David 30 May 2013
I was reading an article recently about the health benefits of red wine and it got me thinking - what is the healthiest red wine? Well, the one usually credited with the highest levels of procyanidins, that magical compound found to lower rates of cardiovascular disease, is… Madiran. Of course this is really just an excuse for me to offer you a wine that I've always loved.
Madiran is a wine and a place in Gascony, within the South West France wine region. The village of Madiran is 160kms south of Bordeaux and has a long history of wine production dating back to Gallo Roman times. Madiran was officially recognised as a red-wine-only appellation in 1948 and nowadays it's considered small, with about 3000 acres of vineyards. The main variety is Tannat, which produces wines that are usually described as deeply coloured, tannic, powerful and age-worthy. Without a doubt Madiran is where Tannat finds its best expression.
Madiran is a world away from the polished Domaines of Bordeaux and Burgundy. Wild and untamed, it's deeply rural countryside in the middle of nowhere (by French standards). Once used to 'reinforce' Bordeaux, the top wines of Madiran are now serious contenders in their own right. Best of all, as the wines are still relatively unknown, they're a fraction of the price of the established regions.
I love this quote from esteemed wine author Andrew Jefford: "Tannat grown on the pebbly clay of Madiran gives, in my opinion, the least well-known of France's great red wines. It's black and thunderous, immoderate in every way and especially texturally. If ever there was a knife-and-fork red, this is it. It is prone to reduction, and can be rustic, but in the right hands it makes an articulate and masterful red wine which partners food superbly, which unfolds like origami in a decanter over a three-day period without oxidising, which ages for a couple of decades as easily as logs roll downhill, and which keeps your heart in better shape than grand-cru Burgundy."
In Madiran there is one name that stands out, Alain Brumont, his domain comprising Château Montus and Château Bouscasse. It was Brumont who put Madiran on the map and no other appellation in France is dominated by one figure in quite the same way. He's a character - obsessive, excessive and energetic, a single-minded, ambitious, perfectionist, back from the brink of financial ruin and who is prone to falling into disputes with those around him. He famously fell out with his own father and is onto wife number three. Second wife Catherine observed, "Alain lived on Planet Wine, not Planet earth. It was difficult for terrestrial relationships."
Brumont's are the most celebrated wines of Madiran. He's been variously described as the Philippe de Rothschild of Madiran and Andrew Jefford calls him Citizen Kane, awarding him 3 stars (his highest rating and one of only two in the entire South West region) in his must read book 'The New France.' Robert Parker says, "these are unreal wines that are purely made, remarkably rich, and so complete and promising that they cannot be ignored." Brumont was awarded Producer of the Year 2010 by Bettane & Desseauve in their Grand Guide des Vins de France (big fromages in the French wine world). There is so much to write about this remarkable man, though I think that's enough.
I had a chance to sample Brumont's range of 2009 wines last year. 2009 was a great year in Madiran and not being backwards in coming forwards, Brumont insisted 2009 should "reach heights comparable with the greatest vintages of the past 30 years." When you consider the price of 2009 Bordeaux, these wines are a bargain. Here's a selection of Brumont's exceptional wines to keep your heart and mind in shape.
1. Château Bouscasse Madiran 2009
This wine is made from 50% Tannat, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Cabernet Franc and is bottled without filtration. This an elegant expression of Madiran. Bright, garnet and ruby in colour, the Cab Franc brings an attractive fragrance and fruitiness to the wine. You'll find some lovely sweet, bright red fruit characters with raspberry, cherries, some liquorice, with touches of sweet oak. It's medium bodied and as it opens up its darker flavours emerge. There are the telltale Tannat tannins which I found grippy but refined, prominent but not overpowering.
"Fragrant with blackcurrants plum and spice. Wonderfully fresh on the palate with remarkably refined tannins." 16/20 La Revue du Vin de France. 16.5/20 Bettane & Desseauve.
Rockpool Bar & Grill has the 2006 on its list for $77.
I can offer it for $35 a bottle. SOLD OUT - Check availability
2. Château Bouscasse 'Vieilles Vigne' Madiran 2009
This wine is produced from 50 to 100 year old vines located in the best sites on the Bouscasse estate. It's 100% Tannat, sees 100% new oak and Brumont's right hand man, Fabrice Dubsoc, reckons if anybody asks him, 'what is Tannat?' this is the wine he would serve them.
