Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sacrebleu! Qu'est-ce que c'est? Marketing?!

"Ooh la la. The seductive aromas!"

Clearly, this woman is discovering Cahors: The French Malbec. Unfamilar? Scroll up. Look right. Visit all the sites on the blogroll. It's the ad campaign that's everywhere; a product of the Palate Press ad network.

Basically, "Cahors" is a region near Bordeaux, France. For hundreds of years, they have been making the "black wines of Cahors," made primarily with the Malbec grape. Malbec, one of the five allowable red grapes in Bordeaux, has enjoyed notoriety on the level of "the other guy in Wham!" or- perhaps more accurately- one of the people besides Waldo in the "Where's Waldo" books. In so many words, most normal folks probably didn't know what the hell Malbec was...

...that is, until the Argentine wine boom. During the 1990's, Argentina began to focus on the export markets of Great Britain and the United States. By the end of the 90's, they were exporting 3.3 million gallons of wine (source: By comparison, exports in 2010 are expected to be a whopping 4.3 million hectoliters!


...wait a second. Oh, here we go- conversion factor: 1 hectoliter = 26.4172052 gallons. So, with no due respect to the metric system, 2010 Argentine wine exports are expected to exceed 113 million gallons (source:!! As Sgt. Arcot "Thorny" Ramathorn would say, "that's a lotta hooch!"

What's my point? Argentina is selling a boatload of wine, and since Malbec is the most widely planted red grape, one could further say that Argentina is selling a boatload of Malbec, and France wants a piece of the action. They've been vinifying the grape for hundreds of years. Why doesn't it sell like the South American stuff?

Ah, marketing. You sassy wench. Everyone knows what Malbec is now. Nobody knows what Cahors is. Traditionally, French wines don't show the varietal on the label. It has to do with the concept of terroir, where the "sense of place" has a much greater influence on the wine than the measly grape. To label a wine with the grape it's made out of is to spit in the face of the sacred land from whence it came.

Problem is, folks are buying wines with varietal labels. What grape constitutes the wine is perceived (often incorrectly, IMHO) as a reliable, consistent indicator of what the wine will taste like. And I suspect this is what's driving demand, because I've seen so many more stodgy French producers start to do it.

And so the case goes with Cahors. They're hoping to ride the popularity of Argentine Malbec, and I applaud the French for swallowing their pride and putting some marketing into effect. But, will it work? While I'm confident they're getting lots of exposure to a targeted demographic, a great point was brought up on Twitter by The Atlanta Wine Guy, whose wine opinions I hold in higher regard than my personal hygiene:

Argentine Malbec is big, fruit-forward, and lush. Cahors Malbec is good...but different (here are my thoughts on a bottle). Reminds me of a time I bought some Merlot-loving neighbors a nice bottle of St-Émilion. I thought I was getting them something really special, but when it didn't deliver the big, blueberry/blackberry fruit bomb, I think they were disappointed. Old World wines are another animal, for sure. They just take a little time to appreciate, especially for the novice wino.

At the very least, maybe the Cahors marketing effort will get some more people to try something new.

photo courtesy of The Broke Wino (
blog comments powered by Disqus