Thursday, August 7, 2014

Choosing Malagasy Wine, in: Bradt Travel Guide Madagascar (Author: Christian G.E. Schiller)

Picture: Bradt Travel Guide Madagascar

The 11th edition of the Bradt Travel Guide “Madagascar” (first published in 1988) was published in July 2014. For the first time, the Bradt Travel Guide “Madagascar” contains a box entitled “Choosing Malagasy Wine”, which I was asked to draft by Daniel Austin and Hilary Brandt, the authors of the 11th edition. The box is based on an earlier posting on schiller-wine: The Wines of Madagascar

Picture: Choosing Malagasy Wine - Christian Schiller

Here is the box.

It is not well known in the rest of the world that Madagascar produces wine. Typically, it tends to be of good table wine quality, not more. The main grape varieties are traditionally Petit Bouchet, Villardin, Chambourcin and Varousset for vins rouge (reds) and the Couderc Blanc for vins blanc (whites). Little known in the world of fine wine, these so-called French-American hybrid grape varieties have the advantage of being robust, but do not match the Vitis vinifera varieties – like Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir – for elegance and refinement. Vitis vinifera varieties dominate worldwide wine consumption, but there is increasing interest in French-American hybrids in the 'green' movement.

Currently seven producers in Madagascar make wine with French-American hybrid grapes. Each winemaker produces one or more brands, each of which typically comes as vin rouge, vin gris (white wine made from red grapes), vin rosé and vin blanc. In addition, you find vin blanc moelleux, a white wine with noticeable remaining sweetness. All these wines are non-vintage (NV) wines.

Antsirabe Viticulteur-Encaveur Chan Fao Tong, a first-wave Chinese winemaker, currently produces Madagascar's best (and most expensive) wine from hybrid grapes: NV Grand Cru d'Antsirabe. It comes as Rouge Alicante (medium bodied), Rouge Seyve Villard (earthy), Rose Viala (good summer wine), Gris de Gris (goes well with Malagasy food) and Blanc Couderc (medium bodied, dry).

Another interesting wine producer is Lazan'i Betsilio, a large co-operative created in Fianarantsoa in 1971. Supported by Swiss development aid, they used to make the best wine of the country. Quality has suffered since that funding project was terminated, but they are now trying hard to get back on track, with some success. Lazan'i Betsilio offers one wine, NV Haute Matsiatra, which comes as Rouge (medium bodied), Rouge Primeur (lighter), Gris (my favorite Malagasy food wine), Blanc (dry, fruity) and Blanc Moelleux (medium sweet white).

In a new development, there is now one winery that is radically different from the others. Owned and run by Pâquerette and Jean Allimant, Clos Nomena exclusively uses noble Vitis vinifera grapes. From 2001, they set up a five-year experimental vineyard in Ambalavao and the four grape varieties that showed the most promising results were selected to be grown commercially. With the first wines released in 2011, Clos Nomena's portfolio now includes a Blanc Sec (dry, fruity, crisp), a Rose (great aperitif wine), and a Rouge (medium bodied, elegant, lingering finish). They are available in Tana's top restaurants and some special shops but at considerably higher prices than traditional Malagasy wines.

Dr. Christian Schiller is a member of the International Federation of Wine and Spirits Journalists and Writers and runs a daily wine blog ( He previously was the IMF resident representative in Madagascar and continues to visit regularly.

schiller-wine: Related Postings

Schiller’s 12 Favorite Restaurants of Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar

A Comprehensive Guide - in Alphabetical Order - to the Restaurants of Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar

A Comprehensive Guide – Ordered by the Number of Stars - to the Restaurants of Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar

The Wines of Madagascar

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

The Wines of Madagascar - Good and Interesting Table Wines

Christian G.E.Schiller’s Private List of Restaurants in Antananarivo That Serve Malagasy Wine

Clos Nomena: Taking the Wine of Madagascar to New Heights

Fine Wine and Fine Oysters in Madagascar: Oysters from Fort Dauphin and Wine from Clos Nomena

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