Believed to have been brought to France from the Basque region of Spain, and noted for its thick skin and extremely high tannin levels, Tannat - in keeping with the rugged, mountainous landscape from which it originates - delivers dark, bold and pleasingly rustic wines which demand attention.
Much has been written about this grape from a health perspective - its high levels of anti-oxidants (even for a red wine), often cited to be of benefit in the prevention of various diseases. However, Tannat’s defining tannic nature, can be perceived harshly in its wines, and as such various techniques have been used to curb its causticity and render the subsequent wines more approachable in youth.
In France, the variety is typically blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and / or Fer Servadou to soften tannic astringency, and it has also become the norm for Tannat wines to enjoy a period of prolonged ageing in oak with the goal of taming the tannins, enhancing complexity and bringing a subtle sweetness to the wines. More recently, the process of micro-oxygenation was developed to mimic the effects of barrel maturation but over a shorter space of time. A good French Tannat might be described as intense in colour and well-balanced, with an attractive rustic character.
The new world wine-makers of Uruguay deploy a different approach with this grape. Rather than blending with other, mildly less tannic varieties like the French, vignerons here are looking to the very antithesis of Tannat when searching for a blending partner. In its adopted South American home - where it was first introduced in the nineteenth century - the Tannat grape is vinified both as a varietal wine and in a blend, where it is regularly paired with fruit-forward, lighter, more rounded varieties such as Merlot and Pinot Noir. There is a distinction here between the Tannats produced from ‘old vines’ - that is descendants of the original cuttings, and the ‘new vines’ that tend towards more powerful, high-alcohol wines. Nevertheless, a typical Uruguayan Tannat is lively, rich in colour, and characterised by dark fruit flavours and firm structure.