The geography of the Cahors wine region is defined by the Lot river. As it meanders west from the town of Cahors, the river forms deep bends, and inside these contours are terraces made of ancient alluvial deposits. Gravelly and poor, these soils are the natural home of Cot, the principal grape of the area. The wines made from these grapes can be deep, complex, and very long-lived.
But Cahors is a diverse appellation, and in addition to the vineyards on the river banks, it also includes the calcareous limestone plateau above. The wines from this area tend to be fruitier and more straightforward.
In total, the vines of Cahors cover an area of just over 4,000 hectares. Cot represents 70% of these plantings, with the rest made up of Merlot (20%) and Tannat (10%).
The climate in Cahors is is marked by many diverse influences. The Atlantic plays a dominant role in moderating temperature, but harsh winter weather can also sometimes come from the nearby Massif Central, and in summer the region can at times be affected by Mediterranean heat. This confluence of these various climates, along with the geography of the Lot river valley, create the specific conditions that make Cot from Cahors so distinctive.
The people of Southwest France have been making wines here since the Romans occupied this area. Famous long before some of its more modernly in vogue neighbors, this region managed to stay hidden from the limelight and drifted into relative obscurity. The vineyards here were devastated by phylloxera in the nineteenth century, prompting many vineyard owners to abandon all hope as they left in search of an easier life in the cities.
Made up of eighteen appellations, this area varies greatly in its grapes and its people. At the very southwestern tip of this region one enters into the land of the Basques. This is the Basse Navarre, or Baxe Nabarre in Basque, with its vineyards and orchards carved into the mountains. As with the Basque Country across the border in Spain, both wine and cider are popular choices here.
The ciders produced here are called Baxe Nabarreko Sagarnoa, meaning "Ciders of the Basse Navarre" in Basque. These ciders are fermented from native apples and, similar to Spanish Basque ciders, are low in alcohol and dry.
At the foot of the Pyrénées lies A.O.C. Irouléguy, where the Tannat grape rules. This appellation is emblematic of Southwest France's main unifying characteristics: its remoteness and its limitless potential.
The first mentions of this ancient region go back to 998. In the fourteenth century the royalty of the region introduced the idea a cru concept for this very special wine. The region attained appellation status in 1936, becoming one of the first appellations in France.
Nestled at the border of the Pyrénées mountains, Jurançon is famous for its many unique characteristics. It enjoys a singular growing season due to its maritime climate combined with the effects of a warm wind known as the Foehn. This dry wind allows the grapes to be harvested very late in the season. Drying grapes directly on the vines gives Jurançon producers an unparalleled ability to make concentrated dessert wines. The region gained great fame for these sweet wines during the rule of Henri IV.
Jurançon is only about forty kilometers long and follows the Gave de Pau river. Many smaller rivers flow into the Gave de Pau, each one creating its own unique microclimate. These microclimates, coupled with different soil types along the north to south axis, create diverse styles of wines. In the north the soils tend to be clay covered with rocky top soils. In the south the soils change and are marked by sandstone (marne or grès) and a clay-calcareous mix.
There are four classifications of Jurançon.
A sweet wine, typically with at least 35g/L of sugar.
A sweet but lighter style with less residual sugar than traditional Jurançon.
Jurançon Vendanges Tardives
A late-harvest wine made by some estates in the very best vintages.
There are three main grape varieties: Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Petit Courbu. Gros Manseng and Petit Courbu are generally associated with the dry style and Petit Manseng with the sweet style. There are also many long forgotten grapes that sometimes appear in blends in small proportions, such as Courbu, Lauzet and Camarlet.