In the shadows of the Pyranees Mountains, the terrain is rough and rugged, yet a durable Basque grape varietal has risen to world prominence and popularity. Tannat is hardy grape that produces deep, dark, dry, rustic wines. Predominantly grown, in the Madiran region of France, vintners have produced some very fine wines. Due to its verstility and popularity to be used as a blending wine, Tannat is now grown in the USA, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. In fact, Tannat is seen as synonymous with Uruguay.
Traditionally, it has been popular to blend Tannat with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Fer Servadou. Due to the soft tannins of Fer Servadou, it is often used to soften Tannat. However, in Uruguay, vintners take a slightly different approach. Tannat is often blended with Pinot Noir or Merlot to create softer, more well-rounded wines.
Today I am joined by friend and fellow sommelier, Kasia Oreiro. We are in Urugugay’s capital city, Montevideo. This vibrant port city is lively and energetic. Montevideo is also renown for its architecture and rich cultural life. Kasia decided to hold our tasting in one of her favorite cafes, the Philomenc. French in style, the atmosphere is cozy and delightful. The Philomenc is a wonderful place to enjoy the ambiance, the people, and of course, the wine.
For our first selection, Kasia decided on a Pisano Rio de Parjos Reserve 2008 is an excellent example of the Uruguayan style. Over the years, the Pisano brothers, Daniel, Eduardo, and Gustavo have been producing some very remarkable wines. The Pisanos, with their wines from Canelones, are among the country’s top vintners. On the eye, the 2008 is deep, dark, and inky. On the nose, the bouquet is dominated with aromas of dark chocolate and coffee, followed by pleasant notes of cedar. On the palate the 2008 has abundant plum, black currant, and minerals. It is a hearty wine with a soft edge. The finish is dry and lightly tannic. The alcohol content is 14% with a bottle price of $18.
“I felt that for those readers who are unfamiliar with our style of Tannat, Pisano is a good wine for a start,” Kasia paused to collect her thoughts. “The wine has plenty of oak and a good balance of acidity and fruit.”
“Definitely a wine that is ready to drink now.”
“As for pairing,” she paused on the moment. “Grilled steak, braised ribs, roasted chicken, cassoulets, and firm aged cheeses.”
Our next selection, Puebla Del Sol 2007 30 Barricas Edition Limitada Tannat, is also from the Canelones appellation. In the glass, it is an appealing dark red striated by violet hues. On the nose, the bouquet is flushed with the aromas of ripe fruit and raisins followed by the light scent of leather and tree bark. The palate is silky textured but with just enough acidity to hold onto its balance. Flavors of berry and plum prevail, almost to the point of being overripe. The finish is layered with licorice and carob. The alcohol content is a bit higher at 14.5% with a bottle price of $25.
“A very jammy and chewy wine.”
“Definitely one to drink now,” I nodded. “With what dishes would you pair this wine?”
“Barbecue pork, grilled chicken, casseroles, rapani,” she paused lightly. “For sure, smoked Gouda cheese.”
Our next selection, Bodegas Carrau 2007 Amat Tannat is a wonderful example of Uruguayan Tannat. In the glass, the color is deep, intense, and almost black. The wine also shows some very long legs. On the nose, the bouquet is dominated by intense earthy tones, followed by hints of cherry, plums, licorice, and leather … all portraying the wine’s complexity. 0n the palate, the 2007 is earthy, complex, and dense, but with ripe tannins. Aging in oak added a nice aroma of fresh tobacco. On the back palate there was a most pleasurable hint of licorice, which gave way to elegance and length on the finish. The alcohol content is 13.5% with a bottle price of $30.
“I would pair this wine primarily with grilled meat, charcuterie, and strong cheeses,” Kasia concluded. “A very easy wine to drink.”
“I liked the wine’s firm structure,” I nodded in agreement. “I would also give it a go with spicy foods.”
For our last selection, Kasia chose a Bouza 2004 Special Barrel Tannat. The Bouza family is one of Uruguay’s most prolific wine producers, and the family has gained international notoriety for the quality of their wines. The 2004 is another wine from the Canelones appellation, and the Special Barrel selection clearly stands on its own. It is 100% Tannat and intensely powerful. In the glass, the wine is a strikingly intense ruby red. On the nose, aging in French oak is clearly evident. The bouquet is toasty with an alluring charcoal smokiness followed by subtle hints of vanilla. On the palate, the wine shows bright fruit, plums, and dried figs followed by light flavors of chocolate and cream. Over all, this wine is nicely balanced with soft tannins and a long and memorable finish. The alcohol content is 15% with a bottle price of $50.
“This is the Tannat I enjoy after a long day,” Kasia giggled under her breath. “And with some smoked Gouda cheese.”
“Yes, a mature cheese would go nicely,” I nodded in agreement. “Many of my friends and colleagues would simply enjoy this remarkable Tannat on its own.”
After several moments of silence, Kasia was first to speak. “Do you still plan to leave Montevideo tomorrow?”
“Unfortunately, duty calls,” I shook my head clearly displaying my regret. “I am booked on the afternoon flight to Istanbul.”
“The wine association and I have a parting gift, and we wish you a safe and speedy return,” Kasia presented me with a bottle of wine.
“An exceptional gift indeed,” I exclaimed knowing full well that a wine of this caliber was in the $120+ price range. “A Familia Deicas 2006 1st Cru d’ Exception Tannat. You and your colleagues are most kind, muchisimas gracias.”
“This wine is from the Juanico region,” she paused for effect. “On your next trip, we shall explore this region.”
“But that my friends, is another story … “