The dense inkiness of this wine is simply amazing. On the nose it's less fragrant than the standard Bouscasse Madiran. There's black fruit, rich, plum and integrated oak, with terrific depth, density and concentration on the palate. There's also an element of tart red fruit with a raisiny finish. It's the fine, dry tannins however that define this wine. They give the wine its structure and an elusive combination of power yet refinement. A nice wine that will last a long time.
"Almost black in colour and more reserved on the nose than the straight Ch Bouscassé. Plenty of tightly packed, muscular but very polished tannin. Quite bloody and raw with a formidable sweep of gravelly, wet-stone minerality. Bramble berries. Tightly locked down. An elegant finish." 16.5+/20 Jancis Robinson. (Written in late 2010).
"Old vines presents a concentrated wine, full of vigour and elegance." 17.5/20 La Revue du Vin de France – The Best Wines of France 2012.
Rockpool Bar and Grill has the 2006 on its list for $175.
I can offer it for $80 a bottle. SOLD OUT - Check availability
Brumont left the family Domaine at Bouscasse in 1980, supposedly because he was dissatisfied with his father's lack of ambition for quality. Despite much financial difficulty, primarily due to his father's obstruction, he purchased his own estate, Montus, in the same year and produced his first wine from the 1982 vintage to immediate acclaim.
3. Château Montus Madiran 2009
This wine is made from 80% Tannat and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and spends about 14-16 months in 60% new oak. This is what Madiran is all about – inky density and powerful tannin structure. The wine is thicker in the mouth and more tannic than the Bouscasse wines and as it opens up it offers aromatic, berry and violet characteristics. There are also woody, savoury flavours, with sandalwood, juniper and hints of pepper evident. But mostly it's about firm, dry and mouth-coating tannins that give the wine great length, structure and power. Try it the next day – it gets even better!
"Dark purple. Heady perfumed night flowers, opulent boudoir. Tremendous concentration and intensity, liquorice on the palate entry, opening up to black cherries and aniseed on the mid palate. A herbal digestif note entwined in the fiercely determined tannin packaging." 17+/20 Jancis Robinson (Written in late 2010).
"Warm, complex, very long finish, flesh terribly tempting, beautiful and great wine." 17/20 Bettane & Desseauve. (I think some of this got lost in translation!)
The 2006 vintage of this wine is on at Quay Restaurant for $120.
I can offer it for $45 a bottle. SOLD OUT - Check availability
4. Château Montus 'La Tyre' Madiran 2009
In 1998, after years of patience, Brumont finally acquired the highly coveted single, south-facing vineyard known as 'La Tyre.' At 260 metres it's now the highest on his estate and is filled with large pudding stones, like those found in Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Rhone. Yields are extremely low, only 5-6 bunches per vine and the wine is only released in the best vintages. This exceptional wine is made from 100% Tannat and is aged in 100% new oak 110L barrels for 14-16 months. It's universally regarded as the best that Madiran has to offer.
This is a great wine, inviting both on the nose and palate and insanely deep, dense and concentrated. As I read my notes it's clear I was consumed by the sheer density and texture of this wine. Although beautifully balanced, it has so much power and intensity. An experience you have to try!
Here are a few more coherent opinions:
"Purple black in colour, right out to the rim. Stunning on the nose - very very mineral, hints of violet, delicate layers of soft blueberry and cardamom, jasmine tea and spice. So elegant and pointed. The palate is quite a startling contrast to all this wispy femininity! It grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go. Massive. Tannins like castle walls. But behind them, the fruit is soaring and sweet with plenty of density, freshness and flawlessly balanced. A touch of meaty rawness on the finish. Huge power. Just give this lots and lots and lots of time." Jancis Robinson 17.5/20 (Written in late 2010).
"We are under the spell of La Tyre, which combines superb quality fruit, and an expanded frame and a dynamic character: it is a great wine…" Revue du Vin de France 18.5/20. The Best wines of France 2012.
A high profile tasting held back in 2007 put the "La Tyre" up against several of the world's top wines in which it ranked 3 rd overall, above Chateau Mouton Rothschild. When you consider the 2009 Mouton is about $2,000 a bottle, it certainly puts the price of this wine into context.
I can offer it for $195 a bottle.Click here to order