Last week, in conjunction with my participation in Malbec Days, I took part as planned in a blind tasting of eight malbec wines organized by Château Lagrézette, Cahors’ best known wine producer, internationally. The whole event, as I wrote before on this blog and on PalatePress, was a “rematch”, following my review of Le Pigeonnier 1999 as an example of vanity winemaking.
The tasting, as I described in this new PalatePress post, took place in a very honorable, courteous and fair context, with Jean Courtois, the estate’s general manager, exposing with great care and conviction the approach that the estate has taken over the years at all levels of production. Lagrézette is a gorgeous place, a superbly restored 16th Century château to which new sections (chiefly a three-story, well-equipped winemaking facility dug into the hill below the château) were added with a well-measured touch.
No matter how pleasant the context, and how well the winemaking approach at Lagrézette was explained by Mr Courtois and by cellar master Cédric Blanc, the tasting itself did not yield any superior results for the 1999 Pigeonnier, which still seemed out of balance, as far as I’m concerned. As the full tasting notes show (given at the end of this post reporting on the tasting), I was a little more in tune with the 2001 Pigeonnier, which had more substance and apparently a good touch less oak, and could possibly age somewhat better (although the tannins are still pretty big and upfront). I also enjoyed the phenomenally intense floral and blackberry aromas that came out of the 2009 barrel sample assembled for the occasion by Cédric Blanc from the malbec lots of that truly exceptional vintage, in France. A 1994 Cot, the very first 100% malbec bottling made at the Château, as part of an experiment on the grape varieties grown on the property, was fading a bit, but still showed some nice tobacco and leather notes, and a relatively delicate, nicely aromatic character.
It’s not like the Lagrézette team makes bad wine, in general. The Château Lagrézette Cuvée is a very pleasant bottle of wine, and even the Cuvée Dame Honneur, another reserve cuvée that doesn’t go quite as far as Le Pigeonnier (25-30 hectoliters per hectare yield and 24 months in new oak, instead of 18 hectoliters per hectare and 30 months in new oak for Le Pigeonnier) showed fairly well at the Malbec Days tastings, with a roundness and a substance that were, to me, more convincing and pleasant than that of its “big brother”. I tasted two further vintages of Pigeonnier (2003 and 2005) and two of Dame Honneur (2002 and 2005) during Malbec Days, and 2002 Dame Honneur was the one that I liked best, as it had opened up well over the years.
My general feeling, however, is that the big-oak cuvées of Cahors wines are the wrong way to go. The grape has plenty of substance and structure as it is, overloading it with new oak will likely get it quite a bit over the top. The malbecs I preferred during my stay in Cahors were without or with very little oak. Did you know that malbec can deliver highly expressive floral aromas? Well, when the oak doesn’t get in the way, it most certainly does.