Exploring Madiran

Exploring Madiran

Exploring Madiran

Madiran Wine

When we moved to the Pyrenees 7 years ago I had little knowledge about the wines of Southwest France other than those from Jurançon and Cahors.
SW France wines simply weren't out there to be seen, most probably because they weren’t made in large volumes, a lot of it was consumed locally and their labelling was terrible.

High on my list of things to do when I arrived was to go and check out some of the wine areas and get to know the wines.
I was, after all, living here and going to be drinking them.

I started with Madiran, one of the closest wine regions to my new home Chez Passet.
I had sourced out some places on the internet to check out and 2 of the more renowned were: Domaine Berthoumieu and Chateau Montus.


A 45min drive took us north on a drizzly overcast March morning past the town of Tarbes and into farming country where we found the small village of Madiran.
A somewhat non-descript village surrounded by fields and vinyards with one road passing through the centre of a few non-descript houses and a church (of course!).
We had thought that Madiran was the centre of the "Madiran" Wine region, however it wasn't, it just seemed to be a village of that name which was a shame as we really couldn't find a sense of where the region actually started and stopped.

Used to looking at wine regions and wineries across the U.S. and Canada we were looking for some form of signage and direction but there was nada, nothing.
We guessed they did things a bit different here!
We did see a wine information sign but when we went to where it pointed the door was locked so we decided to carry on and try to find our first vineyard, Domaine Berthoumieu.

With the absence of any signs we went to a nearby restaurant and asked a lady setting up tables for directions. Her response as she turned and walked away, was that she didn't know.
There was no, “try here they might know”, no help at all.
Ah the French way, they definitely did things differently here… helpful!

Luckily we had a Sat. Nav. so we programmed in the address and up a narrow lane we went on our way.
15 minutes of very narrow, winding lanes and not a lot of vines later we were instructed to “turn here”.
“Where? There’s no turning.” I said
Indeed there was a very well camouflaged turning with an equally camouflaged sign to Berthoumieu attached to a tree.
Finally, we had arrived.
Where we were I had no idea.


The sign pointed to a farm gate that was open and next to which stood a sign for the vineyard so we drove in, parked the car and went off in search of the tasting room.

We hadn’t called ahead and made an appointment as in North America you don’t normally have to.
There was no one around so I sent my husband Tim off in search of life while I made friends with the friendly guard dog. 

A few minutes later Tim came out followed by Didier Barre, the owner and wine maker at Berthoumieu.
We asked in our best, bad French if it was possible to taste and were rewarded, for once, with a smile and “of course”.

We spent the next hour with Mr. Barre tasting his wines in the smallest tasting room I have ever been in, 1 small round table and 3 chairs.  
I tasted, spat and tasted again and again.
Tim basically got hammered and enjoyed everything he tasted!

My French (at the time) was poor, but my wine and restaurant French were fluent so I had no problem conversing with Mr. Barre who was clearly delighted that I knew what I was talking about and was asking informed questions.

Berthoumieu is only a small producer in terms of quantity but, like many small wine makers, he values traditional family wine making techniques and is passionate about his wine and the land that the grapes grow on.
His wines, therefore, are very traditional and are perfect partner for regional dishes such as Confit de Canard or Cassoulet.

Madiran reds are made with the Tannat grape (60%) with additional grape varieties including Cab. Sav. and Cab. Franc being used to make up the blend if the wine maker wants to.
Berthoumieu makes nearly all of his Madiran reds with a high percentage of Tannat. (Whites from this region cannot be called Maridan but must be called Pacherinc du Vic Bilh)
Berthoumieu's wines are what I would consider to be in an “old world style” meaning they take time to soften and become approachable but once softened the layers of flavour in the wine define the terroir and passion that has gone into making it.

I asked if the year was going to be a good vintage.
The question was met with a typical Gallic shrug, a smirk and an absolute “every year is a good year here”.

Enough said, lesson over.
Wine is very simple for these producers, they are from a small farming area without huge financial input for modern day equipment or technology but they have pride and passion.
It's as if you are drinking history which in a way is refreshing and there’s nothing at all wrong with the wine they make.

I ended up leaving Berthoumieu with a large quantity of wine (funny how that happens).
A lot of the wine is still in my cellar today, it tastes a bit better now than it did then which is saying something because it was awesome when I bought it!

Chateau Bouscasse

We never did get to go to Chateau Montus that day, it was closed but we have since been a few times and it is very different from Berthoumieu.

Chateau Montus is owned by Alain Brumont and his family which is a larger company with a few different vineyards around the Madiran region.
They have a range of wines from every day cheap n’ cheerfuls (well relatively) to the high end Chateau Bouscasse and Chateau Montus which I have to say are both fantastic wines and in every way (except grape varieties) comparable to a great Bordeaux.
They have a fantastic tasting room at Chateau Bouscasse and offer cellar tours and tastings if you book in advance.
They also offer a tour and dining option if you have enough people and book in advance which from experience was incredible. The tour was really informative and the food was exceptional, especially since it was made from local produce and paired with incredible Brumont wines 

Alain Brumont is an "iconic" winemaker in Madiran.
Brumont embraces modern wine making techniques along side traditional techniques in his wine making and is credited industry-wide for being a visionary in Madiran.
The results are that his wines are made for every palate.
His old world styles are earthy and tough but refined and approachable and the wines made with newer techniques show fruit that used to be buried behind tannins for years.

If you get a chance to go to either vineyard you should go.
Better still, go to both and see the difference.
Both are free to taste and you can purchase wines onsite.
Both producers are exporting to the UK and limited outlets in North America.

All in all, Madiran is a pretty neat little wine region to visit.
The wines are awesome, varied and terroir driven which makes them unique.
I still didn't figure out where the centre of the region was but from subsequent visits i'll happily say that the signage has improved.

Madiran still has a lot of undeveloped farmlandvand I get the feeling that with so many advances in technology we are going to see a new side to an old wine soon.
I don’t think that traditionalists need to fret, there will always be an old school producer tucked away in them there hills.

Chateau Bouscasse

Chateau Montus

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