Have you heard of Tannat? The hearty red wine is great with summer barbecue and a welcome change of pace from more popular varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.
A wine with plenty of muscle, Tannat can stand up to just about anything. It’s a fearless wine that likes to take gamey meats and heavy roasts head-on. For a while, it was used as a blending wine but thanks to a breakout run in South America, it’s become a standalone red with its own identity.
Tannat hails from the southwest of France where it continues to be pretty widely planted and produced. But it never quite gained the traction of the more celebrated reds from Bordeaux, Burgundy, or the Loire. Dubbed a bit harsh on the palate by many French producers, Tannat was often blended with Cab Franc or Cab Sauvignon to tone it down.
In the 18th century, Tannat made its way to Uruguay. The climate proved extremely suitable and the grape went on to become the country’s most planted and celebrated. In Uruguay, it’s known as Harriague, and tends to be a bit more refined than the Tannat coming out of elsewhere. Other South American countries have embraced the grape, along with a few American states like Texas, Virginia, California, and more.
There’s no overplaying Tannat’s might. It’s even bigger than other bold varieties like Petit Syrah and Mourvèdre. It’s chewy like a good Barolo, with tons of tannin and a pretty high alcohol content (the word tannin is widely believed to be derived from the varietal’s name). Tannat is the kind of wine you can almost cut with a knife. But just because it likes to play at volume eleven does not mean Tannat is necessarily overwhelming.
The best Tannat wine is often driven by raspberry and plum flavors, with anise, espresso, and baking spice characteristics. It can age for a very long time in barrel and can sometimes show a smoky element, a bit in the vein of Tempranillo or Malbec, making it grill-ready and excellent alongside smoked meats and vegetables. And it can be surprisingly elegant, despite ABV levels around or sometimes more than 15 percent.
Want to dive in? Here are a few to try:
Fully loaded with black cherry and cola notes, this Tannat hails from Spotsylvania, Virginia. The towering wine was aged 25 months in the barrel, primarily neutral with some American wood. Try it with smoked ribs.
Tannat is taking off in Texas and Westcave’s work is part of that story. The Johnson City winery was one of the first in the state to fully embrace estate Tannat on its own, in all of its glory. This one is big and lasting, with nice jam and licorice flavors. It’s a small-production affair that tends to sell out rather quickly.
It simply wouldn’t be a proper Tannat list without at least one selection from its global capital, Uruguay. The Bouza is made in Montevideo and is a great example of the still-rising potential of this variety here. It’s firm but articulate, great on its own but all the better with lamb.
This French label makes some mean cuvées that showcase Tannat at the forefront of the blend. The region’s soils and elevation lead to well-rounded fruit and wines that are surprisingly bright.
This inky West Coast wine is wonderfully textured, with loads of red fruit and a deep, persistent finish. It’s fantastic with a rustic pasta made with rabbit or wild boar. The southern Oregon label even does a sparkling Tannat in the pét-nat style.
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