lead!

  • Thanks, David, for another educational blog. I had never read about Cahors or their Malbec. Beautifully shot and written.

  • Oh gosh, how much i enjoyed this post! My boyfriend’s family is from a small village outside of Cahors. It’s a wonderfully pretty region and the local food is delicious. we had wonderful olives and prunes from the family garden……and the bread! Puts Parisien bread to shame! Bakers actually deliver huge loaves to houses out in the countryside. It’s really charming.

  • Wonderful- you have my mouth watering. While I am a lover of Malbec, I have never tried one so thick and dark as you describe. I have tried a dessert wine (a FABULOUS dessert wine from Uruguay of all places!) that was thick, syrupy, and left my teeth black – just like in your pic – just wish I had known that *before* the end of the night. The moment I tasted it, I bought two bottles, imagining all of the wonderful desserts I can create with it (it is sheer bliss when paired with a fleur de sel chocolate. If you get the chance, check it out… Pisano EtXe Oneko Licor de Tannat

    http://www.pisanowines.com/eng/homei.htm

    meanwhile, I’ll be heading off in search of black wine from Cahors…..

  • Wow. Great story. Many thanks for the photographs. Definitely made it real for those of us who, for now, must cyber-travel. Woe.

  • Ohhhhh – that looks so, so glorious! And I have discovered I love Cahors wine; I bought some cheap (too cheap, probably) red last time I was over, and it is eminently drinkable, tastes as though it’s worth ten times what I paid for it!

  • I didn’t think I could miss France any more than I already did this morning, but having read this, I’m officially in withdrawal. How beautiful! Love all of these photographs. They almost make me feel like I’m there.

  • I’m going to your Flickr stream now to favorite EVERY ONE OF THESE PHOTOS.

    You’re killing me, I hope you realize.

  • Nicely done, as always.

  • Beautifully written and photographed. The wine hike sounds like it could be a great deal of fun, and potentially hilarious: I imagine a group of sloshed hikers, out for a lurching, ambling stroll through the French countryside.

  • I am so there! This is for sure my favourite region in France. Once my husband and I spent two weeks there just to eat duck, foie gras and the many versions of cassoulet that exist. Of course, we visited the wineries of Cahors, and enjoyed the walnut liqueur, as well as the griotte cherries often served with foie gras. About the fourth day in, I became very ill and bilious from too much duck fat and Cahors. We were at a lovely 400 year old farmhouse gite in Cahors, having a local dinner cooked served by the owners in their rustic kitchen, when suddenly I went green and had to flee to my bedroom. I’ve always regretted that dinner I missed! Thanks for the memories, and for your personal recommendations of the area.

  • I’ve always been a huge fan of the malbec (except for the color it turns my teeth)! And I totally could have finished that 23-centimeter tart by myself. Sadly.

  • david,
    It’s funny about malbec. buy a cheaper bottle in the u.s. and you think you’re drinking cough syrup. buy an even cheaper bottle at a half-way decent restaurant in Buenos Aires and you’re sipping nectar of the gods.

    any thoughts on how to compare French malbec to its South American kin?

  • Thanks — like an earlier poster, this fine ode to Cahors reminded me of “Families of the Vine” — about the making of Cahors, etc. (and to a lesser degree, “From Here You Can’t See Paris”), both by Michael S. Sanders.

  • ” Although consider yourself warned: now that I’ve gotten a taste of the black, I think I just might have to go back.” *snicker snicker snicker*

    Just thought I would let you know someone “got” that one and it even made me snort when I laughed! ;-)

    My favorite sentence: “…crisp tulipes (cookie cups) came out with a smooth oval of heavenly black truffle ice cream nesting inside.” *sigh* The alliteration of “crisp tulipes” and “cookie cups,” and the concept/imagery of black truffle ice cream nesting — wow. That sentence got me good. :) (Critique brought to you by the former English major inside of me, lol.)

    What a fantastic experience. Thank you for sharing in such detail and with your wonderful photos. I feel like I was along for the trip!

  • Jake & Dale: That’s one of the books I’m my reading list. I have about ten books I’m trying to get to. But thanks for the reminder.

    nancy: To be honest, I don’t believe I’m ever had a malbec from South America; since living in France, it would seem folly to drink one here! But I think they’re going to organize a tasting in May with many malbecs, including some from South America, so it’ll be interesting to compare the differences.

    Will: The hikers were pretty sedate. It was Sunday morning and after a couple of days of revelry, were sort of taking their sweet time!

