Extreme wines: Madiran, aka the tannic beast

Rustic yet hankering after a more modern rendition, its unusual style is what makes it so appealing.


Bold wines for bold sailors

Although local priory archives prove that wines have been made in and around Madiran since at least the 13th century, their purpose was not only sacramental – over the years, wine growers began to market them. Madiran is located north of Pau and Tarbes and wines were shipped towards the Pyrenees in exchange for building stones. The wines were also sent to Bayonne and loaded onto ships by privateers, bound for the West Indies. Because of the distance, the wines had to be powerful, long-lived and able to withstand such long journeys. This is why use of the native grape variety Tannat soared in the 17th century, ultimately taking a majority share of the blend which now ranges from 60 to 80%. The clue is in the name – its tiny black grapes produce highly coloured wines with lots of tannins and high acidity, making it the perfect age-worthy wine.


A style that needs defending

This attribute can also be a handicap, however. In an era of immediate gratification, it is difficult to explain how such a tannic monster of a wine, that can even be rustic, turns into spice and candied fruits after a few years’ ageing. Or how the powerful tannins, black fruits and vibrant acidity will not last forever.

Because of this, wine growers are occasionally tempted to aim for riper fruit, or reduce vatting time, thereby producing wines that are less harsh and appear more refined to impatient wine drinkers.





The pleasure of uncorking a decade-old Madiran, decanting it and serving it with a bull casserole, though, remains unchanged. This style of wine needs food so that saliva can counterbalance the astringency. We advise that you specify you want to buy a classic Madiran. If it has been aged in casks – maturation lasts at least until October 15 in the year following the harvest – perfect! If it comes from old vines – and therefore concentrated juice – marvellous! Just write on the label the year you want to enjoy it.

Why not also buy an early-drinking version? Good quality tannins, even when upfront, can be palatable with dishes that have a chewy texture. They also contain polyphenols whose anti-oxidant virtues have been widely acknowledged.



Written by Alain Echalier