Bordeaux sucks up all the oxygen, leaving little air for the wines of the Dordogne and Lot valleys. But vintners in both regions have rededicated themselves to quality in recent years, producing world-class wines worthy of far more attention than they receive. We visited three wineries during our stay, in addition to the Château de Mercuès, and discovered delicious bottlings in each. Indeed, top Cahors Malbecs can now compete with some of the finest red wines in the world.
Secluded on a hill amid a patchwork of vineyards and orchards, this biodynamic winery has been a driving force in changing Bergerac wines from simple to serious. Winemaker-owners Luc and Martine de Conti met us when we arrived, and the charming Martine led our tour and tasting. Though my French is halting from lack of practice, my appreciation of the wines was obvious, and she offered to give us some tastings from the fermentation tanks as well. The Sauvignon Blancs (including one aged partially in amphorae) were delicious, as were the ripe and well-structured Merlot-based blends. But I absolutely fell in love with the rich and refined Contine Périgourdine Muscadelle and the sensational Le Saussignac, a well-balanced Sauternes-like blend of Chenin Blanc and Sémillon redolent of honey, green peppercorn and orange peel.
Château Tour des Gendres
Les Gendres, 24240 Ribagnac. Tel. (33) 5 53 57 12 43
This award-winning Cahors winery looks like a proper grand French estate, with vineyards sweeping up to a hill crowned by a 15th-century château. The castle is private, but we had a fascinating tour of the gravity-flow winery below, which was built in 1992. I was amazed to learn that each layer of soil was preserved as the winery was dug into the hillside, and then later replaced one by one, in order to maintain the integrity of the vineyard’s terroir. The premier Le Pigeonnier wines from beneath the castle were superb; the Viognier tasted fragrant and fat while maintaining its focus, and the Malbec offered gorgeously rich, dark fruit, a note of violets and elegant, well-integrated tannins. Also try the beautiful and deep Paragon Massaut, from vineyards near Puy-l’Evêque.
46140 Caillac. Tel. (33) 5 65 20 07 42
A short drive southeast of picturesque Puy-l’Evêque (where we had a passable lunch with a magnificent view at the Hôtel Bellevue), Clos Triguedina was the first winery to produce a 100 percent Malbec in Cahors. Winemakers had always blended in Merlot and sometimes Tannat. The region plans to finally classify its vineyards in the near future, and Clos Triguedina stands in grand cru territory. Owners Jean-Luc and Sabine Baldès showed us the century-old vines that make Triguedina’s premier wine, Probus. The 2007 vintage vibrates in the mouth, with notes of leather and spice adding complexity to its dark fruit. Baldès also showed us the construction site of a sleek new tasting room, complete with a space in which to do a tea ceremony for VIP Asian visitors. Don’t miss the chance to try The New Black Wine made in the style of old Cahors, in which some of the grapes are heated and dried before fermentation.
46700 Vire-sur-Lot. Tel. (33) 5 65 21 30 81