Monday, November 29, 2010

The Wines of Madagascar - Good and Interesting Table Wines (2010)

Picture: Selection of Malagasy Wines in a Malagasy Supermarket

See here for an updated version of this article: The Wines of Madagascar

Food and Wine in Madagascar

Off the eastern coast of Africa, Madagascar in the Indian Ocean is the 4th largest island in the world. Long known for vanilla beans and peppers, you can dine in its capital Antananarivo like in France, but at much, much lower prices and you can drink imported wines, mainly from France and South Africa, as well as – and this comes as surprise to most visitors - good table wine produced locally.

Picture: Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar

Before becoming a sovereign country again in 1960, Madagascar was a French colony for over 60 years. The food in Madagascar is thus French-Malagasy. French food in Madagascar ranges from basic bistro food to high-end restaurant food. The traditional Malagasy food is rice three times a day, for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, with a bit of meat or fish and bok choy type greens. The Malagasy eat this with a spoon and a folk - no knife.

Not well known in the rest of the world, Madagascar produces wine. Malagasy wine tends to be of good table wine quality, not more. I always try to have a bottle of Malagasy wine, when I dine in Madagascar.

For imported wines, practically nothing was available in the 1980s, when I first set foot on the red island. That changed in the following years and French wine started to show up in supermarkets and restaurants. The most recent development is the influx of South African wine, which began perhaps a decade ago, reflecting both the opening up of the Malagasy economy and the export drive of the South African wine industry following the collapse of apartheid.

I have lived in Antananarivo from 1989 to 1992 and have visited Antananarivo since then on average every other year; my last visit was in 2010.

Wine Making in Madagascar

Winemaking in Madagascar started with French colonization. But it really took off only in the 1970s in the framework of Swiss development aid. When the Swiss withdrew a few years ago, however, the wine industry suffered, and it is struggling now to regain its previous strength.

Picture: Grand Cru d'Antsirabe NV

Madagascar’s vineyards are in the highlands, in the area where the Betsileo people live, around the city of Fianarantsoa. The vineyard area now totals 800 hectares. Typically, the vineyards are on steep-terraced slopes and interplanted with pineapples and bananas, alongside with rice paddies and sugar-cane fields.

The winemaking calendar is the one of the southern Hemisphere. Harvest thus takes place in February during the rainy season, which often sees severe tropical cyclones in Madagascar.

Picture: Madagascar

Everything – grape growing, pressing, fermentation and aging – is very basic and unsophisticated in Madagascar, with manual work dominating the whole process. When to harvest the grapes is not decided by using a refractometor and other tools, but just by eating and tasting the grapes. Fermentation takes place in large concrete vats. The grapes are pressed in a mechanical press; the juice is then put into the concrete vats, along with sugar and some chemical, but no yeast, for six months; red wine gets some of the skins left in; no oak-aging here, just concrete vats; hand bottling, hand labeling and hand corking; old bottles are typically reused and you see at the wineries women delabeling and cleaning old wine bottles.

I have not yet found any of the international grapes in Madagascar, like Chardonnay or Merlot. The main grape varities are the Petit Bouchet, Villardin, Chambourcin and Varousset for vins rouge and the Couderc Blanc for vins blanc.

Most winemakers produce one or several brands and these brands typically come as vin rouge, vin gris, vin rose and vin blanc. In addition, you find vin blanc moelleux, a white wine with noticable remaining sweetness. Finally, vins d'aperitif (parfume au coco, l'orange, l'ananas) and eau de vie de vin are produced.

The Main Winemakers of Madagascar

There are currently seven main wine producers in Madagascar. The prices are in Ariary at a retail shop. The current exchange rates are US$ 1 = Ariary 2000 and Euro 1 = Ariary 2500.

S.A. Chan Foui et Fils, Ambalavao

This is a first-wave Chinese. There is currently a large inflow of Chinese into Madagascar. But these second-wave Chinese have to be distinguished from the first-wave Chinese, who came to the country at the end of the 19th and during the 20th century, mostly as forced workers during French colonization and from Mauritius after the collapse of the sugar industry there, are now well integrated into the Malagasy society; they are Malagaches with Chinese roots. S.A. Chan Foui et Fils belongs to this group. He offers 5 lines of brands:

NV Coteaux d’Ambalavao, Cuvee Speciale, vin rouge, 11.5% alc., Ariary 7400
NV Coteau d’Ambalavao, vins rouge and rose, 11.5% alc., Ariary 5400
NV Cote de Fianar, Vin naturel de Ambalavao, it comes as vin rouge, vin rose, vin gris, and vin blanc, Ariary 5800
NV Beauvallon, Vatoavo – Ambalavao, it comes as vin rouge, vin rose, and vin blanc, Ariary 5800
NV Blanc Doux de Maroparasy, Elabore au Vignoble a Ambalavao, a sweet white wine, 13%

Chan Fao Tong, Antsirabe

Viticulteur Encaveur, B.P. 68 Antsirabe, Tel. 48 488 61. Another first-wave Chinese winemaker, who currently produces Madagascar’s best wine, the NV Grand Cru d’Antsirabe:

NV Grand Cru d’Antsirabe, Rouge Alicante, Ariary 11800
NV Grand Cru d’Antsirabe, Rouge Seyve Villard, Ariary 11.800,
NV Grand Cru d’Antsirabe, Rose Viala, Ariary 10300,
NV Grand Cru d’Antsirabe, Gris de Gris, Ariary 10300,
NV Grand Cru d’ Antsirabe, Blanc Couderc, Ariary 10300

Lazan ‘I Betsilio S.A., Fianarantsoa

This is a large wine co-operative, created in 1971, which, with the support of Swiss development aide, used to make the best wine of the country. But, since the termination of the Swiss project, the quality has suffered, the co-operative has encountered financial problems (and had to suspend its activities from 2000 to 2006) and is now trying hard and successfully to get back on track.

