On the Bev Blog, we do a lot of wine talking. We've written about white, red, pink and even green wine and orange wine. Here's one we didn't foresee ourselves talking about: black wine. Ever heard of it? As incredibly “wine-educated” people, we were both surprised and alarmed that we hadn't. We assumed it was one of the newest drink trends—like the gothic answer to a summer rosé—and looked on TikTok, thinking our favorite influencers would be raving about these new "in" alcoholic beverages. As it turns out, black wine is nothing new and, instead, has been around longer than some of our very favorite wines. Here's everything we discovered.
Spoiler warning: black wine is red wine, only darker. It's not dyed with squid ink or food coloring, it's just an exceedingly dark red wine. Its streaks will appear red on closer look, but its deep color appears almost black at first glance. Better known as Cahors wine, most black wine comes from a small town situated in the south of France on the Lot River in the heart of Gascony (say that five times fast...) The name, Cahors, also loans itself to the red-wine region in southwestern France that is the ancestral home of the Malbec.
The region of Cahors, France, is thought of as the spiritual and historic home of Malbec. Clay and limestone-rich vineyards provide dark, full-bodied wines with strong tannins and concentrated flavors such as black currant, cherry, licorice. The "Black Wine" has been celebrated here since the Middle Ages when pilgrims, popes, kings, and tsars alike drank it. For many centuries, according to wine connoisseurs worldwide, Cahors is thought to be best in producing this type of grape varietal.
While a Malbec wine, Cahors has some marked differences between the Malbecs of South America. A Malbec from Argentina tends to be plummy and fruit-forward, with a velvety soft texture. Mainly, these come down to the tannins found in the French versions versus the more poignant fruity flavors found in the Argentine Malbecs. Black wines can also be made from saperavi grapes from wine companies in Georgia, Australia, and Eastern Europe, where it's aged in oak, stainless steel, or clay vessels. The difference in taste from region to region reveals why the concept of terroir is essential. Terroir is the idea that wine from a particular area contains the environmental characteristics of the region. From soil to climate to elevation, all of these natural elements play a part in the flavor and texture of any given wine, whether it has hints of raspberry, blueberry, dark berries, and black cherry, vanilla, or spices and herbs. According to this notion of terroir, the wines created in Cahors have higher tannins and more profound coloring due to the limestone-rich soil found in the region. Combining a light layer of topsoil and calcium element in limestone creates a challenging environment for the wine's roots, and therefore, they must dig deeper for nutrients. According to wine experts, vines with roots that have to work harder typically create more concentrated fruit on the vine and, thus, more concentrated wine. Each Cahors is at least 70 percent Malbec, but it can be created as a red blend with Merlot or Tannat.
Interestingly, Cahors has a tumultuous history. More than two thousand years ago, Cahors was one of the first planted vineyards in France by Roman Emperors. While they were immediately embraced and celebrated, the empire grew exponentially, and it became apparent that wheat production needed to grow alongside the empire. Unfortunately for Cahors wine, that meant they no longer had a place to grow, and soon the Cahors vineyards were replaced with wheat fields. This was the case until the third century when Prince Probus, a Roman Emperor, decided that he demanded the dark black wine. As such, he is a celebrated figure in winemaking circles and is even honored by a distinguished Chateaux in the region named after him.
Due to Probus, the remarkable renaissance of Cahors wine commenced, and it became one of the most sought-after French wines. With wild claims being made that it was some sort of miracle wine from Peter the Great himself, more and more people became interested in the wine.
Part of Cahors wine's popularity was that it was not only the darkest wine, but at up to 15%, it was also one of the strongest wines available. However, at the end of the nineteenth century, things weren't looking so good for Cahors as all vineyards were wiped out by phylloxera. Committed to their favorite wine, the Romans replanted all of their precious crops.
In a land of extreme weather, Cahors has hot and dry summers and cold and dry winters. The big freeze of 1956 caused the vineyards to be once again wiped out. The last and only known vineyards to make the time through alive is located at Clos de Gamot, where tourists can see them.
Once more, the vineyards were replanted. This time, they used tannic Auxerrois grapes as the backbone of their wine, mixed with a Merlot of Tannat for fruitier tastes, thus creating the black color we know today. In response, the French government recognized the black wine and awarded the region AOC status.
Today, there are only 4,000 hectares laid to vine in the area. As a prestigious wine, many of the Cahors producers go to great lengths to understand how the terroir plays into their wine. In fact, some producers dig soil pits to gain a better understanding of the nutritional needs of the grapevines. Doing so allows the creators to choose the most beneficial and optimum time to harvest, allowing for the highest quality of the wine.
What Makes It A Summertime Special?
The “Chill” Effect
Unlike most red wines that are best enjoyed at room temperature like Pinot Noir, Cahors is a special wine that tastes better when chilled. The colder temperature allows its vibrant acidity and firm tannins to be best enjoyed. And, because this wine pairs well with traditional lunch foods, it is the unofficial wine of picnics and summer.
Two Labels To Taste
2014 Georges Vigouroux Pigmentum
This wine is on the bolder more tannic side of wines with hints of black fruit and earthy notes. Dry and lightly acidic, you can pair beef, lamb and poultry dishes for a fine wine-tasting meal.
Another wine with black fruit and earthy notes, this wine is actually from Kakheti, Georgia.
What Dishes Pair Well With Black Wine?
As a moderately lighter-bodied Malbec, Cahors often presents light red pepper-dried leaf notes. As a somewhat more sophisticated Malbec, Cahors Malbecs pair better with fillet, pork, steak, and tacos; meats that are not hearty fare like what you would pair with the Argentine variety. The bold flavors of Argentine black wine are well suited for luxurious dishes such as duck confit, cassoulet, black truffles, and foie gras, as well as game meats. Of course, every bottle of wine has its uniquely perfect cheese pairing, but the complex notes of your specific black wine will have to determine its match.
While summer may seem like the time for sparkling beverages, anyone with a passion for wine should take a walk on the dark side and try out black wines. Put down your Petite Sirah, your go-to Chardonnay and Zinfandel, or your favorite Sauvignon Blanc and grab a Cahors for a summer drink to remember. Although, when you're chilling by the pool, it doesn't matter what type of wine is inside of the glass—whether it's Cahors, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, or a California Pinot Noir, you (and your palate) are going to have a great time.