Tannat was born in 1783 in the southwest region of Madiran, France. Here, it was firm and powerful, with skins so tannic winemakers had to limit maceration (time the juice spends on the skins during fermentation). On one hand, Tannat’s skins are packed with more antioxidents than other red wines. On the other, it can be so bitterly astringent that one Madiran winemaker, Patrick Ducournau, developed the process of micro-oxygenation, adding controlled amounts of oxygen to the wine while it ferments, to soften it up. A lot of people got tired of all that work and started to use Tannat as a blending grape. Soon, Bordeaux and Burgundy varieties gained popularity and Tannat faded off into the background.
Much like a frustrated teenager, Tannat got tired of being misunderstood and packed its bags, setting out to discover a bright new future. And it did. In Uruguay, where it is now the national grape. Take that Mom. I mean, France. Uruguay works for Tannat because the average temperature and rainfall is higher there than in Bordeaux and southern France. Winemaker Santiago Deicas states that Tannat vines need humidity to reach their full potential. A lot of grapes do well under water stress which can actually lead to richer, more concentrated flavor. Where other varieties can go back to normal after periods of stress, once Tannat blocks the nutrients to its berries it is irreversible. This is why Tannat only develops well in very particular climates. As winemaker Reinaldo de Lucca says, “We didn’t choose Tannat, Tannat chose us!”
There are two different styles of Tannat in Uruguay. The first is the traditional style, which is heavily extracted giving it a deep, almost black color and very high tannins. This style is aged in new oak and has great body, structure, and aging potential for up to 50 years! The modern style is lighter and fruitier, aged without oak, and released young. These wines are easier drinking, though Tannat will always have a higher level of tannins.
The wine I chose was a 2011 Vina Progreso “Suenos de Elisa” Open Barrel Tannat. This wine is made by Gabriel Pisano who specializes in experimental wines with Tannat and other grapes of Uruguay. He grew up learning wine in his family’s winey, Pisano, where he created the country’s first sparkling Tannat using the traditional champagne method. He developed Vina Progreso as his own project where he could continue to perfect new methods of winemaking. This particular wine is made in open barrel fermentation, giving the wine exposure to more oxygen, and is quickly being adopted by other winemakers in the area. The artwork on each label is incredible, done by his Aunt Elisa, to reflect his unique, creative style.
And wow is this wine incredible! It’s full of rich black fruit, plum and blackberry, with earthy forest floor, and vanilla and baking spice from the oak. The ten years of age on this wine have made the tannins delicate and jucy. I kept going back to my glass finding new things to taste and smell, like purple flowers or what I like to call “dirt in a good way.” I first tried the wine with a charcueterie and cheese plate as I was cooking dinner and it was absolutely perfect with salami and proscuitto.
For the main course, I decided to pair it with Carne Asada and Chimichurri Sauce. The fattiness of the steak would pair well with the tannin structure of the wine as well as the flavorful garlic and cilantro sauce. This pairing definitely worked, but I have to say, the pairing with the charcueterie was my favorite! Something about the slightly oily, fatty salami made it the perfect partner for my rich, earth Tannat. I kept going back for more as the pair danced together in my mouth.
I highly recommend trying this wine if you can find it. I bought it from a local wine shop, but you can also try wine-searcher.com. Or branch out and try other producers of Tannat on your own. I’d love to hear about the jewels you find in the comments below! Cheers!