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Chateau Vincens L'Instant Malbec 2012
Château Vincens, owned and managed by the young and dynamic Philippe Vincens, has quickly become a leader in Cahors thanks in large part due to their viticultural practices as well as the location of their vineyards on the plateau above the Lot river valley. The winds are so strong at these higher elevations that the vines remain quite dry and don’t suffer from the mold and rot issues that vines further down the hillsides are subjected to. Grown on chalky clay soils over Kimmeridgian limestone bedrock and relying almost entirely on Malbec, one would think that the wines of Château Vincens would be old-fashioned, backward and overly tannic but by some magic Philippe has managed to make wines that are lush, pure examples of Malbec that still smell and taste like the soil of France. Totaling close to 40 hectares in size, the vineyards of Château Vincens are planted in harmony with the landscape to take advantage of the prevailing winds while preventing erosion of their soils. The ground between their vine rows alternates between tilled soil and grass which retains water and heat, but leaches nutrients – one of the many sustainable farming practices employed at the estate. Fermentation are in tank and aging takes place in concrete or French oak barrels.
Nearly synonymous with fine wine and all things epicurean, France has a culture of wine production and consumption that is deeply rooted in tradition. Many of the world’s most beloved grape varieties originated here, as did the concept of “terroir”—soil type, elevation, slope angle and mesoclimate combine to produce resulting wines that convey a sense of place. Accordingly, most French wine is labeled by geographical location, rather than grape variety. So a general understaning of which grapes correspond to which regions can be helpful in navigating all of the types of French wine. Some of the greatest wine regions in the world are here, including Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhône, and Champagne, but each part of the country has its own specialties and strengths.
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, are the king and queen of Burgundy, producing elegant red and white wines with great acidity, the finest examples of which can age for decades. The same varieties, along with Pinot Meunier, are used in Champagne. Of comparable renown is Bordeaux, focused on bold, structured red wines made of blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc including sometimes a small amount of Petit Verdot or Malbec. The primary white varieties of Bordeaux are Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. The Rhône Valley is responsible for monovarietal Syrah in the north, while the south specializes in Grenache blends; Rhône's main white variety is Viognier.
Most of these grape varieties are planted throughout the country and beyond, extending their influence into other parts of Europe and New World appellations.
Known for its big, bold flavors and supple texture, Malbec is most famous for its runaway success in Argentina. However, the variety actually originates in Bordeaux, where it historically contributed color and tannin to blends. After being nearly wiped out by a devastating frost in 1956, it was never significantly replanted, although it continued to flourish under the name Côt in nearby Cahors. A French agronomist who saw great potential for the variety in Mendoza’s hot, high-altitude landscape, brought Malbec to Argentina in 1868. But it did not gain its current reputation as the country's national grape until a surge in popularity in the late 20th century.
In the Glass
Malbec typically expresses deep flavors of blackberry, plum and licorice, appropriately backed by aromas of freshly turned earth and dense, chewy tannins. In warmer, New World regions, such as Mendoza, Malbec will be intensely ripe, and full of fruit and spice. From its homeland in Cahors, its rusticity shines; dusty notes and a beguiling bouquet of violets balance rich, black fruit.
Malbec’s rustic character begs for flavorful dishes, like spicy grilled sausages or the classic cassoulet of France’s Southwest. South American iterations are best enjoyed as they would be in Argentina: with a thick, juicy steak.
If you’re trying to please a crowd, Malbec is generally a safe bet. With its combination of bold flavors and soft tannins, it will appeal to basically anyone who enjoys red wine. Malbec also wins bonus points for affordability, as even the most inexpensive examples are often quite good.