Sunday, January 26, 2020

Misspeaking & Drinking: Cahors in Paris

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Posted by Burke Morton On February - 24 - 2010

I arrived at Chartier, a classic Parisian brasserie, before my companions. This was our second day in Paris, and my wife had just called to say that some of her co-workers wanted to join us, which suited me fine, because who was I to complain about being the only man dining with four women? Chartier does not take reservations, but they do move fast, so I got in the perpetual line outside the door. I hadn't been in the line ten minutes before the hostess asked me how many were in my party, but in the din of the six languages going on around me (and surely because of my Day 2 French ear), I reacted as though she had said "who" instead of "how many"--so I blurted out, «J'attends que mes femmes. Quatre des eux.»

I immediately realized that I had said, "I am waiting for my wives. Four of them."

The hostess certainly heard it this way, too. She clutched my forearm and doubled over laughing, like an American might. Since Parisians are usually more reserved, I'm hoping that she was seizing her chance to blow off some steam from a very busy evening....

Anyway, once my wives joined me (one of whom turned out to be male), we were seated in a flash, and we immediately ordered some wine. We initially ordered some Rosé and a Côtes-du-Rhône, but when I saw their wine special, a Cahors, I dumped the Rhône in favor of some French Malbec.

Malbec is one of the darlings of the wine world, thanks to its success in Argentina, though it's popularity isn't as robust among retailers as it was a couple of years ago. This is because it is easy to grow weary of a popular wine, and a common sentiment arises..."Oooh, another Argentine Malbec...." Enter Cahors, a region of southwestern France where Malbec is the required principal variety.

Cahors was widely treasured in the 19th Century, in part because of its longevity. The region fell on hard times when the phylloxera louse destroyed its vineyards, and it has taken nearly a century to recover its mojo. Cahors is literally awash in good wine these days, as was evidenced by the very good wine offered as a special at Chartier.

Chartier is a spectacularly ebullient restaurant with an atmosphere so infectious that even a morose teenager would be delighted. Shoehorned onto a table for four, we started off with the bottle of Rosé (despite the 30°F temperatures outside, it was like the sunshine we hadn't seen for a while), the name of which I couldn't tell you, and we continued with the Cahors, which was called Noir de Casteyrac (it is almost certainly unavailable in the U.S.). The Cahors was particularly satisfying, because it was really delicious and complex, and it cost the equivalent of $20! Find me a wine this good in a U.S. restaurant for this price and I'll show you someone who's losing money! It was a hearty, robust, slightly rustic wine that was a fabulous partner for the lamb and rumsteck that we ordered. It overwhelmed the other two dishes, free-range chicken and Choucroute, but no one complained, because the experience of the restaurant itself obscured this small weakness.

If you can't find any Cahors, then get your retailer to order some. Cahors has been on a upward trend in quality for a century, and since at least 1998, early-drinking wines have become commonplace, so really no one has any excuse for not stocking at least one (unless even their wholesalers are afraid to stock it...). It takes a little bit of imagination to sell it, I mean, who the heck has heard of Cahors? Oooh...there's the sales opening right there!

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8 Responses

  1. Scurvychaser Said,

    Great story and interesting that the rosé worked well in the cold weather. Were you nibbling something along with it? On the Cahors, how would you distinguish it from an Argentine Malbec?

    Posted on February 24th, 2010 at 5:40 pm

  2. Burke Morton Said,

    The Rosé was great with my snails and also with the chicken, but even before the food came the Rosé was just right. As for Cahors, it comes in two basic guises–one is a long-term wine that is grown on a limestone mesa, the other is a softer, more youthfully accessible wine from grapes grown on the sandy slope between the mesa and the Lot River. Either way, Cahors is generally is just as fruity as a typical Argentine Malbec, but it has an overlay of stiffness (mostly an expression of tannin), so it seems WAY less generous with its fruit, and can even feel unpolished. This changes when you add food to the mix, as the tannin becomes incredibly useful with pairing options.

    Posted on February 24th, 2010 at 7:10 pm

  3. Julie Said,

    The first time I went to Paris, at the holidays in ‘07, a girlfriend of mine, who lives in LA, happened to be there at the same time, and said that Chartier was her favorite restaurant in Paris. A lot of others’ too, considering the lines! I’ll be honest– I wasn’t terribly impressed with the food, but I loved the surroundings. So, I have to ask, Burke, though this is a wine blog– what did you think of the food? :)

    Posted on February 25th, 2010 at 10:48 am

  4. Burke Morton Said,

    I agree with you–the food’s not the reason to go…it’s not impressive or fashionably executed, but it does overachieve price-wise–for five of us with two bottles of wine and three courses, we paid €110 (about $30 per person, and with the exchange rate that’s a steal). While my lamb chops were a little overcooked, the steak, chicken, and choucroute were solid, and the desserts were good. So that’s a real testimony to the experience.

    For brasserie food done with style, I’d go to Brasserie Balzar or Bofinger, but they aren’t so affordable…

    Posted on February 25th, 2010 at 12:12 pm

  5. Scurvychaser Said,

    As you’ve said in other places, it’s the people and reason for being there that makes the wine (and food) memorable.

    Posted on February 25th, 2010 at 4:06 pm

  6. Blackisphere » Blog Archive » In Paris, chez Chartier, « We initially ordered some Rosé and a Côtes-du-Rhône, but when I saw their wine special, a Cahors, I dumped the Rhône in favor of some French Malbec » Said,

    [...] Lire le billet en entier [...]

    Posted on March 3rd, 2010 at 7:20 pm

  7. Cassandra Said,

    Noir de Castyrac is produced by Jean Luc Baldès of Clos Triguedina (
    You are right in the fact that this particular label is exclusive to France.
    However, many other wines by Jean-Luc Baldès and Clos Triguedina are available in the US and are just as delicious.

    We are delighted you enjoyed our wines. Thank you! We would like to extend a welcome to you and anyone else who would like to come and visit the estate, discover the region, and of course our wines.

    Posted on March 5th, 2010 at 3:50 am

  8. LIBER46 Said,


    Si vous êtes lotois ou juste “sympathisant” de notre région laissez moi un message sur mon blog :

    A très vite

    Posted on May 15th, 2010 at 10:52 am

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