When is a malbec not a malbec? When it’s an auxerrois or a côt noir. Those are two of the names given in the Cahors area of France to the purple grape known widely as malbec.
The subject came up when I saw auxerrois listed as one of the chief ingredients in a bottle of wine I drank last week. Although I like to think I know a reasonable amount about wine, I didn’t recognise the name.
It turns out the grape is also known as pressac in some places.
It’s one of the chief varieties used in Cahors, in the department of Lot in the Midi-Pyrénées. Significantly, it helps distinguish the local wines from those of nearby Bordeaux. Many of the wines made in Bergerac, west of Cahors, use merlot and cabernet sauvignon – the same grapes that are used in the more internationally renowned Bordeaux wines.
But Cahors has ploughed its own furrow, as it were. There, wines are made principally using a blend of auxerrois, merlot and tannat. The latter, in particular, helps to bolster the wine’s structure through its tannins.
The use of different grapes came about following severe frosts in 1956, which wiped out the local vines and meant that large parts of the area had to be replanted.
The result is a selection of wines unlike all others. Rather like the names used for the grapes in them.