Qawc’s Corks – Cabidos Petit Manseng

Posted on: August 12th, 2013 by Andrew No Comments

Once in a while I come across a wine that fails to fit with the prevailing view, a wine so odd and eclectic that most of the time one would ignore it – a curio perhaps, like Walter Massa’s Timorasso or the Orange Wines of Georgia and Armenia. Such a wine is the subject of my latest encomium, a rare beast from an even rarer region – in fact it isn’t even from a wine region at all except that it comes from South West France where grapes grow in abundance.

We came across the vineyard of the Comte de Nazelle whilst staying with friends nearby. Geographically it is in the southern Béarn, some few kilometres away from the Madiran vineyards to the north and the wrong side of the valley from Jurancon, both eclectic but well-established wine regions in the area. There are other vineyards in the area making Béarnaise table wine, but this estate has other ideas.

We got an inkling of this when our host served the Cabidos Moelleux with dessert at dinner. This was stupendous with the complexity of luscious fruit that one would expect from a top Bordelais producer. The Petit Manseng’s high acidity giving it a nervy vivacity that really lifts it into another dimension.

After that I felt we had to make a trip to the vineyard, especially as it was just around the corner.

Cabidos has all the attributes one could possibly wish for, a beautiful position, lovely Château and picturesque buildings housing the winery; there were even donkeys grazing nearby to enchant the children. Madame de Nazelle runs the vineyard with help from her son and daughter in law and it was she who met us and guided us through her wines.

Oddly, she had elected to plant Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Syrah alongside the Petit Manseng, not varieties one associates with this part of France. Tasting them at the Château I thought they were interesting but a little tired, the youngest being 2009 Certainly a second tasting back in the Uk didn’t make me change my view.

The Petit Manseng though. From the 2007 vintage this was extraordinary. Despite its very high acidity and even higher alcohol (14.5%) this was a wine in perfect balance. It was long, rich, complex and many layered with that pronounced acidity giving freshness and tying in the inherent sweetness of the variety. This was like the dessert wine, only drier – equally complex but to be drunk at a different part of the evening perhaps. The bottle we polished off at home certainly did justice both as aperitif and with the meal.

As a merchant I realize that this is not commercial wine at all, not for us in sleepy Somerset. Potentially there is a market for it in London, where most things go, but I will have to be content to savour the memory. Next time I am in the area I will buy more!

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