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.)
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.