For many people (including my parents), the idea of our coming to Cahors, France for a chance to learn something new was a bit of a head-scratcher. For some, the assumption was that I had a confirmed “internship” at one of the Malbec-producing wineries here in the Lot. For others, the feeling was that I would be immersing myself into Malbec, tasting through the 280+ wineries on a precise schedule. Now that I’m here, wine in hand, it’s time to give you the real scoop.
It would be a lie to say that Cahors being the birthplace of Malbec didn’t enter our minds. Or that this didn’t totally line up with the fact that we believe Malbec to be part of the future of Sierra’s high-elevation foothill vineyards. Or that the rolling hills of the Lot (this region of France) with its oaks and cedars intermixed with diverse agriculture have an uncanny resemblance with our own backyard in California. It just seemed that the stars were aligning as to where we went on our trip.
In actuality, though, our thought was more to have a sabbatical, away from the business, with an opportunity to give our girls an experience of a different culture. I got to do this at nearly the same age as our youngest by living in Zaire, Africa for two years, and I’ve always felt this was a life-changing event (thank you Mom and Dad). So our children are blogging and Skyping with their school classmates at home, giving them (and us) an idea of how American youngsters view the culture here.
But, now that we are here, we are certainly enjoying the time together as a family, having had incredible experiences in just the first week. We’ve made crepes with our elderly neighbor downstairs (all in French, of course), we’ve met incredible people (all wonderfully gracious), entertained French guests twice in our apartment, made three complete dinners using a gift of four Black Perigore Truffles (something not possible in the US since you can’t get these truffles fresh, and we can’t afford the price of $1,400 per kilo here!), attended the truffle market in the little village of Lalbenque (a cultural event in itself), and more.
But for us, it has mostly been settling into life here in Cahors. Our dinner decisions are based on the open-air markets on Wednesday and Saturday. We are eating later and later (a comment from our French guests that 6:30 for dinner is very early), going to bed as others do around 11:30pm and getting up at 8am instead of 6. We can’t eat fresh croissants everyday as it will soon impact our girth, but when we do eat them, we get the ones made with extra butter! Getting into a routine is paramount, working on winery stuff and homework (for the kids) for the first 4 hours of the day, and then exploring the area the rest of the day.
As for Malbec, it’s plentiful here, and we drink a different producer every night. We’ve found out so far that styles and quality are all over the board. Several have been more angular in nature with leaner bodies and less fruit-oriented, but with fairly stiff tannins on the finish (regardless of age). Tasting these wines dictated that I learn the French wine terms for “body” and “palate” and “full” for better discussions with the wine merchants here.
In our next flight, the wines were richer, more akin to what we find in California, higher in price with more extracted dark fruit. We heeded the instructions to decant some of them for an hour or so to tame the tannins a bit, and definitely paired them with our truffle recipes for amazing results. Whether lean or rich, however, the Malbecs of this region seem to have a commonality of an underlying smokiness that we have yet to taste in our wines.
Part of the plan of narrowing down the wines to sample is asking every person
we meet (of which many are in the wine and or food industry here) what they think are the best producers of Malbec in the region. For us, we need to find the producers of styles that fit within the qualities our terroir, and that will take some time. But it’s amazing how much people know about the wines here. I can only hope that our region, within the next 700 years, will have the same depth of knowledge (for the local products…wine, paté, truffles, etc.) as we find here.
We’re making headway on the wines and enjoying the journey as a family. And for that, the trip has already been a complete success!
Stay tuned for more….