Allyson Gofton in France: Madiran wine (+ beef daube recipe)
Madiran, the wine of this Haute-Pyrenees area, is little known in France, let alone New Zealand, but according to the plethoric, award-winning British wine writer, Andrew Jefford, I live in an area that produces the “ultimate ” French red.
“No other French red can truly match them [Madiran] for sheer tannic power and dark, smoky, battlefield force. They are Mephistophelian . . . Some of France’s most challenging, yet rewarding red wines.”
This enthusiastic commentary is hard to top; Madiran, the apparent near-perfect French paradox wine, is gutsy, complex and perfect with winter foods.
Madiran wines, which are all we drink here, are grown in a roughly 25km square area in rolling hills just north of my village. Twenty years ago, they were little known outside of the southwest of France, being overshadowed by the vineyards of Bordeaux, Champagne and Burgundy, whose elite chateaux and charismatic history won over lesser-known and isolated areas such as Madiran.
Change came here when a couple of passionate local winemakers began to believe that, with more attention to growing through production, they could rescue this grape from obscurity, obsolescence and a fusty reputation; and a renaissance for Madiran’s tannin-loaded tannat grape began.
It was helped along with the 2007 publication of Roger Corder’s The Red Wine Diet, which stated that some red grapes, those rich in polyphenols — natural antioxidants — play an essential part in protecting against cardiovascular disease. The tannat grape is noted to be the best representative — it’s the grape of the French Paradox.
When wearing a coveted AOP (Appellation d’origine controlee), Madiran wines are made from 60-80 per cent tannat grapes softened out with cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and fer servadou, a local Gascon grape. Oak-aged and cellared, Madiran wine with its deep black doris plum colour, cherry and burnt chocolate nose, is perfect for robust winter dishes.
Here in Gascony that includes confit du canard, cassoulet, tartiflette, stewed wild rabbit or pig and beef daube. It’s not a wine to drink casually, rather it will accompany the main course — before this a rose or white wine will be served. For the most part the wine will be bought at the super— or hypermarket; wine shops are like hen’s teeth, though cellar door sales are increasing and there’s always the local wine seller at the village market.
In my supermarket, there are never fewer than 30 local wineries to choose from, each with a selection of styles and quality and price, from 3 Euros to over 80. Given the first price, I am doing a good job on savouring.
A daube is both a ceramic-lidded dish and a wine-drenched beef or lamb stew and this recipe is one that I cook regularly here in winter. With Madiran wine pretty much unavailable in New Zealand, use an aged cabernet or shiraz. Mashed potatoes, with their creamy taste and texture, are simply the best side dish with the daube. Use plenty of butter when mashing and season well with salt. Indulgent this may be, but delicious it is.
Make a change
Should you wish, add a handful green or brown lentils to the daube before cooking, to add flavour, texture and assist with thickening the sauce.