For oenophiles and even the most ardent Francophiles, Sud-Ouest remains the one unconquered territory lurking at the edge of the French realm. It would be futile to attempt to characterise a wine region of such diverse characters; indeed, its diversity is as such that the existence of this wine region per se is either a miracle, or due to bureaucratic expediency. Comprising four clusters of AOCs – namely Dordogne, Garonne, Gascogne, Pays Basque and an isolated quartet northwest of Montpellier – Sud-Ouest is perhaps best described as the remainder of southwestern France that is neither Bordeaux nor Languedoc-Roussillon.
In addition to a list of distinctive white varieties capable of making wines across the entire sweetness spectrum, Sud-Ouest is probably best known for its richly coloured and full-bodied reds at various tannic levels, ranging from the approachable Négrette from Fronton to muscular Malbec from Cahors and impenetrable Tannat from Madiran. Possibly derived from the word “tannin”, Tannat is easily one of the most tannic varieties in the world, the poster boy of red wine from Sud-Ouest as well as the national variety of Uruguay, known as Harriague there, due to its Basque heritage.
Tannat is no Cabernet Sauvignon: the winemaker either gets this demanding variety absolutely right, or ends up with unpalatable astringency, with little decent result in between. Tannat’s tannin is inherently off the charts, requiring a deft and experienced pair of hands to tame. For starters, ripeness is sine qua non, followed by thorough destemming to remove excessive tannins from stalks and gentle pressing to avoid releasing additional tannins from pips; malolactic fermentation and micro-oxygenation are often used, so as to reduce acidity and promote tannin polymerisation, whereas lengthy maturation in new barrels help polish the final product.
Acquired by Alain Brumont of Château Bouscassé in 1980, Château Montus is revered as the Pétrus of southern France for its world-class Tannat-based nectars. When “organic viticulture” seemed like a gimmicky term back in the 1980s, the visionary and wizard in Alain Brumont perceived the huge potential of Tannat well before anyone else. Under his relentless drive, Tannat retains its place on the vinous map, indeed as a synonym for Madiran and Château Montus.
Available at fine wine specialist Club F, importer of Château Montus in Macao and exclusive distributor of the same in Mainland China. Contact: Mr. Michael Hong; E: email@example.com; T: +853 62736273; A: Rua da Madre Terezina 15B, R/C, Macao
A blend of Petit Courbu and Petit Manseng from Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh AOC. Sourced from 30-year-old vines grown on clay and limestone terraces with pebbles at one row per terrace, pressed at low temperatures and aged on lees in 600l demi-muid barrels. Saturated golden with scintillating yellow diamond reflex, the nose is poised yet pungent, offering nectarine, sweet ginger, pine nuts, crushed rock and acacia. Anchored by generous acidity and crystalline minerality, the palate is compelling and focused, delivering mirabelle, green olive, bouquet garni, turmeric and beeswax. Full-bodied at 14%, the spicy entry carries onto a spirited mid-palate, leading to a refined finish. A marble statue from Southern France
A blend of Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon from Madiran AOC. Sourced from 40-year-old vines grown on steep slopes with large pebbles and clay at 5-6 bunches per plant, macerated for up to 6 weeks and aged on lees in oak barrels (up to 80% new) for up to 14 months. Reddish black with carmine-purple rim, the nose is aromatic and candid, presenting blackberry, crème de cassis, cocoa, tobacco box and leather. Buttressed by abundant acidity, meaty tannins and structured minerality, the charming and idyllic palate supplies damson, dried mulberry, liquorice, caffè ristretto and charcoal. Full-bodied at 14%, the colossal entry continues through a sinewy mid-palate, leading to a never-ending finish. An imposing and impressive monument.
A single-varietal Tannat from Madiran AOC. Sourced from 40-year-old vines grown on steep slopes with pebbles and clay at 5-6 bunches per plant, macerated for up to 6 weeks and aged on lees in new oak barrels for 24 months. Reddish black with maroon-rosewood rim, the nose is discreet and variegated, revealing blackberry, damson compote, liquorice, coffea arabica, dark chocolate and graphite. Underpinned by profuse acidity, tasty tannins and linear minerality, the evolved and harmonious palate unveils mulberry, black olive, black pepper, pu-erh, wild mushroom and cigar ash. Full-bodied at 14%, the velvety entry persists through an impenetrable mid-palate, leading to a haunting finish. The ultimate wine for cigar?
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain, France,
and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages