Monday, January 27, 2014

The glorious Mansengs

Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng and their support cast of Petit Courbu and Arrufiac, in Pacherenc du Vic Bihl and Saint-Mont, south west France.
These notes and recommendations are prompted by a tasting I gave last week to some MW students and for whom the quality and styles of the Manseng-based whites, dry and sweet, were a revelation. As one of them tweeted afterwards: “still thinking about the Mansengs. Such an underrated duo. Time to stock my cupboards before the world finds out”. My sentiments exactly. I fell for the two Mansengs in the late 1980s when I came across Jurançon and haven’t looked back.

Gros and Petit Manseng 
The Mansengs are aromatic, thick-skinned, high-acid varieties. Neither has large berries but those of Gros Manseng are larger – hence the name – as are the bunches themselves. Gros Manseng is also higher yielding and there’s more of it planted (almost three times as much in 2009, according to Wine Grapes). Petit Manseng has thicker skins and produces more intensely flavoured, concentrated wines which have greater finesse and dry on the vines more readily in the autumn to produce, intensely sweet, luscious wines with thrilling acidity.

Gros Manseng: aromatic, intensely fruity; quince, tropical fruit, grapefruit; sometimes spice; medium-high to high acidity. 
Petit Manseng: aromatic, intensely fruity; distinguished from Gros Manseng by apricot, or sometimes white peach, and sometimes floral aromas; quince, citrus; high acidity. 
Petit Courbu: citrus, floral notes, ripe fruit; high acidity. 
Arrufiac: delicate aromas, suppleness; can have a subtle citrus-pith bitterness.

Dry (sec) Pacherenc du Vic Bilh
Pacherenc du Vic-Bihl is the white wine, both dry and sweet, of the Madiran red wine region, although much less white wine is produced. Traditionally the dry wine is Gros Manseng-dominated, with Petit Manseng and Petit Courbu supporting it and very occasionally a little Arrufiac, but Petit Manseng-dominated wines have gained ground. The wines from Château Laffitte-Teston and Château Aydie, below, both contain more Petit Manseng than Gros.

Château Laffitte-Teston Ericka 201, £12.15, The Sampler
Domaine Capmartin 2012, £12.50 Great Western Wine
Château Aydie d’Odé Aydie 2011 (available elsewhere in Europe;

Sweet (moelleux) Pacherenc du Vic Bilh
Predominantly Petit Manseng, usually with some Gros Manseng and sometimes some Petit Courbu, but sometimes 100% Petit Manseng,

Saint-Albert 2011 (Cave de Crouseille), £13.95 for 50cl, Corney & Barrow
Folie de Roi 2010 (Cave de Crouseille, 64350 Crouseilles; 
Château Arricau-Bordes 2010 (Le Chai, 64350 Arricau Bordes; email
Château Aydie 2010 (
Domaine Laougué, Tradition 2011 (

Saint Mont blanc
All Saint-Mont white wine is dry and is a blend of three of the following four varieties: Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, Petit Courbu and Arrufiac. (and all white wine producers must have 20% each of the last three in their vineyards). In practice most blends are predominantly Gros Manseng with some Petit Courbu and Arrufiac, a variety which has made a comeback from near extinction in the 1980s. Less white wine is produced than either red or rosé – a shame. Almost all wine is produced by the co-operative Producteurs Plaimont which pretty well created the appellation in 1981 (a VDQS elevated to PDO in 2011).

Le Passé Authentique 2010, 2011 (Producteurs Plaimont), £9.99, Waitrose,
Le Faite 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011,  (Producteurs Plaimont), £17.00–£18.95,  Weavers of Nottingham, Portland Wine, Bordeaux & Beyond
L’Empreinte de Saint Mont 2010 (Producteurs Plaimont), £13.29, Adnams Cellar & Kitchen
Les Vignes Retrouvées 2010 (Producteurs Plaimont), £10.99, The Smiling Grape Company
Les Hauts de Bergelle blanc 2011 (Producteurs Plaimont), £7.99, Majestic 
Saint-Mont 2011, £7.99, Marks & Spencer

postscript: Petit courbu

Château Montus makes a dry Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh from 100% petit courbu, vintages of I’ve liked very much in the past, but for which I don’t have a sufficiently recent tasting note (Highbury Vintners and Hennings list the 2010 (£25­–£26.50).