Tucked away in rural south-west France, with the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees often visible from its vineyards, Madiran, for many, is the epitome of ‘La France profonde’. Named after the Gascon village of the same name, Madiran’s vineyards are spread across several different slopes and three départements – the Gers, Hautes-Pyrénées and Pyrénées-Atlantiques.
Soils are largely clay and limestone, often with gravel or more pebble-like stones that help provide good drainage – useful in an area where rainfall is not inconsiderable. Though a 100km away, the Atlantic has an influence on the climate here, as do the mountains to the south.
As with many of the appellations of south-west France, the village of Madiran happened to be on the pilgrim’s route to Compostela and it is likely that wines were made here by Benedictine monks and served to thirsty pilgrims.
Madiran is only ever a red wine and usually made using a majority of tannat, often blended with a little cabernet franc or cabernet sauvignon or sometimes made as a pure varietal. Tannat thrives here, enjoying the combination of summer heat and abundance of water. It produces a wine with a lot of colour, vibrant dark-fruit flavours and – as the name might suggest – a strong tannic structure.
In terms of style, Madiran is typically compared to a more powerful version of a cabernet-based claret but is stronger and fuller in body; the best wines have a great aptitude for ageing. In recent years, most growers have moved towards creating a softer, rounder style from younger vines that can be drunk sooner and are less tannic. Whatever the style, Madiran is an ideal food wine, perfect with a Sunday roast, traditional French dishes such as cassoulet or confit de canard or hard cheese.
Madiran, like many of the vineyards of this corner of France, was more or less wiped out by the dual ravages of phylloxera and war and its reconstruction has taken time, helped by certain key estates such as Bouscassé and Aydie. Finding the right way to work with the tannat grape has also taken time.
Twenty years ago, the tendency was to extract more during fermentation, creating wines that were veritable monsters, not just with the ability to age but positively demanding it! Today, the winemaking approach is a little more natural or ‘hands off’, with less extraction and as a result, the wines are a little more civilised and approachable.
The surge in quality was fully reflected in 2022’s Wine Champions where all three Madirans tasted achieved Champion status when assessed blind alongside their peers by our panel of buyers.
Long live Madiran!
As well as being capable of long life themselves, the wines from this part of France, or at least, the reds from the tannat variety, are reckoned to play a part in ensuring long life in those that enjoy them. The region of Gers has more than double the French national average of men aged 90 or above, and this despite the region being well-known for its cholesterol-inducing local specialities – foie gras, cassoulet, saucisson and cheese. Could the tannat grape unlock the secret behind the famous ‘French paradox’?
This was the question Professor Roger Corder and his team at the William Harvey Research Institute in London wanted to get to the bottom of. Corder’s research had already revealed that while moderate consumption of red wine was beneficial to health, certain red wines were more beneficial than others. The amount of procyanidins, a polyphenol thought to protect the blood vessels and thus reduce the risk of heart disease, in wine varies enormously. Research showed that Madiran had very high levels and it’s believed this is down to, not just the nature of the tannat grape, but the long, slow maceration and fermentation methods traditionally employed.
While we cannot promise any life-enhancing properties of Madiran, we can endorse the wines on the basis that they pleased the palates of our exacting team of tasters in our Wine Champions competition. We can also recommend looking out for parcels of Madiran being offered en primeur – tucking some of these wines away for a rainy day might be all the incentive you need to live a little longer!
- If Marcel’s love letter to Madiran has whetted your appetite, you’ll find our selection here
- Look out for Madiran being offered en primeur in our fine wine pages