French wines are labelled by region rather than grape variety. The Madiran pictured above is no exception -- Madiran is a place-name from the south-west region between Bordeaux and Spain and not a little-known species of grape.
But here's a secret. If you want to know the predominant type of grape that goes into AOC red wine from France's Southwest, just remember that the a's have it: The word Madiran possesses two a's so its essential grape, Tannat, has two a's as well. This also works for the other big red of the Southwest, Cahors. There's one a in Cahors, so the grape of high stature in Cahors wines is none other than Malbec (known locally as Auxerrois, another single-a grape).
TANNAT, AS IN TANNIC
Now that you know the Madiran you've taken off the shelf is made from Tannat, what do you do? Likely, you opt to let it cellar. Tannat is so named for its heavy tannins, the thing in grapes that gives off a puckering bitter taste and nobly allows wine to improve with age.
The Domaine Mouréou 1999 has sufficiently shaken off all residual bitterness; the only astringency left in the mix contributes towards the overall structure of the wine. In seven years, most Madirans are at their supplest. In fact, for those that feature equal or greater proportions of Cabernet to Tannat, even that much ageing is not de rigeur. I think the Mouréou is a case in point. With a blend topped up with 60% Cabernet Franc, there's no just reason to fear its younger self. The 2000, which has been tapped as a good year, is certainly ready to open, and I doubt even the next vintage on its way to the market would need much decanting to enamour its drinkers.
TASTING NOTES, SERVING IDEAS
This wine immediately offers a heady aroma. To the eye it is deep purple with vibrant magenta edges. Domaine Mouréou is not as full-bodied as most Madiran wine might be, but it does possess a lovely mouth-filling sensation and a great multi-varietal sensibility. I taste jammy and brambly berries, blackened spices and vanilla. And then beneath it all, a backbone of toast and molasses.
A duck confit or gamey red meats are the standard Madiran pairings. I cooked up a Spanish tortilla of potato, eggs and onions instead. I added some purposeful flavours like cumin, black olives and Manzanilla sherry to this recipe since, after all, this was no fruity Spanish Tempranillo on my table. The results were fantastic.
In the end, the legendary Madiran can be a quite approachable wine. It's all about striking an interesting balance. So go ahead and rock the boat.
Patrick Ducournau, Maumusson, France. 12.5%.