Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Tannat 'a Ten: Tannat Wines From Uruguay

- Joe Mandrell

There is a movement, albeit nascent, among wine retailers to encourage consumers to consider bottles from far flung regions and to stray with confidence from the beaten track. I would hope I speak for all discerning wine-drinkers when I say that this is a good thing; one cannot live on Claret alone. One of the benefactors of this approach has been Uruguay.

It can’t be easy being Uruguay: hard to spell, tucked away underneath Brazil’s copious girth, and ever-open to the inexpensive “U. R. Gay! Hee hee!” taunt made famous by Homer Simpson. However, like a dwarf on stilts, Uruguay is doing exciting things to overcome its disadvantages. One of these things is producing wines of exciting quality from the tannat grape.

Tannat is historically from South West France, used particularly in the production of Madiran wine. It’s a bit of a bruiser of a grape here, producing very tannic wines with a deep colour, and generally quite a high level of alcohol. In Uruguay, the grapes tend to produce slightly softer wines, with a touch more elegance and softer tannins. They are also successfully blended with other grape varieties (merlot and pinot noir in particular) to round out the finished wine. The following three examples are exciting, and a good introduction to what Uruguay is doing.

Coming in at under a tenner, this is a perfect way to ease yourself into Uruguay. Plump and a little chunky, this has lovely plummy fruit with red and black berries sprinkled in for good measure. Plenty of structure here, but the tannins are well rounded and in lovely harmony with both the ripeness of the fruit and the wine’s acidity. Buy this next time you find yourself mindlessly reaching for a Côtes du Rhône or Claret – you will be pleasantly surprised.

This is a full-bodied, staring-unblinkingly-into-your-in-the-face, intense wine, but with an incongruous freshness and elegance. The fruit is black and juicy, and the tannins are really quite pronounced. This wine is full of…everything: it seems to be bursting at the seams with fruit and tannins; there’s acidity too. It needs food (something meaty and grilled), and, personally, I think it needs to spend five minutes sitting quietly by itself and thinking about what it’s done. That, or just decant it an hour before serving.

No, this is NOT exactly the same
picture, it says merlot in teeeeny tiny
letters on the label!

The most expensive of the three, this blend of tannat and merlot has spent a fair bit of time with oak, and you can tell. There is noticeable vanilla-y oak on the nose - almost sweet in taste and smell. But after a good swirl in the glass, this wine begins to yield absolutely delicious fruit aromas and flavours - ripe, juicy and velvety. The merlot here really does do wonders for the tannat. To continue with The Simpson’s theme: it’s a sobering yin to tannat’s raging yang [substantial cash prize* to the first person to correctly identify the episode from which that quote is taken]. Smoother and with more instant appeal than the pure tannat above, this is quite an accomplished wine. I think it would also age very well in the short-term; feel free to leave it alone for a couple of years.

There you have it – a whistle-stop tour of a little bit of Uruguay. Next time you see a bottle in your friendly local wine merchant, cooperative or supermarket, try something new – give Uruguay a go.

[*There is no prize]

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