What is Tannat?

Welcome back to Wine Wednesday!

Tannat Grapes
Tannat Grapes

I’ve been looking forward to writing this post for several months now, because it combines one of my favorite wine grapes with two of my favorite countries.

The Tannat grape, as its name implies, is a highly tannic grape with thick, hearty skin.  It produces some of the boldest, most flavorful wines we have ever tasted.

It’s origins are in the Basque region of France, where it is still cultivated and makes up the bulk of the region’s AOC Madiran wines.  These are excellent wines in and of themselves, but in the 19th century, Basque settlers, most notably Pascual Harriague,  brought the grape to its perfect terroir:  Uruguay.

France and Uruguay have a special affinity to begin with.  Many Uruguayans are of French origin going back to the early 19th century, and it was a French attack on Spain that indirectly led to the Uruguayan war of independence.  Further, France was the first country to recognize Uruguay as an independent nation in 1830. And in our experience, the people are very similar.  In the industrialized world, the nicest people we’ve encountered were in Uruguay, with rural France a close second (the French reputation for rudeness is due mostly to the behavior of Parisians when visitors assume they speak English).

And in Uruguay, the French Tannat thrives. The entire terroir here fits the grape like a glove, and both plantings and production have been increasing annually for over a decade.  The beautiful wineries, often reminiscent of their French counterparts, blend traditional growing and vinification techniques with state of the art technology to produce some truly world class wines (along with some serious swill, as is to be expected).

As a wine producing country, Uruguay is without a doubt the most underrated we have ever encountered. But this is changing, albeit slowly. In fact, the reputation of Uruguayan Tannats has led several U.S. vineyards to start cultivating the grape, and in 2002 the BATF added Tannat to its list of grape varieties that could be made into a varietal wine.  We have never tried a U.S. Tannat, but researching and writing this article has inspired us to start making a serious effort to find some.  Should we succeed, we will definitely write about it here.  And if anyone has any leads for some tasty domestic tannat, we would greatly appreciate it.  Please weigh in below.

In the mean time, if you enjoy really bold, hearty wines, and if you run across a Tannat — whether French, Uruguayan, or North American — you owe it to yourself to give it a try.  And stop by tomorrow for the story of how we first discovered Tannat and Uruguayan wine in general.

Carrau Winery Wines
Carrau Winery Wines

Salud!

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