Looking back over previous posts, I noticed that I had only written about Madiran once before, and Madiran is undoubtedly one of southwestern France’s most famous and best wines, but that’s the way it’s shaken out. So to emend this oversight, here’s one more (long overdue) mini-polemic dedicated to singing the praises of this very manly and ancient wine.
Madiran, which is situated in the deep southwestern corner of France, close to the French Basque Country, builds its foundation on the Tannat grape variety, which as the name clearly implies, is an exceedingly dryly tannic and potentially astringent grape variety, especially when grown in its chilly hinterland homeland in southwestern France. About 150 or so years ago, mostly Basque emigres carried this very same variety to the much hotter, sunnier and humid climes of Uruguay (of all places) whose terroir serves to appreciably tame this often quite aggressive grape. This however is a wine that clearly emanates from “The Old Country”.
Though Madiran can be made from 100% Tannat, it must make up at least half of the blend which can then be rounded out by Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Fer Servadou, which in the Madiran region is known by the name Pinenc. But because Tannat is so deeply tannic (by some folks’ estimation, the most tannic wine grape there is) many producers eschew the production of pure Tannat Madirans, which absolutely require lots of barrel and bottle aging to soften them, and almost as often, ones that include very much Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Fer either, which are also tannic varieties, and which further necessitate long (and quite costly) aging spells.
So not surprisingly, the lion’s share of Madiran producers turn to the lighter, fragrant and quite acidic Cabernet Franc to leaven Tannat’s dark, tough, and brooding nature, and this evening’s bottling conforms to that model. Produced from 60% Tannat and 40% Cabernet Franc with 30% of the total wine aged for one year in new, small French oak barrels which along with the blending, serves to tame the fiery nature of the wine without burdening it with the necessity of longer and broader oaking regimens that would require a concomitantly longer stint in the cellar to ultimately balance the wine. There is always more than one way to skin a cat (or balance a wine) and for me this bifurcated strategy works beautifully without dumbing-down Tannat’s power, allowing Madiran producers to offer the drinker the most “Madirany” experience at the lowest cost.
I took this burly, low body fat wine to the table with a first course of toasts spread with a minced melange of cepes and oyster mushrooms, onion, tomato, parsley, dried marjoram and ground walnuts, followed by grilled flank steaks dressed with a sauce bordelaise and a side of roasted asparagus.
Chateau Viella Madiran Cuvee` Tradition 2010
Completely opaque, deep purple/garnet color. Quite pungent nose of plum, black currant, roasted apple, wood smoke, barnyard, dark chocolate, green underbrush, motor oil and dried wild rose. The palate is big, powerful and fairly austere with a prominent acid and tannin structure that boldly frams flavors of wild blueberry, blackberry, dried mint, minerals, black coffee and vanilla bean. Powerful, clean and very dry finish with notes of myrtle.