GRAPEVINE with LIZ SAGUES: New Musketeer should flourish for years to come

PUBLISHED: 12:54 09 August 2007 | UPDATED: 14:36 07 September 2010

T he Gascons have a new Musketeer. But his weapon is no keenly pointed rapier. Instead, it s a brimming glass of red wine. And while the old Musketeer may have enjoyed only a short, if very active, life, the new one should flourish for many years more. T

T he Gascons have a new Musketeer. But his weapon is no keenly pointed rapier. Instead, it's a brimming glass of red wine. And while the old Musketeer may have enjoyed only a short, if very active, life, the new one should flourish for many years more.

The reason is a localised, emphasised version of the French paradox (that the French have a relatively low rate of coronary heart disease despite a high consumption of saturated fat).

Down in the far south west, the departement of Gers - the heart of Gascogny and home of d'Artagnan - has double the national average of men aged 90 or over (400 per 100,000 people, against 200 country-wide), yet favourite dishes on their dining tables include foie gras and cassoulet.

The reason, suggests researcher Roger Corder, is that the wine in their glasses is particularly rich in procyanidins, chemical compounds occurring naturally in red wine (and some other enjoyable consumables, notably dark chocolate) which have a particularly effective role in preventing the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries.

Enough of the science here - read all about it in Corder's excellent book The Wine Diet (Sphere, £10). Back to the Gers, to one particular red-wine grape, the very tannic tannat, and to the area's traditional winemaking methods which have little of the soft, easy fruitiness found increasingly worldwide.

The combination, argues Corder, means that a single small glass of the best known result, Madiran, "can provide more benefit than two bottles of most Australian wine, without the obvious dangers of excessive alcohol consumption". Phew!

The Wine Diet, which appeared earlier this year, has already had a substantial impact - there have been reports of year-long stocks of Madiran selling out within weeks at some merchants. And the vignerons of the south west are using it as an extra weapon in their current campaign to boost sales in the UK.

At this year's London International Wine and Spirits Fair more than a third of the 56 wines on the Vins du Sud-Ouest stand were Madirans, three others were from tannat-rich Cotes de Saint-Mont, and three more reds included some tannat. Most had UK importers, so should be in shops or on restaurant lists soon.

Already available is the new Rive Haute brand from Gascogny's excellent co-operative, Producteurs Plaimont, where all the reds are tannat based: a Madiran reserve, a Saint-Mont rouge, and two vins de pays de Gers, merlot-tannat and pure tannat. Buy that last wine (£7) by mail from Adnams (01502 727200, www.adnams. co.uk) where there are other Saint-Monts and the excellent Plenitude Madiran (£13). Wheeler Cellars (01206 713560) should have the Madiran Reserve.

Plaimont produces a whole host more Saint-Monts and Madirans which are sold here - Nicolas is a good source, or try Mill Hill Wines or Bedales at Borough Market or Spitalfields (020 7403 8853/020 7375 1926). Even Tesco is in on the act: Madiran Reserve des Tuguets 2005 (£9), Plaimont again, will be among a huge range of new bottles in stores from mid-August.

On a very much smaller scale, but another example of UK-directed effort from the sud ouest, is Le Froggy's Club, a band of 10 independent domaines emphasising the "difference" of their wines. Those of Madiran producer Domaine du Crampilh (Vignes Vieilles, £13) are available from French Regional Wines (01524 33724, www.french-regional-wines.co.uk) or The Wine Shop, Leek (01538 382 408, www.wineandwhisky.com.

There's just one risk, though, in all this tannat enthusiasm. Already there are instances of winemaking which turns out softer, sweeter results perhaps more in tune with modern tastes. But will those help a modern Musketeer to live to 100?

Liz Sagues



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