By Justin Taylor

On occasion you notice a wine listing a varietal that you have never heard of, and the excitement that ensues is what defines that joy of wine discovery. It is the temporary vacation you get to take in your mind that establishes a sense of place and character, all conveyed by something as simple as wine. The inspiration for this article is from the last issue of Wine and Vine Trivia, and it concerns a grape varietal that is synonymous with the plant compound tannins. With a home in both the New and Old World, Tannat is a great wine to explore in 2017.

The wine regions tucked in and among the hills west of Toulouse, France show an incredible amount of versatility in wine style and varietal. Many of the historical grapes grown here are believed to be native to the region, which is why they maintain some degree of obscurity. Known as one of Gascony’s powerful red wines, Tannat is a grape that makes firm, powerful, and dark red wine. Ironically, it can be blended with Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon to help soften the blend from its extremely dry character. Winemakers in this region have found a few production techniques such as micro-oxygenation and heavy incorporation of new oak which help tame the tannins in Tannat. When looking for a classic source of French Tannat, the region of importance is named Madiran.

The New World region who claimed Tannat for their leading red grape seems obscure until you research the historical immigrant population of Uruguay. When former residents of southwest France and northeast Spain immigrated to Uruguay, some of them brought regional grapes with them. One of those called Harriague, later identified as Tannat, has developed a new image in this part of the world. More sun and drier growing conditions have allowed growers to produce wines that are much more fruit forward and softer on the palate than their French counterparts. Many of the original vines brought by immigrants have died off due to local disease pressure, the replanting to Tannat means the varietal has a new home.

As we have thoroughly covered the answer to last issue’s trivia question, the current trivia questions is: Which of Uruguay’s neighboring countries show a vastly expanding wine industry based on 80% American hybrid varietals?

Justin Taylor is Assistant Winemaker at Burntshirt Vineyards, Hendersonville, NC.