Madiran and Pacherenc du Vich-Bilh
"Madiran is Gascony's great red wine... well able to withstand comparison with classed growth Bordeaux" (Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, World Atlas of Wine, Mitchell Beazley)
"Some of France's most challenging yet rewarding red wines" (Andrew Jefford, The New France, Mitchell Beazley)
Almost as far as it is possible to go in South-West France, surrounded by white wine growing areas (notably Pacherenc and Jurancon), Madiran is home to some of the most characterful red wines from anywhere in the world. This is because the wines are produced primarily from the Tannat variety which, as the name suggests, makes very tannic wines needing years, sometimes decades, to be drinkable.
There have been efforts to tame the beast, most notably from Patrick Ducornau of Domaine Mouréou who in 1991 created the technology of micro-oxygenation which enlarges the tannin molecules making them softer on the palate. The method effectively mimics the effects of slow barrel maturation within a much shorter period (this also reduces the cost of barrel ageing). Other grapes used are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and small amounts of Fer Servadou (also known here as Pinenc).
The wines of Madiran (and some other reds from the South-West) are considered largely responsible for the French Paradox. The science behind this is covered in Roger Corder's The Wine Diet which I thoroughly recommend to anyone wanting to enjoy good food and wine and maintain a healthy lifestyle at the same time.
The village itself is a sleepy place with only around 500 inhabitants but the hills around it are covered in vines with small estates scattered around. Most famous is Alain Brumont's Montus but, having visited and tasted the wines from Montus and its sister Bouscassé, we find we prefer the wines of Didier Barré at Domaine Berthoumieu which is usually mentioned in the same breath as Montus. These wines - the "Haute Tradition" and, especially, "Chales de Batz" cuvées - are made in a fruitier style, well structured and are amongst the very highest in procyanadins (the polyphenol responsible for the French Paradox) according to Dr Corder.
We visited Madiran again in 2009 and, whilst it must be said that this is not the most attractive corner of France, the village itself and surrounding areas are pretty enough. However, the fun arrived during the weekend of 14th/15th August when the village hosted its fete des vins. Unlike some, this was a family friendly affair: having parked in a field just off the main street, we walked through the village which seemed sleepy at first until we came upon the commercial side of the fair where stall-holders were selling edible treats, knives (a big thing in France, it seems - I can't see it taking off here with our current problems) and anything else. At the top of the village was a large area for the tasting itself. Only 3€ for a glass then into the arena. Before we could do any tasting, my children noticed a kind of trampoline-bunjee which they had to try out (a few ill-advised adults were having a go too) and, as well as thirty or more estates who were showing their current Madiran and Pacherenc wines, there was plenty of good entertainment, best of which was the band pictured above whose version of Jumping Jack Flash was one of my musical highlights of the year. See our blog.
Alongside the red wine appellation of Madiran, the region produces dry and - better - sweet whites from the two Mansengs in the Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh appellation. Sadly for the producers these will probably never have the renown of their counterparts in and around Bordeaux or those in the Loire. This is because of geography rather than quality but it is to the advantage of the consumer's wallet.
"Madiran is Gascony's great red wine... After seven or eight years, fine Madiran is truly admirable: aromatic, full of flavour, fluid and lively, well able to withstand comparison with classed growth Bordeaux and an accompanying confit de canard" (Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, World Atlas of Wine, Mitchell Beazley)
"Madiran's reds are a French ulitmate. No other French red can truly match them for sheer tannic power and dark, smoky, battlefield force. They are Mephistolean... Some of France's most challenging yet rewarding red wines" (Andrew Jefford, The New France, Mitchell Beazley)
Pacherenc: "Gratifyingly complex dessert wines" (Andrew Jefford, The New France, Mitchell Beazley)
You must be aged 18 or over to purchase wine.