Saturday, July 16, 2011

Tough Guy Tannat

Contrary to popular belief, Michel Rolland is not responsible for the development of the modern winemaking technique of micro-oxygenation. Mons. Rolland just over-advises its practice to produce cookie cutter, 90 point wines. Whatever. In 1990, while trying to tame the tannins in the varietal known as Tannat , Patrick Ducournau developed the micro-oxygenation process, which allows winemakers to deliver precise and controlled levels of oxygen to a wine at various stages of the winemaking process,.

Tannat is a tough grape. It can handle high heat, drought (to an extent), tough soils and tough winemaking. The skin is thick and royal purple in color. It can take some abuse and dish it out to. Winemakers from Basque have been trying to tame this beast of a grape for centuries. With origins in the Madiran AOC of France it’s often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Fer to tame its legendary astringency. But few realize the resulting wine’s potential once it hits the bottle. How many collectors actually have a stash of 15 year old Madiran in the corner? Guilty as charged. Perhaps Uruguay can change that.

Basque settlers brought Tannat to Uruguay in the 19th century. Pascual Harriague is credited with the introduction. In Uruguay the grape is called Harriague. Wonder why. It thrives in the warmer climates and soil of its new home and is now the most important grape grown in Uruguay. There are some talented winemakers making their way there for good reason. When treated just right, 100% Tannat can offer such incredible depth and complexity, it would make a California Cabernet or Bordeaux lover stand on their head. These winemakers have figured out that 20 months in oak and 6 months in the bottle does wonders for Tannat.  Rather than tinker with micro-oxygenation and blendings, these producers have found that time is the best technique. It yields a wine that is soft yet full-bodied, complex and showcases a marvelous finish.  While I have no doubt many of the best examples of Tannat from Uruguay will mature quite nicely, it’s not necessary to wait 10 years or even 5 to enjoy these wines. They are wonderful in their youth and perhaps can serve as a protective barrier between your prized cellar and a momentary lapse of reason, a state of affairs I’m sadly well familiar with.

Most of us can’t afford to drink ’66 Latour, ’97 Signorello or an ’82 Margaux (one of my personal favorites) on a regular basis. Of course, if you follow certain people on Twitter it may sometimes seem like too many people actually can. You know who you are. But $12, $15, $20, even $30 is not that much of a stretch for a terrific bottle of wine. $30 will get you a tremendous bottle of Tannat from Uruguay. It sometimes seems like $30 gets you a whole lot of marketing from California and not much substance (relax CA, I said sometimes). Many suppliers have not yet embraced Tannat from Uruguay. It’s a risky endeavor. A quick flip through the CT beverage media will turn up with just a handful of labels registered in CT. But with recent new entries that have been successful, here’s hoping more suppliers will recognize the value offered by these great wines and start to bring more into the country. If they do, Tannat could become the next Malbec or Shiraz. But let’s leave the goofy slogans out this time (Mr. Graham) #whatstannatlike.

Recommend Wines:
Vinedos De Los Vinetos Tannat 2007
Vinedos De Los Vinetos Tannat Eolo Gran Reserva 2006
Domaine Monte de Luz Carquera Tannat 2009
Domaine Monte de Luz Tannat Reserva 2007
Bodegas Castillo Viejo Tanant Reserve 2008

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