Madiran Wine: The Intense Red that’s Both the Beauty and the Beast

Madiran is a beautiful, sleepy commune which lulls in the vine-clad undulating foothills of the Pyrenees in South-West France. Along with the friendly locals, this sunny and especially verdant area is also home to a beast. This beast is not hidden away in a castle, hated and feared by the people, but rather is celebrated for its dark temperament and its depth. The beast in this case is not a Disney fabrication, this territory is not Gaston’s, but rather Gascogne, and the brooding beast is the red wine of Madiran, a legend in itself.

Madiran wines are made from the Tannat grape; a name which hints its characteristics — it is tannic as hell, dark as night, chewy, and substantial. It is often described as an ultra-masculine grape; tough as nails in character, and often difficult to deal with. In Madiran, Bordeaux grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc) can account for up to 40% of the blend, and work to soften Tannat’s aggression.

The resulting Madiran wine could be described as needing wrestling; it nearly needs to be negotiated out of the bottle, it is so guarded and ferociously tannic — not for the faint of heart! It is often heavy, very dry, and rustic, sometimes quite coarse. In any case, it is a big wine, and at its best it is spicy and complex, with an excellent tannic framework. In recent years, the wines of Madiran have improved enough to compete with the finest wines of France; smoother, more elegant wines are being made, that are all about power and blackness; black fruit, earth, licorice, black pepper, smoke, leather, and roasted meat.

Beauty and the Beast Madiran Wine

History

Madiran wine was originally (and rather crudely) made by Benedictine monks who settled in the area in the 11th century. The wine was for local use; it was heavy, clumsy and rustic, but did the job, so to speak. The wine was also used to add structure to wines from other regions, or to add bulk when harvest yields were low in wine regions elsewhere.

Mr. Madiran

Alain Brumont is the winemaker who mastered Madiran and made it more accessible to the people. Seeing the beauty beneath the beastly Tannat grape’s hard exterior, his gentle-but-strict approach to shave of the wine’s hard edges has turned Madiran into a household name.

Brumont has become something of a cult figure for his reputation for wrestling Tannat into beautiful, iconic wines in Madiran since the 1980s. So what is his secret to taming and charming the clumsy beast of a grape without compromising its individuality in the glass? His landmark Château Montus and Château Bouscassé wines are the result of a series of very delicate considerations; the grapes must be treated with the utmost care (the fearsome Tannat is actually quite sensitive); yields are carefully controlled, grapes carefully pruned, insecticide use eschewed, and only the use of fresh spring water ‘which comes out of our unpolluted hills. Our vines have grass growing around them, the land is rich in ancestral plant life…’

Brumont himself has an in-built sense of terroir — a sense of belonging to the land — and he translates this pride and innate knowledge through the care he takes of his vines and the beauty he manages to extract from the ferocious grape through his ‘uncompromising choices’ in winemaking. He is a master of his terroir, and offers the world a glimpse of it through the experience of his wines.

Beauty and the Beast: Madiran Wine

Hearty fare

Madiran wine is the perfect accompaniment to the full-flavoured, heavy food of the area. South-West staples include foie gras, goose, rabbit, duck, fleshy mushrooms, hearty stews, and spicy food. Once acquainted with Madiran, you may find yourself wanting to drink it alongside wild boar and other game; for some reason it seems most appropriate to drink these wines with things that have just been hunted.

Beauty and the Beast Madiran Wine

The French Paradox

Intriguingly, despite the fatty foods, in this area of France the population has a notably longer life expectancy, and medical experts have suggested that this could be due to the tannic and powerful local red wine. Madiran wine is rich in compounds called procyanidins, which keep blood vessels springy and healthy, and may help stave off heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and more. Another reason to explore these dark and interesting wines.

Beauty and the Beast: Madiran WineMadiran Tradition Domaine Labranche Laffont 2010

13.5% ABV

€16.00 – Available at www.frenchwines.ie

Red fruit, spice, and vanilla on the nose, leading onto a Tannat-centered complex palate, with dark fruit, tobacco, and cherry.

This full-bodied wine displays the typical powerful structure, weight, and layered dark flavours of Madiran.

Beauty and the Beast: Madiran WineChâteau Montus Madiran 2010

13.5% ABV

€34.95 – Available at The Corkscrew, Dublin

Alain Brumont’s showpiece expression of Tannat; Montus is a must-taste Madiran for lovers of big, bold, powerful wine. The 2010 is a great vintage, showing lashings of lush dark fruit, smoke, licorice, and hints of woodland. The complex palate is supported by an elegant framework of silky yet very present tannins, and there is a lingering spicy, dark fruit finish.  A joy!

Beauty and the Beast: Madiran WineMadiran Tradition Domaine Labranche Laffont 2010

13.5% ABV

€16 – Available at www.frenchwines.ie

Red fruit, spice, and vanilla on the nose, leading onto a Tannat-centered complex palate, with dark fruit, tobacco, and cherry.

This full-bodied wine displays the typical powerful structure, weight, and layered dark flavours of Madiran.

ARTICLE BY NAOMI NÍ CHATHÁIN

Exploring the Underrated Wines of Portugal: Douro and DãoNaomi Ní Chatháin is a WSET-certified wine specialist from Co. Clare. She studied French and Philosophy in NUI Galway before pursuing a master’s degree in Wine Tourism (or ‘oenotourisme et projet culturel’) in Nimes.

Naomi loves French culture, and has lived in different parts of France over the years.

Her other passions include the pessimistic philosophy of Schopenhauer, the music of Bob Dylan, and road trips across America. Naomi is also a professional baker, and founder of NaomiBakes.com.

She is a firm believer in eating delicious, healthy cakes every day, and has a small subscription-based healthy cake kit delivery business.

NaoBakes Naomi_Bakes

 

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