  • What a great post David! I love the wine in the soup plate tradition!!! I’m definitely going to stop by the Cahors region next time we go on gastronomic vacations :D

  • What a great post with beautiful pictures! I always want to jump right in one of the photos and end up in France. Seeing your posts make me want to go back so much! When we do, we will have to add the Cahors region to our list of places to go!

  • When in Cahors in 2003, I had the most delicious cheese I’ve ever tasted. It was Echourngnac (spelling?), a walnut oil infused delicacy that suddenly became a craving. Has anyone ever had this cheese and if so, is it obtainable anywhere in the US? I was told that the cheese was not exported out of the area, much less to Paris because it was made in small quantities in a monastery (or convent). I believe it is not that old a product having been developed in the last 40 or so years. Since my trip was so long ago I was wondering if by now it has appeared here. I think Murray’s Cheese Shop in NYC did carry it for a very brief time but before I could get to it it was gone.
    Oh, and of course the local wine was perfect with it!

  • Thanks for this. I love the way the French celebrate their various harvests with a local festival in the town or region of the harvest. It’s done in the states too, it just doesn’t seem as quaint and we don’t seem to dote on our various regions for their specialities quite the same, and that’s too bad. Maybe we do, I’m probably just out of those “loops”

  • A wonderful post! I really enjoyed your description of your fabulous visit to Cahor. One of my favorite wines from Cahor is the Clos La Coutale which is imported to US by Kermit Lynch who you probably know from your Berkeley days.

  • This post makes me wish I was there, although you definitely captured the most amazing shots you actually made me feel like I WAS there! The food looks intense, organic, and delicious. The wine looks perfect and the company looks divine.

  • Oh, I long a glass of Cahors and some pate de fois gras – where to get it living in the mountains of North Carolina. While we do have a truffle festival we do not have “les petites splendeurs” to go with it.

  • ‘Cause we’re…

    BACK IN BLACK!!! Woo! I’m not sure if you intended it to be so, but that was a pretty clever reference to ACDC there.

  • Oh my, David. This post is killing me! How wonderfully you have captured every moment and every aspect of the meal. I feel as if I was there, but instead of leaving the party stuffed, my stomach is grumbling a reminder that it is quite empty instead. Can I live a day in your life, please. I’d be happy to reciprocate. You can be a suburban wife and mother with a weekend gig as a nurse. Sounds fair, no?

  • Thank you. Always such a joy to read what you write!

  • Hello David & All,
    I know David specializes in Paris, France. We are going to Marseille, France for 3 days and would love a couple of reccomendations for kid-friendly french restaurants. We eat 99% organically at home and when dining out we seek high-quality moderately priced food. If the restaurant uses local and/or organic ingredients, even better.
    Thank you so much.
    Kim

  • Argentinian malbecs are similar to Cahors, but they’re not the same because of the terroir. So they’re a fix (for us, anyway) if you can’t get ahold of Cahors, but it’s not the real thing.

    Clos de la Coutale is a great house — as is Domaine de La Grezette, who also export to the US. We visited La Grezette a few years ago, where we tasted their better labels (most vineyards, regardless of the AOC or varietal, bottle a couple of different labels – one for supermarkets, and then one or two more upmarket labels). An older French man was tasting one of their superb older Cahors, and as he set down his glass, closed his eyes and sighed “Ahhh, Brigitte.” The young woman behind the counter was confused, and asked the equivalent of “beg pardon?” He opened his eyes, winked at her, and said “Ah, but this should be labeled Brigitte…it is soft and full-bodied…like Brigitte Bardot.” It was all I could do to not choke on my wine.

    The Rando goes into my bookmarks of things to do next time we’re down that way.

  • What a wonderful post……and your photos are absolutely incredible!! Thanks so much for sharing :)

  • I loved this post! My mother grew up in Cahors and we still have family there. I found it to be incredible country, with delightful people. The few times I have been there I never was much of a foodie, but reading your blog on Cahor has put a whole new spin on how we will visit next time! Thank you!!

  • Hi David,
    If no one else has pleaded with you yet, I will: please work out the mango tarte tatin!
    Even if it’s just a basic substitution of the fruit in a classic recipe, your tips always help make the difference between so-so and really good versions.

  • DebbieN: There’s a recipe for a Mango tarte Tatin in my book Ready for Dessert. Enjoy!

  • I enjoyed this post very much. We are headed to Cahors for two months in Feb-Mar 2011 and it was very nice to read a post about this time of the year. I will definitely bookmark this one for reference while we are there. Lovely pictures!