Written by: Jancis Robinson
A gap filled, with Tannat.
We try to make our coverage as comprehensive as possible but there has been a particularly obvious lacuna: the far south-west of France, the bit between Bordeaux and the Pyrenees. Much as I’d love to conduct a leisurely tour of the region, that’s not looking possible any time soon. (Thanks, COVID-19.)
However, there is one standout producer there whose wines we have not covered in any depth at all since Tam’s 2010 profile of him and Richard’s tasting article in 2009. Since then we have published the grand total of 12 tasting notes on the wines of Alain Brumont, the king of Madiran.
The story in brief, lifted from Tam’s article and updated, is that Alain Brumont, pictured above, started with his father in the early 1980s with only 15 ha (37 acres). Then his neighbours thought that this man without any training or experience was absolutely crazy as he doubled the density of his vines to 8,000 vines/ha, ruthlessly reduced yields to under 40 hl/ha, green-harvested in July, dumped green grapes when veraison was uneven, and introduced such modern wonders into his cellar as stainless steel (they were early adopters of optical sorting). Single-handedly he upgraded the reputation of Madiran as he produced wines that astounded the critics around the world, although not without incurring some financial problems along the way.
A prod from Purple Pager and Brumont fan Ray Bruno to fill our lamentable gap in Brumont coverage was extremely welcome. His UK importer Thorman Hunt kindly pleaded my case and the result was a set of four horizontals of the most important wines – Ch Bouscassé, Ch Bouscassé Vieilles Vignes, Ch Montus, Ch Montus Prestige and Ch Montus La Tyre – from fairly youthful vintages 2017, 2016 and 2015 and from the much more mature one of 2010, which included an intriguing example of the local white Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh.
Not that these are the only wines Brumont produces. A look at the range on the website suggests a remarkable level of restlessness. There are 11 different brands of Madiran, eight of Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, five Côtes de Gascogne brands and three Vins de France, including a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir.
He has two estates. Ch Bouscassé was long in the Brumont family and its 50 ha (124 acres) of vineyards extending along what he calls a ‘cliff’ are mainly on clay-limestone. Ch Montus (which Brumont avers is known as ‘the Petrus of the south-west’) is on slopes of large pebbles on red clay, in which 20 different plots have been identified. The château itself is pictured above. The tannin-heavy Tannat grape is king as far as Brumont is concerned, and so most of the Madirans are deliberately made for a long life.
The basic Chx Bouscassé and Montus bottlings, which include some Cabernet, are given between 12 and 24 months in barrique (30–40% new) followed by a year in foudre and are not put on the market until the end of their fifth year. The youngest vintage that is physically available in the UK and the US seems to be the 2016 at around £30 or $40 respectively, although there is no shortage of en primeur offers for subsequent vintages.
The all-Tannat wines (Bouscassé Vieilles Vignes, Montus Prestige and Montus La Tyre) are aged for longer, 18 to 24 months, in new barriques. From the 2017 vintage onwards this is followed by an additional period of two to five years in foudres until they are released at 10 years old! Brumont says he is inspired by Vega Sicilia’s release strategy.
Certainly I am all for producers who are prepared to do the necessary ageing themselves. But, knowing how obdurate Tannat can be in south-west France (much less so in its adoptive home of Uruguay), I was quite surprised by how approachable the regular Chx Bouscassé and Montus are. Although they are very obviously wines in the same family as long-lasting red bordeaux, they both seem to drink pretty well from about five years old – for quite a while.
The more expensive, all-Tannat bottlings are clearly fashioned to last for much longer, but La Tyre (pictured above), from a special 10-ha (25-acre) plot on the highest ground in Madiran at 260 m (853 ft) planted by Brumont in 1990, is so cleverly made that one is tempted to drink it straight away even though it is clearly meant to be aged for decades. It seemed much more approachable than Montus Prestige. La Tyre sells for around £80 a bottle and Bordeaux-based online retailer Millésima seems to offer a particularly wide array of Brumont wines, including La Tyre – named, incidentally, after a local district in Madiran rather than anything vehicular.
I was thrilled to have this chance to discover these wines so systematically. I had bought quite a few 1995s but drank them rather randomly without forming too much of an impression. I was amazed by how consistently each wine conformed to its style; even the presentation (bottles and labels) hardly varied. Most wine producers, especially during the last two decades, have tended to be on a journey, often from opulence to more restraint, so that their wines might vary considerably between 2010 and 2017 vintages, but not these.
The only wine that was remotely disappointing was my particular bottle of Ch Montus 2010. I wondered whether the fruit had been suppressed by low-level TCA (although I am generally quite sensitive to this particular taint and couldn’t smell it on this wine).
My main conclusions are that these wines are much more serious than their prices suggest, and that there is never any hurry to drink them.
The 21 wines are presented by vintage, younger to older, and going up the scale in price and prestige but you can change this.