Thursday, 26 August 2010

Béarn: The Wines

The wines of Béarn are rarely found outside France which is a shame. Some of Béarn's vineyards overlap with some areas also covered by the Madiran and Jurançon appellations but Béarn produces reds, whites and rosés. The group of communes around the village of Bellocq, (Lahontan, Orthez, Salies and Bellocq itself) may add the name Bellocq after the title AOC Béarn, giving AOC Béarn-Bellocq.

Béarn has some interesting grapes that go into the wine – for reds Tannat, Fer Servadou, Manseng and Courbu Noir as well as the more well known Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Tannat (named after its forceful tannins) is thought to have originated in the Basque region and produces powerful wines which age very well. The wines are usually deeply and darkly coloured, full bodied and have flavours of raspberry, plum, smoke, spice and tobacco. In 1870, Basque immigrants brought the grape to Uruguay, where it adapted perfectly to the local soil and climate. It has since become the national red grape variety of Uruguay, accounting for about 1/3rd of all wine produced in that country; more Tannat is grown in Uruguay than in its native France.

The Tannat grape has also been identified as the grape with the greatest concentration of the anti-oxidant chemical procyanadin. Research, led by Dr. Roger Corder, makes the case for oligomeric procyanidins (OPCs) as the source of red wine's health benefits. Dr Corder's book The Wine Diet covers the health benefits of red wine based on his research into the French Paradox and the Mediterranean Effect (why people who live there have longer lives – see Nick's Blog Is Red Wine The Elixir of Life?).

Fer Servadou (sometimes known as Pinenc, Braucol or Mansois) is thought to take its name from the French word Fer meaning Iron. I don't think this relates to the wine the grape produces but to the fact that the vine is noted for its hard wood and difficulty in pruning. Another theory is that the grape's name is derived from the Latin word Ferus meaning Wild. The wine that Fer makes is noted for its flavours of blackcurrant, green pepper, red fruits and spice (a little similar to Cabernet Sauvignon).

The white wine grapes of Béarn are Raffiat de Moncade, Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, Courbu Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Camaralet de Lasseube and Lauzet. Raffiat de Moncade is an old grape that it is really hard to find much about – partly because of the different spellings of its name!

It is mentioned that its name refers to the Tour Moncade built at Orthez in 1242 by Gaston VII de Moncada, Viscount of Béarn. This unusual pentagonal tower was once the keep of a castle but is now used as a meteorological observatory. This makes me think that the grape's origins lie here but other sources say that it originated in Italy and that it is sometimes known as Rousselet and Portugal. It is believed to be a descendant of Gouais Blanc.

The wine from Raffiat de Moncade is equally difficult to source but Domaines Lapeyre et Guilhemas offer a 100% single varietal wine amongst their interesting selection.


Dale said...

A friend brought over a sweet Jurancon last weekend that went well with a chocolate mousse - 1st time we had this wine - fun to try new areas and varietals

thanks for such an educational and interesting blog - Dale "Trout"

Sue said...

Thank you Dale! I really enjoy hunting out wines from lesser known areas and forgotten grapes like yourself!