The South-West of France has a patchwork of interesting appellations making a whole variety of wines from Monbazillac and Saussignac to Cahors, Gaillac, Jurançon and Irouléguy to name but half a dozen. Today though we're going to look at Madiran, which is found halfway between Toulouse and the Atlantic coast, getting close to the foothills of the Pyrenees.
The wines of Maridan are based on the very dark and tannic grape Tannat. It's a quality grape, but only when in the right hands, otherwise it will be tough and mean. The appellation insists on 40 to 60% Tannat and the remainder can be made up of the Cabernets or another local grape, Fer, to soften the beast's edges.
Anyway, when a chum with Uruguayan family connections came round for supper I thought it was the perfect occasion to crack open a bottle. Hang on a minute, what's Uruguay got to do with South-West France you might ask? Well, like Malbec has done in neighbouring Argentina, Tannat has made a second home in Uruguay. Although there are very few examples on the UK market, there are some excellent wines made from the variety coming from Uruguay. Like Argentinian Malbec, the New World examples are always much riper of fruit, with softer and more approachable tannins, making a related but quite different drink. Basically much more fruit forward and easier to drink. So what better idea than to serve someone who has always experienced Uruguayan Tannat a bottle of wine from the variety's home appellation instead? It was also particularly appropriate as we were having it with my own heart-stopping cassoulet, the monster pork, bean and goose dish from the South-West.
The Chateau d'Aydie 2004 was no disappointment - a perfect match to the cassoulet, standing up to its richness and stripping the mouth of the fat with the huge tannins and crisp acidity. The appellation is notorious for needing many years bottle age to soften but when they do you get a complex and deeply satisfying wine. The 2004 was excellent but only just ready, improving with a couple of hours in a decanter. Powerful, deep black fruit overlaid with tobacco and licorice, it was complex, strong, crisp and long. I'll keep the other bottles another couple of years when they should be even better. Hurrah for food and wine!