Category: Booze

Wine reviews, pairings, events, and getaways

Let’s Talk (and taste) Tannat

Let’s Talk Tannat

Time for a little Tannat 101. Tannat is a red grape that grows in large bunches, though the berries themselves are small-ish in size. Tannat is a relatively “easy” grape to grow. Because of its thick skins, it’s less susceptible to frost and cold temperatures, diseases, and mildew. It’s also easy to manage; the grapevines are not prone to overproduction, so vineyard owners don’t need to constantly trim excessive fruit clusters nor any bushy greenery. The grape originates from the South West of France in the Madiran AOC, on the eastern side of the Pyrénées. Here, because of the mountainous terroir and extremely cool (often downright frosty) temperatures, the Tannat wine produced is characterized by its firm, tannic structure, full body, dark color, and high alcohol content. Accordingly, modern winemaking in the region has begun to emphasize the use of more new oak aging, spending at least 20 months in barrels before bottling.

But the truth is that there isn’t a lot of Tannat growing in France any longer. Instead, it’s Uruguay who’s taken over Tannat grape-growing and wine production. Here, the weather is warm and dry, but because of the proximity to the ocean, Tannat benefits from maritime air and marine-influenced soils (read: softer, well-drained soils). The affect on the wine: softer tannins, mellower acidity, and richer fruit notes. (Decanter has an interesting article about Uruguay’s wine production and focus on Tannat.)

Courtesy of welcomeuruguay.com

But it’s not just South Africa who’s learned to tame the tannic beast. Here in America, certain parts of the West Coast seem well-suited enough to grow the hearty grape — from chilly, coastal California to some of Oregon’s warmest valleys.

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Y. Rousseau 2013 Alder Springs Vineyard Tannat “The Musketeer”

No one knows Tannat like Yannick Rosseau. He grew up surrounded by the vines in the grape’s — and his — French home in Gascony. He drank his first wine, brewed by his grandfather, at the age of 5, and immersed himself in wine education in every way possible thereafter. But it’s more than one’s heritage and even one’s knowledge that distinguishes a talented winemaker. Yannick’s artistic ability to tame the tannic beast that is Tannat with subtle elegance and poise not only uplifts the fruit’s palate profile, but elevates the complete drinking experience.

“I bring my French training and approach to winemaking and apply them to the extraordinary single-vineyard terroirs of Northern California…I like to think my wines are soulful and distinctive, and I hope you will agree with me once you’ve tasted them.” — Yannick Rousseau (owner & winemaker, Y.Rousseau wines)

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Foursight Wines 2014 Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir

I’m going to start this post with stating the fact that this Pinot Noir is amazing. Now, I’m going to spend the rest of the time telling you why. After tasting a wine, I research who made it and where it comes from to figure out why I experienced what I did during my tasting. In doing so, the family behind Foursight Wines taught me a new word: monopole.

Bill and Nancy Charles, along with their daughter Kristy Charles and son-in-law Joe Web craft only 100% estate wines from their very own Charles Vineyard in Anderson Valley — a vineyard the small crew mans themselves on a daily basis. With just about 15 acres planted to vines, the Charles’ are extremely focused. And while they do produce a single-bottle Semillon and grow a bit of Sauv Blanc for blending, it’s clear that the main focus is Pinot Noir. 
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Odonata Wines 2013 Falcon Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir

There are over 200 vineyards located within the Santa Cruz Mountains — but you’d never know it. With the area’s rocky terrain, steep slopes, and endless forest landscape, sprawling fields are less common than in other major wine regions. But its these mountainous characteristics that give Santa Cruz grapes their signature concentration, the wines a certain rusticity. Here, Pinot Noir leaves behind the coastal climate stereotypes, amending itself to something that can be altogether brawny, tannic, and age-able.

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Ramey Wine Cellars 2014 Platt Vineyard Pinot Noir

In my small wine world, I certainly depend on the kindness of winemakers. I feel honored, privileged, yet altogether humbled by the opportunity to taste an expressive Pinot Noir sourced from the prestigious Platt Vineyard, produced by the renowned David Ramey.

David Ramey is a name known all around our Napa/Sonoma Wine Countries — and I’m sure everywhere else as well. After completing his Masters in enology from UC Davis, David started his young career by traveling abroad to France. He names his first job with Jean-Pierre Moueix in Pomerol and his time cellar-ratting in Burgundy as some of the major highlights and influences of his early winemaking life. Back in California, David moved on to work for such major players as Simi, Matanzas Creek, and Chalk Hill. But it was his decision to become the first winemaker for Dominus Estates (owned by Christian Moueix, of Pétrus) that made him realize all that he had learned and all that he was capable of. “I never dreamed of owning my own winery,” David says. Oh how dreams do change.

In 1996 he and his wife Carla founded Ramey Cellars, after Moueix agrees to let David “make a little Chardonnay on the side.” Sourcing from Hyde Vineyards, the couple celebrates their first harvest, custom crushing at Luna Vineyards, and producing their first 260 cases. Today Ramey Wine Cellars produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet, and even a bit of Syrah — producing, well, much more than 260 cases.

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