“Tannat Russian River Valley is made to introduce people to the world of Tannat,” says Yannick Rousseau, owner and winemaker at Y.Rousseau Wines. Indeed, with grapes harvested from the temperate, friendly terroir of Sonoma’s valley floor and a little love from blending a bit of California-based varietals, there’s no better way to dip your toe into Tannat. But what the heck — let’s just dive right in…
Tannat — an often forgotten grape varietal, one that is rarely seen in a single-varietal bottling. It’s thick-skinned, tannic, acidic, and a gothic shade of purple. To look at it, you may think angry thoughts — and to prevent those angry thoughts when drinking, winemakers often blend Tannat with the more voluptuous Cabernet Franc or Merlot — or, in Uruguay, even Pinot Noir. (Learn more about the origins of Tannat.)
But there seems to be a recent turn of events. Maybe it’s because the warm-weathered Uruguay has adopted the lonely variety as their heritage grape. Maybe it’s because “weird” wine is now some kind of fad. Or maybe, maybe, winemakers and drinkers alike have discovered that there’s no need to be afraid of the dark. Remember,
“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
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.)
But it’s not just South America 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.
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)