My second visit to a winery in Madiran lasted the better part of a day but it was a day filled with interesting tours, delicious food and wine, and wonderful hospitality! I had arranged for a visit to Châteaux Montus et Bouscassé prior to leaving on my trip and had been invited for a tour and tasting and to stay for lunch with the owner, Alain Brumont, his wife Laurence, and the staff. Alain Brumont became a pioneer in Madiran in the 1980s, developing the first 100% Tannat Madiran made 100% in new oak casks. In 1986, the ’85 Montus Prestige was presented at a blind taste test of Bordeaux Grand Crus and ranked among the top three, proving that Tannat has the potential to make exceptional world-class wines.
I drove through the lovely countryside of Gascony (even pretty in the rain) to arrive at the home base of Alain Brumont – Château Bouscassé. This is the historic property of the Brumont family, located in the village of Maumusson Laguian. When Alain Brumont inherited the property in 1979, there were 17 hectares of vineyard but Château Bouscassé now boasts 112 hectares of vines that range in age from 12-100 years old. I was welcomed in the tasting room, or salle de degustation, by Sébastien who took me out in the 4×4 to show me some of the other properties. We drove about about ten minutes south to Château Montus, the property that Alain Brumont bought in 1980 to make the “wine of his dreams”. Château Montus controls 106 hectares of vineyard. It is located on a steeply terraced east-southeast-facing site with a driveway winding through the vines up to the Château and the winery facility. Upon entering the winery I was a bit in awe of the giant oak tanks in a beautifully restored old barn structure with its hand-hewn, gnarled wooden trusses and exposed roof structure. This is the one space in the winery that remains of the original building. The rest of the facility is a more modern addition, including the amazing three-storey tank room – referred to as “La Cathédrale du Tannat”, or the Cathedral of Tannat. The cellars of Château Montus are full of cutting-edge technology as well as some beautifully-crafted barrel art – mobiles suspended in almost every space. The middle floor acts as a large catwalk and working surface to access the tops of the tanks for pigeage (punching down the cap). Following a spiral staircase up from this level is a large open floor with windows on all sides overlooking the vineyards. This is where the communal lunches take place during the harvest. This is a very family-oriented company. Not only are there daily communal lunches, but as the lands were acquired for the vineyards from smaller plots, there were also many houses that were acquired on those plots. These house many of the winery employees. We descended to the barrel cellars (via the elevator – I think this is a first in my winery tours) that were painstakingly blasted out of the ground in 1995. At the entrance to the cellar there are decorative openings in the walls that allow one to see the solid rock that had to be excavated to create this space. I really did love this space full of hundreds, if not thousands, of barrels full of wine, with its beautifully vaulted ceiling. Very simple yet elegant.
From Château Montus we headed to visit a couple of the vineyards: La Tyre and Les Menhirs. La Tyre is a 12 hectare plot that has a steep, fully west-facing slope on the highest hill in the Madiran region. It is planted with Tannat that is cropped lower that the other vineyards and goes into a single-vineyard wine of the same name. To escape the sudden deluge we climbed up into the “treehouse” where Sébastien told me about La Tyre. Next, we visited Les Menhirs, named for the large standing stone in the vineyard. It is planted with Tannat and Merlot, half and half, which constitutes the blend of the wine ‘Menhir’. We returned to Château Bouscassé just in time for a quick wander through the lovely grounds before lunch. Vincent, the export manager for Brumont, came to introduce himself to me and brought me into the dining room. I was introduced to Alain and Laurence Brumont as well as the other guests, including three couples visiting from Quebec. Daily lunch for staff and guests of Châteaux Montus et Bouscassé is a communal affair in a large dining room, or outdoors in good weather. The chef prepares food that is local and seasonal, most of the ingredients coming from the large gardens on the grounds of Château Bouscassé. Chickens are also raised on the property (in the best hen house ever!), for eggs and meat. The barter system is alive and well here too, with trades occurring with local hunters: some fresh meat for wine! Our lunch began with a light cream soup, followed by a heartier soup full of meat, fresh beets and carrots. The main course was roast meat with a tasty medley of baked zucchini and tomatoes. The wines through lunch included 2010 Château Bouscassé Jardins, 2005 Château Bouscassé Menhir, and 2006 Château Bouscassé Vieille Vignes, and a 1994 Château Montus XL! We finished with a light dessert paired with 2008 Château Bouscassé Brumaire, coffee and then probably the smoothest Armagnac I have ever drunk – the “Collection privée d’Alain Brumont”.
