The vineyards of Madiran are hidden away in the foothills of the Pyrenees in Gascony. They stretch along four jagged ridges that creep northwards from the mountains towards Bordeaux like a skeletal hand.
This is where the locals try to tame the Tannat. It’s a furiously energetic grape variety, so the winemakers need to hack back the vines mercilessly in an attempt to control them. Bottles labelled ‘Tradition’ are generously blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or Fer Servadou to create powerful yet fruity wines made to be gobbled up whilst young and lively.
The more Tannat in the blend, the more intense and uncompromising the wine. Its name gives a clue to its nature; Tannat imbues its wines with prodigious levels of tannin, the substance that gives body and texture to red wines. The best examples back up this bulk with rapier-like acidity, and top it off with a splatter of blackberry juice. Drinking it young is like fighting a werewolf.
They also make a small amount of sturdy white wine, mostly from the little known but highly characterful Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Petit Courbu grapes. Rather than simply calling it Madiran Blanc, it’s known under the altogether more mysterious ‘Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh’. Whether it’s sweet or dry should be clear from the label – both can be excellent.
When young, Madiran deserves its fearsome reputation and the wines can be a thrill to tackle. The best option is to pit them against rich, flavoursome dishes like roast duck or grilled red meats. But they mellow with age, and the best take on incredible depth and complexity with time. Buy a wooden case in a good vintage, then lock it in a cellar for a decade until it’s ready; you’ll be pleased you did. It might be worth hammering in some extra nails to the lid to keep it safely closed in the meantime. Just in case…
Reserve des Tuguets 2010 (Tesco, £11.99)
Earthy, brambly fruits with a touch of liquorice. Relatively friendly tannins, so a gentle introduction to the style. Buy when on promotion.
Château Viella ‘Prestige’ 2010 (Judith Hardy Wines, £15.00)
Vibrant acidity, a slick of ripe tannin and intense damson fruit flavour all in balance to create a rampantly delicious and wild Madiran.
Château Montus 2007 (The Wine Society, £19.00)
Bright, perfumed black berry fruit aromas belie the concentrated mass of flavour in the glass. Very long and powerful, but polished and refined. Montus is an estate of indisputable greatness.
First published in Living France magazine.
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Matt Walls first got into wine working in an off-licence in Brighton. He has since worked for Bollinger Champagne and helped manage and buy wines for The Sampler, one of London's best wine shops. He now spends half his time writing about wine and the other half collaborating on various wine-related projects. His first book, Drink Me!, was recently published by Quadrille and has sold over 10,000 copies.
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