Posts Filed Under on the road
I’m in Cahors, and it’s one of those thoroughly gorgeously sunny wine country days that at turns make me happy to be alive and secretly, maddeningly spiteful towards those who get to experience this nearly every day.
Of course, those turns tend to come after long stints of travel when I’m severely under-caffeinated, so keep that in mind before you read too much into it. Also, Charles de Gaulle airport smells of rotting garbage, but that might just be from the massive number of over-traveled, unwashed people congregated in close proximity after their long flights. Ok, I really need coffee right now.
Anyway, tonight (which will be last night, actually, by the time most of you out there read this) we kick off the International Malbec Days Festival here at the Pont Valentré with a pre-opening tasting event. In preparation, I’ve gotten a bit more info. on the aims of the event and its sponsors.
Cahors is laying claim to the title of “Spiritual home” of Malbec (also known as Cot and Auxerrois in the general Sud Ouest). Its main competition now, of course, is Argentina, who now grows more of the stuff than France.
[ Warning: Gross over-simplification in-progress ]
Cahors has three main terroirs when it comes to Malbec (and they’ve been growing it long enough that I think we can safely employ the dreaded T-Word), and they equate roughly to the elevation of the vineyard terraces above the Lot river. The closer to river-level, so the thinking goes, the more alluvial the soils and the less complex the wines (check out ReignOfTerroir.com for a great detailed exposition of these), and typically the higher proportion of other varieties (Merlot and Tannat) blended into the final product.
These terroirs produce wines with different stylistic profiles, from simpler and fruitier (“Tender & Fruity” according to the marketing materials) wines close to the river, to “Feisty & Powerful” wines in the middle terrace, and finally “Intense & Complex” wines made from 100% Malbec. Theoretically, the price points follow suit as expected.
[ Thus endeth the Gross over-simplification ]
The marketing strategy is to make a push for Cahors wines to gain market share of Malbecs sold internationally, which they’ll primarily need to take away from Argentina, starting with the U.S. market (the goal is a 3-5X increase in sales in the U.S. within 3 years). The focus of this push are the “Feisty & Powerful” Malbecs, priced in the $15-$25 range, hitting the large East and West Coast U.S. markets.
Ignoring the discussion of whether or not enough Cahors wine in the tier is produced and exported to the U.S. to provide the ammunition for such a push, from my vantage point it looks like Cahors will be going head-to-head against Argentina in that tier, only with higher prices, more confusing labels, less market awareness, and (arguably) a less newbie-friendly taste profile.
I suppose the cat’s now out of the bag that I’m a little skeptical, but I’m clearing a small space of my mind from concentrating on the secret spite of the recently-traveled, and reserving that space as “open mind” to be filled by the tasting notes of Cahors wines.
Can Cahors make such a push? The proof will be in the dark, inky, tannic pudding, I suppose… More to come…
If you live in the U.S. (and chances are high that if you’re reading this, you are in the U.S.), then it’s likely that you’ve been drinking some low-priced Malbec wine lately.
Don’t take my word for it – for some hard data on Malbec drinking trends in the U.S., you can check out a recent article by Laura Saieg on WineSur.com:
“According to a report issued by Nielsen, in the last 52 weeks, the consumption of Malbec grew by 60%. This makes Malbec the best performing variety in the US market… In 2009, in spite of the pronounced decline of American economy, there was a consumption increase of 6 million cases with respect to 2008. Most of these cases were within the retail price bracket of under USD 10 per bottle. This was due to the fact that, in response to the crisis, consumers changed their habits and chose less expensive wines. Americans changed from consuming less expensive bottles to focusing on obtaining the best possible value. Restaurant wine sales fell by 6% to 9% this year as consumers, under tight budgets, stopped dining out and preferred to stay at home and buy wine at wine stores.”
Maybe you’ve had one (or several) of those extra 72 million bottles of Malbec consumed in the good ol’ U.S. of A. last year? Looks like we can’t get enough of the stuff.
What’s most interesting, from a marketing / consumption / trending standpoint, is that you probably had that bottle at home while overall you were drinking less expensive wine (in both senses of the term).
By any measure, that’s a big coop for Malbec producers during the global recession, and it will be interesting to see if the trend continues. It’s unclear from the WineSur.com article if most of the Malbec that we Americans gulped down was from Argentina, but it’s not unreasonable to conclude that.
Which might be why the French, who invented the stuff, are coming (possibly quite late) to Malbec bandwagon party…
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“They already got themselves a woodchuck today.”
Sam Argetsinger was leading a slow but determined downhill walking pace, flanked by his two dogs who had done the woodchuck hunting before we’d arrived. He is stout, and affable, and his wide smile accentuates a face of weathered features. Sam’s vineyard is small, relatively steep, and on the morning of May 8 it was playing host to a series of alternating bursts of warming sunshine from above, and strong cold breezes off of New York’s Seneca Lake.
A group of thirty-odd wine writers and bloggers descended onto the area as part of TasteCamp East; I was part of a dozen-or-so who were taking a morning tour of Sam’s vineyard on the second day of our trip. We had already, in a mere half-day, tasted dozens and dozens of Finger Lakes wines, some of which have been sourced from Sam’s vineyard.
“The other thing about woodchucks,” added Sam, stopping briefly and turning to face a small number of our group walking closest to him, and uttering the words without a modicum of sarcasm, “is that they’re delicious.” We laugh, of course – most of us aren’t farmers and none of us has ever tasted woodchuck.
“Must taste like chicken!” one of us says. Sam’s response – again without hesitation and appearing completely genuine: “Naw – it tastes like muskrat, mostly.” Sam then briefly explains how woodchuck gut can be employed to create a fine-sounding drum skin.
Welcome to the Finger Lakes, folks, where the water – carved out of the land like the claw marks of angry gods by retreating glaciers eons ago – runs long, narrow, and deep, like the traditions and views of the region’s people.
It would have been easy to joke that a Fingers Lake red is the best thing to pair with that woodchuck (or muskrat), given the past history of red wines from the region. And there certainly is nothing about Sam’s vineyard that would suggest anything other than the belief that This Is Riesling Country: from the steep plantings facing the water, to the heightened amplification of every nuance of viticulture – aspect, elevation, light exposure, ripening… we might as well be in the Mosel, right?
Exactly what you’d expect of the Finger Lakes.
That is, until you taste the wines that aren’t Riesling. Until you taste the region’s new reds…
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Here we go again!
TasteCamp East, the brainchild of New York Cork Report founder and fellow Steelers fan Lenn Thompson, is now in its second year and this weekend will be gathering together nearly 40 North American wine bloggers in New York’s Finger Lakes wine region for a few days of tasting, eating, and (probably) writing.
Last year’s inaugural TCE (held in Long Island) was by all accounts a success, especially in terms of exposing wine bloggers to the developing North American wine regions outside of California, Oregon and Washington.
The 2010 version has a promising list of wineries involved, and personally I’m excited to get back to the Lakes to see (and taste) how things are progressing there. I’m also working on a press junket that will take me back to the area in 2011, so I’m viewing TCE as an important milestone in covering and evaluating the Finger Lakes wine action.
Best of all will be hanging out with the great people that Lenn has assembled to participate, many of whom I consider friends and all of whom I respect as talented writers; for me that is, by far, the best thing about these gatherings, and I always come away from these events a bit awestruck at the collective talent, passion and brainpower that is being devoted to wine writing on the virtual pages of the blog-o-world.
It’s so easy for us to take that situation for granted, and events like TCE remind us just how lucky we are to be digging on wine in these changing (and exciting) times.
More to come, Lakeside…