Terroir – Rhoda Stewart's Journal on Wine

Posts tagged ‘Madiran’

Wines that Stop Conversation II

Auberge de Jarente - French Basque Cafe, Paris

Auberge de Jarente – French Basque Cafe, Paris

Label - Chateau Montus 2001 Madiran "Cuvee Prestige"

Label – Chateau Montus 2001 Madiran “Cuvee Prestige”

Although France is famous for its Bordeaux and Burgundy wines, it is a robust, earthy red wine from Madiran, a tiny AOC in South-West region of France, that I seek out each time I am in that country. Introduced to me in 1999 during my first visit to Paris, in a French Basque café next to the little hotel I stay at in the Marias district, I was immediately smitten. I had ventured into this little restaurant a few days after my arrival in the City of Lights, and was greeted at the door by the charming Brit who owned it then with his Parisian wife. Taking it upon himself to oversee my dining experience, he seated me at a little table in a cozy corner of the tiny dining room, then presented me with a menu and a wine list, and did I have any questions. I asked for a recommendation of a nice red wine. He asked what sort of red wine did I prefer . . .un vin rouge fort (that is, a full bodied long-ageing red wine) or perhaps un Boujalais. I preferred un vin rouge fort, and so he presented me with a Madiran, which, he explained, was a perfect accompaniment with his French Basque style food.
Made primarily from the Tannat grape (40% – 60%), Madirans need several years’ bottle age to soften the tannins this grape imparts, and give the luscious dark berry fruit time to mature and balance out and soften the dominant tannin component.
On my fourth visit to Paris in 2006, I found a Chateau Montus 1995 Cuvee Prestige (made only in special years) in a small but well-stocked wine store on rue Saint Antoine for €38. Already 11 years old, it got an additional year in my own cellar before I shared it, in 2007, with my former neighbors.
I had decanted the wine several hours before our dinner hour, then poured it out when the dinner was ready. Since the gentleman of the couple was German-born, I felt that he, at least, would appreciate this robust, inky-black, and tannic 12-year wine. (I wasn’t so sure about his American-born wife!) Well, perhaps the wine didn’t exactly stop conversation, but it certainly gave the gentleman pause when he first tasted it. As for me, my first taste of a Cuvée Prestige Madiran by this top Madiran producer left me speechless for several minutes, as I savored the depth, quality and multitude of flavors of this amazing wine. There were elements of dark complex bitter chocolate, an array of spices, rich luscious flavors of cassis, red fruit, and rich deep red plums, and an aroma of something like freshly turned dark earth. The tannins were fine (not harsh), the finish long and smooth. I had never before, nor since, tasted anything quite like it from any other producer anywhere.
It was also the first wine I had decanted that left a tannic residue in the decorative indentations of the decanter that took overnight soaking with some concentrated dish detergent and the vigorous application of a good bottle brush to remove!
I have yet to find a Chateau Montus or Chateau Bouscassé (owner Alain Brumont’s second Madiran house) Cuvée Prestige in any US wine store, but do find them on occasion in the Vintages section of Toronto’s (Canada) Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) stores. My last such find was a Chateau Montus 2001 Cuvée Prestige (about $60); it was equally amazing when I opened it in 2011. I have also found non-cuvée prestige Madirans from this producer (and from other respected Madiran producers), usually with 5 – 6 years’ bottle age, in Toronto LCBO’s Vintages and Montreal’s SAQ (Societé Alcohol de Québec) stores.
The problem for American wine stores, I have been told, is that without proper bottle-ageing these wines are too tannic for the American palate, and that most Americans are too impatient to put them down for the necessary years, and that the unfamiliar appellation does not support the $50 – $70 price of the best samples.
But for those willing to gives these wines the time they need to reach their potential, when it’s had that time, a Chateau Montus (or Chateau Bouscassé) Cuvée Prestige Madiran is a wine to behold. And because the Madiran region is, to borrow a word from a Paris wine merchant, “unheralded,” the cost of such a wine is a fraction of what comparable quality and age would cost from the more heralded regions.
With each bottle of Madiran, I relive my first visit to Paris.
I am now looking forward to visiting this remote region of S-W France, to walk through rows of historic Tannat vines, taste some grapes ripe from the vines, and grab a handful of the earth they grow in, to better appreciate the miracle that is the wine that comes from this important, if unheralded, AOC.