Hello friends. Southwest France makes the Languedoc look mainstream by comparison. I’ll admit it: this is the land of obscure AOCs, and obscure varietals. Perfect for one of our Misfits offerings, and yet…
There are a few regions here with enough quality, enough historical interest, to stand alone. Cahors (the birthplace of Malbec) is one that we’ve already explored. Today we move even further southwest, inching towards the Pyrenees and the Spanish border.
Today we explore Madiran. And Pacherenc-du-Vic-Bilh. Which are actually the same place. Confusing enough?
2010 Domaine Labranche-Laffont Madiran
Check out this nice map of the “Sud-Ouest”, and you’ll see the little orange blob that represents both Madiran and Pacherenc. Madiran was established as an AOC in 1948 to produce red wines based largely on the Tannat grape. When producers in the region wanted an AOC for their white wines, they must have decided that Madiran Blanc would be far too pedestrian, so instead they came up with a completely different name, the rolls-off-the-tongue Pacherenc-du-Vic-Bilh (is there a word for the opposite of “pithy”? if not, may I humbly submit Pacherenc-du-Vic-Bilh for consideration?) Both AOCs cover the exact same boundaries; it’s just that one is for reds, and one is for whites.
Wine fashion can move really slowly, and when it does, values abound. To wit: when wine folks think of Madiran (if they think of it at all), they think of the chunky, tannic, unyielding bottles of Tannat from the 1980s and 1990s. But this is one of the frontiers of France, where the cheap cost of vineyard land attracts the young’uns looking to start some revolutions.
Christine Dupuy personifies modern Madiran. She took over the family estate in 1992 at the age of 23, and this is an estate that has a handful of pre-phylloxera vines that are as old as 150 years. Christine was an early adapter of micro-oxygenation, a technique that has benefits for tannic wines, and huge benefits for hugely tannic wines like Tannat.
Suddenly, Madiran wines, which you used to need to hold for 10-15 years before even thinking about popping a cork, were displaying the ability to offer rustically charming wines in their youths. But because everyone still thinks of Madiran as completely unapproachable, producers there have to work against that stereotype. And the only way to do so is to offer their wines at competitive enough tariffs that we all start drinking these wines again.
In my mind, modern Madiran is like baby Bordeaux, especially a wine like this, which blends significant portions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (20% each) with a core (60%) of Tannat. But the pricing is nowhere near nice Bordeaux, and we’re the lucky recipients. This begins with a leafy, crepuscular nose, blending deep black cherry, tea leaves, and a strong soil/earth component. Search elsewhere if you’re looking for fat/plush fruit. But if you’re seeking a chewy, earthy, mineral-and-terroir-expressive alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon, this is a stone cold killer.
2012 Domaine Labranche-Laffont Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec
The blend here is 70% Gros Manseng and 30% Petit Manseng. If you’re thinking “hey, those are the same grapes in Jurancon Sec,” then a) you’re a certified wine nerd; and b) you’re correct. Again, we’re helped by obscurity. Jurancon Sec is fashionable, and typically commands about twice this tariff.
Here we start with a piercing nose of lemon oil, lemon pastille, baking spice, peach, and straw. I can see from my note (“something like a cross between Chardonnay and Gruner Veltliner” and “kind of like a dry Riesling”) that I was trying to put this into a more familiar context. But the truth is: the Manseng sisters make singular blends that stand on their own. There is lovely intensity to the lemon-curd flavors, and a real exoticism to the spice (cardamom?). Seamless, rich, and vibrant, this has just the right amount of flinty minerality to counter all that concentrated fruit. A wonderful winter white.
First come first served up to 24 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and the wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.