The Quercy region is essentially the French Departments of the Lot and Tarn-et Garonne, plus a sprinkling of communes of Aveyron to the east, Dordogne to the west and Correze to the north. It wasn’t long before the region began producing wines so good they put their Italian counterparts to shame! The Emperor himself ordered the vines of Cahors to be ripped up in 92 AD, but with a Gallic shrug the order was never carried out...
Over a millennium later, the Hundred Years’ War put an end to what had been a long period of prosperity for the region: a decree of 1373 promoted the wines produced in the Bordeaux region by levying heavy taxes on those produced further inland, especially the wines of Cahors. In spite of this discrimination the wines of Cahors retained their strong reputation, and were highly prized by some of history’s greatest figures: Francis 1st had ‘Cahors’ vines planted at his palace at Fontainebleau, and Tsar Peter the Great of Russia ordered the Russian Orthodox Church to use Cahors wine when celebrating communion.
Beginning in 1865 a highly destructive microscopic aphid began wreaking havoc upon France’s vine stock: the famous Phylloxera blight. Twelve years later all of France’s vines were infected, and the vineyards of Cahors were completely destroyed. In 1947, a handful of winemakers founded the Parnac co-operative winery, with the aim of reviving the Malbec grape, the original Cahors variety, but they had to struggle through a devastating frost in 1956 which wiped out the regions vines, so a mass replanting was needed.
In 1971, with only 440 hectares of planted vines, Cahors was awarded AOC status. Since that time the surface area of planted vines has multiplied tenfold.
The vineyards are spread over effectively four terraces, with the first being next to the river and little used as not ideal, and the fourth terrace which is actually the plateau known as "Les Causses".
There are also 3 distinct soil types, alluvial limestone on the hillside terraces, clay of the higher, hillside slopes, and gravel banks near the river interspersed with quartzite pebbles.
The vineyards of Château Quattre are situated a few kilometres northwest of the beautiful and bustling medieval market village of Montcuq, which is just into the Lot. As you climb up the winding lanes to the vineyards and Château, the countryside changes dramatically from the rolling hills, farms, and diverse forests of Tarn-et-Garonne, known as "La Petite Toscane Française" (small French Tuscany), to the short scrub oak trees and causses, or limestone pavements, and gorges. It’s just like the transition in Yorkshire from the rolling Dales to the higher exposed moors with their limestone pavements.
Planted in a horseshoe formation around the winery, this vineyard is located on the highest terraces of the Cahors appellation, in the Quercy Blanc region. The clay-limestone substrate is covered by a thin topsoil, covered with Quercy Blanc stones giving an effect rather like the famous Galets Roulés of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
This combination of high altitude moderating temperatures, clay combating drought and the reflected sunshine and stored heat from the Quercy Blanc stones, lead to wines typical of the Cahors appellation, matching the aromatic complexity of the Malbec grapes with a great power and volume on the palate, yet also giving fuller, richer and riper wines than the rest of Cahors.
Château Quattre is estate whose reputation is founded upon both the quality, but crucially the consistency of its wines.
I have been lucky enough to taste through, and indeed more importantly drink, vintages from 2006 to 2016, most of which are still available.
The 2016 which is a fabulous vintage both in Cahors and the Coteaux du Quercy, was a Decanter Platinum award winner and whilst it is a very good wine now, it will prove to be a great wine in a few years’ time. For me the 2015 vintage, which wasn’t as universally acclaimed, is very similar in character and feel, as well as drinking better now.
The outstanding wine though is the 2011, a great year for Cahors and in combination with 8 years ageing, is beautifully balanced in terms of fruit, savoury notes, acidity and tannin, and has been my go to wine when I’m opening a bottle at home.
Spen Valley Wines / A & H are the exclusive importers in the UK, and have the 2011 on sale at £12.99 in our shops, but it is limited before Christmas. If you’re very lucky, you might still find a bottle or two of the ultimate expression of Cahors in the shape of the 2011 Château Quattre Les Carrals Pur Malbec, but more of that another time.
The 2015, 2016 and more of the 2011 duo will be available in the coming months.
I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.