John B. Reyna
There Is No Reason To Not Tannat
Updated: Jul 13, 2020
What wine related word does Tannat remind you of? Tannin, perhaps?
This thick-skinned and highly seeded varietal is known for its strong tannin character, which has lots of positives:
1. Adaptable to many climates
2. Resistant to disease and pests
3. Full of antioxidants, making it as healthy as grapes come
4. Ages well
Though it's been enjoyed for centuries in France and Uruguay, Tannat has only gained popularity in the US in the last few years. Great news for you because that means you can find amazing bottles at very reasonable prices.
Tannat is unique in both how tough the grape is and its distinctive blackberry flavor. This deep purple wine often tastes and smells of black plum, liquorice, dark chocolate, cardamom, and smoke. Tannat sets the bar for high tannins, with medium plus acidity and body.
Given the boldness of flavors and tannic pucker of your face, you need an equally bold, rich, and fatty food to pair with Tannat. Of course, grilled and roasted meats are going to go with the big red, but it can also pair with pungent cheeses and spicy cuisine.
Tannat's original home is Madiran, France. Madiran has been producing wine since Gallo-Roman times (~300 AD). Being in southwest France, Madiran depends on the Bayonne port near the Atlantic border of Spain in the heart of Basque country. As the Gascony province’s main red wine region (also the home of Armagnac, for our fellow brandy lovers), there are beautiful rolling hills along the River Adour. It is relatively dry with clay and limestone soil throughout the AOC, which only produces red wine.
Like much of France, the winemakers in Madiran play with blending other French varietals, including Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The AOC requires 60% Tannat, with the top cuvee’s getting up to 100% Tannat because they want the true tannic expression (and they love their Tannat. Why should you not?). However, de-stemming is required to keep the tannins in check since grape stems are tannic and their inclusion could result in abrasive wines.
In contrast to much of France, Madiran winemakers like to experiment with wine making techniques trying to perfectly tame the tannin. The challenge of softening the vigorous tannins leads to varying degrees of new oak and deliberate oxygenation and micro-oxygenation methods.
Because of Tannat's high tannins and the wine-making methods described above, French Tannat matures fantastically well and aging is highly recommended.
In comparison to Madiran's South American counterpart, which we discuss below, you’ll find more red fruit flavors like raspberry and tighter tannins.
Starting back in 1870, the Basque immigrants began bringing Tannat with them, rebranding it Harriague. The original Harriague vines have been lost due to viruses (no phylloxera here, though). Over time, they have been replaced by vines imported from France, which they now refer to as Tannat to distinguish them.
Uruguay's geography and climate are perfect for creating a distinct style of Tannat. Given the wet climate, similar to Bordeaux, Uruguayan Tannats are juicer and more velvety than their Madiran cousins. Uruguayan Tannats have softer tannins and aging the wine is not as vital as it is with French Tannat. Uruguayan Tannats usually have more expressive black fruit flavors.
Tannat currently consumes 1/3 of Uruguayan vineyards and has been named the national grape of Uruguay. The vineyards are fairly flat along the coast and face south, receiving Antarctic currents. The cool breeze keeps ripening slow and acidity in check.
Many of the other varietals grown in Uruguay, including Merlot, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Pinot Noir, as well as white varietals such as Viogner, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, and Torrentes, are blended to help complement Tannat’s tannic structure.
Lastly, Uruguayans are South Americas most dedicated wine drinkers per capita, which explains why they keep their exports relatively low – a mere 5%.
Wine Regions of Uruguay
Uruguay is only the size of Washington State and it's vineyards are concentrated along the coast line stretching from the Argentinean to Brazilian border. Being the wine-lovers that they are, vineyards are planted in every province.
Two-thirds of the country's producers reside in Canelones, though many are small, family run wineries. Not only are there are rolling hills with a perfect a ocean breeze and fertile clay soil, but it's right outside Uruguay's largest city, Montevideo—both the capital and home to a third of the countries population.
Next, there is the up and comer, Maldonado. Uruguay's largest producer, Bodega Garzón, resides here. It is slightly cooler with rockier soils. And, there are several beach resorts. Wait, we could honeymoon and do both?
Domaine Du Moulie, 2016 Tannat, Madiran, France $15
For our French representation, we enjoyed flavors of black cherry, blueberry, blackberry, liquorice, sage, and jamminess, with lingering mushroom and forest floor from the age of the wine. The winemakers use of oak provided notes of vanilla, clove, and cedar. As expected, this wine had medium plus acid and high smokey tannins. The ABV of 14% assisted with the the medium plus body followed by a medium minus finish of about 20 seconds.
Pisano RPF, 2015 Tannat, Canelones, Uruguay, 2015 $23
This 100% Uruguayan Tannat boasted flavors eucalyptus, anise, blackberry, plum jam, and cooked blackberry. The oak and bottle time brought mushroom, toast, vanilla, and cedar. Again, we had medium plus acid with high leathery tannin. This was definitely a full-bodied representation of Tannat at 14% ABV that would make any cab drinker fall on love. The enjoyable medium finish lasted about half a minute.
Alto De La Ballena Reserve, 2015 Tannat-Viogner, Maldonado, Uruguay $28
This blend comes in with 85% Tannat and 15% Viogner, which adds wonderful floral characteristics. The nose hit with blooming violets and tasted of blackberry, currants, plum, cardamom, liquorice, and green bell pepper. The time in new oak left flavors of intense cedar. This wine had medium plus acid with high barky tannin. There was a full juicy blackberry body with 14% ABV. Finally, the wine ended with a medium chocolate and cinnamon filled finish that lasted about 30 seconds.
Pisano Arretxea Grand Reserve, 2011 Tannat, Canelones, Uruguay $40
Okay, I splurged a bit to get to try one with real age. This wine is 97% Tannat with 3% Petit Verdot with a whole lot going on. We got flavors of fresh grass, fennel, and black plum. The time in barrel brought out clove and all sorts of brown spices. The maturity of this wine gave it flavors of leather, tar, dried blackberry, wet leaves, barnyard, and tobacco. Again, we enjoyed the medium plus acid and high gamy tannin. This wine showed medium plus body coming in at 13.5% ABV. There was a smokey medium plus finish lasting the better part of a minute.
Well, now that you know, to not Tannat would be a waste of amazing wine in the ~$25
price-point. Go enjoy those silky tannins and plethora of flavors you are guaranteed with this truly unique varietal. Cheers!
Sending big red love,