Saturday, May 10, 2008

Alain Brumont Starter Kit

I meant to write this post on winemaker Alain Brumont last year, but then Wine Spectator wrote a big-assed profile on this Gascon, ruining my mojo. But enough time has elapsed to recover.

Brumont is a unique figure. He grew up helping his father in the vineyard but he apparently did not get serious about wine until after he visited Bordeaux in the '80s. After that, he became single-minded to the point that, per Andrew Jefford in The New France, he became "the Citzen Kane of Madiran." He dominates this region, which is labeled as Madiran on bottles of red wine and as Pacherenc du Vic-Bihl on whites, and he is passionately dedicated to its indigenous varieties: the monstrously tannic Tannat, the thick-skinned Petit Manseng, and Petit Courbu, which Brumont has single-handed demonstrated (to me, anyway) is one of the world's great unheralded whites.

Brumont is singular in other ways, too. Again quoting Jefford: "He green-harvests three times... He has developed his own system of auto-pigeage... He makes his own compost (with horse, sheep, and cow manure, pomace, and ground stones)." Furthermore, Brumont lavishes his top wines in new oak but disdains micro-oxygenation, despite the Bordeaux influence and despite the fact that m-ox was invented to tame Tannat. Instead, the wines are racked up to four times before bottling.

Chateau Montus Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec 2001Now, Brumont owns a range of domains and I've hardly tasted all his wines. The tops is La Tyre, and at $150 a bottle, I seriously doubt I'll ever get to try it. Fortunately, most of his other wines are priced for the reality-based community and I've tried enough of them to get a bony-fingered grip on what he's doing down there. Wines from Château Bouscassé, grown in heavy, iron-flecked clay-limestone soils, need at least ten years to mature. Those from Château Montus, grown in more gravelly soils, can also benefit from some age but need less time. Brumont also seems to bottle his most accessible, earliest-drinking wines under his own name. For an excellent discussion of the terroir, the vineyards, and the winemaking, see this article from Virginia Tech.

Onto the tasting notes. The two reds I've tasted are listed first, followed by three whites. As you'll read, I'm particularly enamored of the dry whites made from Petit Courbu.

Alain Brumont Tannat-Merlot Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne 2004
This one was $12. How do you tame the notoriously tannic Tannat? Cut it with Merlot! The end result surprised me: it's an enjoyably rustic red that reminded me of a Saumur Champigny, of all things, thanks to its sappy cherry and olive nose and flavors of sappy cherry and green and red plum. It's lively, with good acidity and surprisingly modest tannins.

Château Bouscassé Madiran 2000
This blend of 65% Tannat, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Cabernet Franc, aged on its lees for 12 months in one and two year old barrels, was my test drive to see if I wanted to buy the more expensive, 100% Tannat Viellies Vignes. In my nose-mind this attractive wine triangulates claret, Chianti, and Barbera — yet it tastes entirely French. Its heady aromas remind me of sweet black cherry, cedar, raisins, blackcurrant, and plum; in the mouth, prune and green apple come to the fore on fine but firm tannins. The acidity is forthright and its masculine structure frames, but doesn't crush, the fruit.

That said, it's not particularly deep and the finish isn't particularly long, so I won't be buying this particular $23 wine again. It was nevertheless good enough to convince me to set aside a bottle of the 2000 Viellies Vignes until sometime after 2010.

Alain Brumont Le Jardin Philosophique Pacherenc du Vic Bilh Sec 2005
For around $20 you can lug home this really lovely, unoaked, delicate-yet-full-blooded 100% Petit Courbu. Even after 5 days the floral aromas are soft and the peach aromas are fresh. The flavors were more along the gushy peach and apple line of things when first opened and then trended toward apricot, but all along the flavors have been pure; and even close to room temperature, the crisp, lemony finish is both clean as a whistle and really quite long. Just a terrific wine and an example of superior winemaking skills. Hurrah!

Chateau Montus Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec 2001
This extraordinary dry white, made from 100% Petit Courbu and aged on its lees in 30% new oak, calls to mind saffron biryani, mushroom quiche, hazlenut oil, buttered straw, peaches and cream, white pepper, and, for its porcelain focus, a judiciously-oaked Savennieres. Sounds like a mess, but really it's singular and focused, and it has the muscular, long-tailed grace of a komodo dragon. Intoxicating and perfectly balanced, and every bit worth the $32. World class, baby.

Alain Brumont Vendemiaire Octobre 2000 Pacherenc du Vic Billi
Finally, dessert. Well, not so much dessert as final course, as it's only lightly sweet. Brumont harvests Petit Manseng in October, November, and (when possible) December and bottles them separately. Each is a step up in sweetness and price. This entry-level late harvest wine (no botrytis) features surprisingly delicate flavors of peach and apricot. It's nicely balanced and finishes clean. It ain't Royal Tokaji, but it ain't pancake syrup, neither.

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