The wine co-operative Lazan’I Betsileo currently has 625 members. Their vineyard area accounts for about 40% of Madagascar’s total. They produce about 500.000 liters of wine annually. Lazan means pride in Malagasy.

Lazan ‘I Bestsilio offers one line of products:

NV Lazan ‘I Betsili, Haute Matsiatra, Du raisin au vin par l’amour des paysans du Betsileo, eleve et mis en boutaille par Lazan ‘I Betsileo S.A., Fianarantsoa Madagascar.

It comes as Rouge for Ariary 6300, Rouge Primeur for Ariary 7400, Gris for 6300, Blanc for Ariary 6300 and Blanc Moelleux for Ariary 8600.

Societe Mac et Freres, Ambohimalaza

This winery in Ambohimalaza, about 30 km away from Fianarantsoa, offers one line of products:

NV Clos Malaza

It comes as Rouge, Rose, Gris, Blanc sec, and Blanc doux, for Ariary 7400.
Society Mac et Freres runs a decent web site, with useful background information about their wine portfolio (in French):

Vin blanc sec: Vin blanc tranquille, issu d'un mono cépage, le " Couderc blanc", il est élaboré à basse température. Son caractère frais et tropicale accompagne bien coquillages, crustacés et poissons exotiques. Servir frais à 6 - 7°C.

Vin gris: Robe pelure d'oignon, légère et gouleyant. Idéal en début de repas. A servir entre 8-10°C.

Vin rosé: Style: léger, simple, fruité. Avec une petite note de caractère des cépages rouge dont il est issu, sa robe vire à l'œil de perdrix.

Vin rouge: Style rouge souple, fruité, à consommation rapide. Idéal pour les plats de poulet, viande de bœuf et fromage malgache. Aérer avant de servir.

Vin blanc doux: Style: léger; l'équilibre sucre résiduel - acidité confère au vin son doux caractère "conviviale"et sa première protection. spécialement conseillé pour le foie gras et le roquefort. .

Son vignoble et ses cépages

Le vignoble se situe dans une cuvette à 1400 m d'altitude avec un sol acide, latéritique, sablonneux et argileux. Abrité par la fin des contreforts de l'Isandra, un ensoleillement et un micro-climat bénéfique exigés des grands vins, permettent une récolte stable, saine et l'élaboration d'un vin de qualité supérieure, souple et robuste. Ceci explique également la typicité de nos eaux de vies. Nos vins rouge, rosé, et gris proviennent de raisins sélectionnés et élaborés selon de méthodes de vinifications spécifiques et perfectionnées. Ils ont pour origine des cépages hybrides ayant fait leurs preuves: "Villard noir" proche de "Pinot noir", "Chambourcin", "petit Bouchet", "Villardin" et "Varousset". Tandis que le vin blanc est issu d'un seul cépage : le "Couderc blanc"


Verger – Thonon – Canone Viticulteurs, Domaine de Manamisoa

This winery in Soavita, south of Fianarantsoa, offers 2 lines of products:

NV Château Verger, Grand vins d’Ambalavao, Soavita, Rouge , Ariary 5000 ; the only Malagasy wine that carries « Château » on its label.
NV Rose, Gris, Rouge, Blanc de Manamisoa, 11,5%, Ariary 5000

Malaza Sarl

Malaza Sarl is the only winemaker in Madagascar that currently produces vintage wines. They are all called Cru de Malaza and have 12% alcohol.
2009 Cru Malaza, 12% alc.

It comes as Gris, Rouge and Blanc and sells at Ariary 7900 in the supermarket.

Monastere de Maromby, Fiananarantasoa

The Maromby monastery was founded in 1958 by the abbey of Mont des Cats (France, Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance). One of the founders still lives in Maromby. The community is now almost entirely composed of brothers from Madagascar. Maromby (4 km north of Fianarantsoa) is a small, peaceful village in the vicinity of vineyards. The monks produce wine for their own use and sell it also.

Widely available is the NV Clos Malaza, 12%, Rouge and Blanc, Ariary 7600.

Domaine Lovasoa, Cave de Fianarantsoa Soaindrana

A wine that I have not seen in any of the restaurants in Antananarivo, but in the shelves of the Giant Scrore.

NV Vin de Betsileo Gris, 11.5%, Ariary 5800

Domaine Mendrika, Iharanany, Soaindrana, Fianarantasoa

Another wine that I have not seen in any of the restaurants, which sells under the label

NV Domaine Mendrika for Ariary 6650

This wine comes as Gris, Rouge and Rose.

Schiller Wine - Related Postings

Wining and Dining in Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar – Christian G.E. Schiller’s Private List of Restaurants in Antananarivo


  1. Congrats for this comprehensive review of Madagascar vineyards and wines. Having in mind impressive progress from Chile, Argentina or South-Africa wine industry, with more investment and people training, malagasy wine could reach world class quality.
    Unfortunately, the current political instability and rogue state in charge, no one will invest more in this business. Thanks for this refreshing review, however. Misaotra tompoko!

  2. for all those wines, the most i prefere is Maromby :)