After lunch, Vincent showed me the underground barrel cellar of Château Bouscassé, not quite as large as the one at Montus, but quite impressive especially for the store of large-format bottles. We then proceeded to the tasting room where he and Thomas ran me through the entire range of wines produced by Alain Brumont, under the labels of Château Montus, Château Bouscassé, Torus, and La Gascogne selon Alain Brumont otherwise labelled as Brumont. We began with the Brumont 2012 Gros Manseng-Sauvignon Blanc. It is clear and very pale in colour with quite an aromatic nose with medium-plus intensity. It has aromas of gooseberry and citrus, is dry with high acidity and pronounced flavour intensity with citrus, gooseberry and a hint of floral on the palate. It has a long finish and is well-balanced. The Torus 2010 Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec is a blend of Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng and Petit Courbu. It is pale lemon in colour with medium-plus intensity on the nose with aromas of floral, citrus and apple. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and flavours of pineapple and yellow plum with pronounced intensity. It has a long finish and is quite delicious! Next up was a bit of a treat with Le Chardonnay d’Alain Brumont 2009. Chardonnay is not a traditional grape in Madiran, but Alain Brumont has done it proud with this elegant wine. It is pale gold in colour with medium-plus intensity on the nose. It has quite a complex nose with notes of butter and citrus and some minerality. It is dry with medium acidity and medium body and flavours of citrus, nutmeg and a long buttery finish. This is my kind of Chardonnay; if I could’ve transported a case with me I would have done so. The 2009 Château Bouscassé Jardins is a blend of 80% Petit Manseng and 20% Petit Courbu that was aged sur lies fines. It has an aromatic nose with hints of liquorice. It is dry with medium acidity and medium body and flavours of citrus and spice with some complexity on the palate. This would be a great food wine. The 2010 Château Montus Blanc Sec is the same blend as the Jardins but from different terroir. It is less aromatic, more restrained, on the nose with more liquorice and less fruit. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, has a round mouthfeel, with flavours of citrus and some minerality. It is also quite spicy on the palate and has a long finish. The Brumont 2012 Rosé is a blend of Tannat, Syrah and Merlot. It is pale salmon in colour with medium-plus intensity of aromas of floral, red fruit and a bit of pepper. It is dry with medium acidity, medium body and medium-plus intensity of flavours of red fruit, citrus and spice. It has a long finish and would be nice for just sipping, or with food.
Now onto the reds… the Torus Madiran 2009 is a blend of Tannat, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon from younger vines (15 years old). As these vines age, the grapes will go into the production of Château Bouscassé. This wine is a medium ruby in colour with aromas of dark fruit, cassis and a hint of peppers and spice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-plus-plus tannins and pronounced intensity of flavour of black fruit and spice with a long finish. The Brumont Merlot-Tannat 2012 is a 50/50 blend. It has medium-plus intensity of aromas of cherry, plum and some savoury notes. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-plus tannins and flavours of cherry, plum, cassis and savoury. It is very easy-drinking with a medium finish. The Château Bouscassé 2009 is a blend of 60-65% Tannat with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It is a medium-plus ruby in colour with aromas of cherry, cassis and liquorice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and tannins, and pronounced intensity of flavours of cherry, cassis and spice, with a long finish. The Château Montus 2009 is a blend of Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is medium-plus ruby in colour with aromas of cherry and cassis. Where the Bouscassé was more fruit-forward, this is more elegant, more restrained. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-plus-plus tannins and pronounced intensity. It has flavours of dark red fruit with a round mouthfeel. It is very elegant on the palate, very well-balanced with a long finish. Next we did a side-by-side comparison of two Vieille Vignes wines: The Château Bouscassé 1999 Vieille Vignes and the Château Montus 2002 Cuvée Prestige, both 100% Tannat. The Bouscassé is a deep garnet in colour with a hint of ruby. It has pronounced intensity of aromas of fruitcake and savoury notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and tannins. On the palate it has savoury notes, dried fruit, black fruit, spice and a lot of complexity. This still-developing wine has a long finish. The Montus is deep ruby in colour with a hint of garnet, with aromas of deep ripe black fruit, hints of dried fruit and savoury. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, full tannins, tasting much younger than 11 years old. It has pronounced intensity of flavours of black fruit, dried black cherry, spice and a hint of raisin. It has a long finish, is elegant, well-balanced and beautiful! The Château Bouscassé 2006 Argile Rouge is a blend of Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Fer Servadou. It is medium ruby in colour with cherry and dark ripe fruit on the nose. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-plus-plus tannins and flavours of dark fruit and some dried fruit on the palate. This wine is still quite young and has a long finish. The Château Bouscassé Menhir 2004 is a 50/50 blend of Merlot and Tannat. It is medium ruby in colour with a hint of garnet. It has dark fruit and some savoury notes on the nose. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-plus tannins and is quite fruit-forward, with flavours of dark fruit and spice. It is quite elegant and lovely, with a long finish. To finish off the tasting, Vincent poured me some Château Montus La Tyre 2007. This is 98% Tannat with 2% Cabernet Franc. It is deep purple with a hint of ruby, staining the glass. There is a hint of funk on the nose (the good kind), with dark fruit and some savoury notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, full tannins and pronounced intensity of flavour, which is I’m sure is owed in part to the fact that these vines are cropped to 5 bunches of grapes per vine. There is lots of concentration of flavour in this wine, with dark fruit, spice and savoury notes and a very very long finish – delicious!
I thoroughly enjoyed my day at Châteaux Bouscassé et Montus – their hospitality really knows no bounds. In addition to the lovely day, I was given a parting gift of a bottle of 2003 Château Montus La Tyre, which I managed to bring back to Canada in my suitcase and have very lovingly placed it in my wine rack to let it age another year or so.