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The Tannat Grape

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About Tannat

(Synonyms: Bordeleza Belcha, Harriague, Madiran, Madiron, Maidiran, Moustrou, Moustroun, Tanat, Tannat Gris, Tursan Noir.)


Map showing the Madiran wine region of France

Tannat is a red-wine grape originating in the Madiran region of France, but now important as grown in Uruguay, where it is that nation's signature wine grape; in its home region, it continues to be grown, but those wines are not major players on the international scene. Tannat is generally considered one of the dozen and a half or so of world-class red-wine grapes (those in boldface in the dropdown varietals lists near the top of the page). Other regions are beginning to experiment with Tannat, both in South America and in the U.S., but Uruguay remains the chief source. In the U.S., Texas is emerging as a hotbed of Tannat activity, and Virginia is showing some stirrings, too; California, of course, also has entries.

The very name of the grape means "tannin", and the wines are typically very dark and, yes, tannic (owing mainly to the unusually thick skins and high seed count of Tannat grapes). When made in the Madiran, Tannat is commonly blended with other wines to soften its tannic astringency. More recently, vintners there have experimented with using more oak for softening, and more recently yet, with "micro-oxygenation", the use of oxygen aeration during the fermentation process. Another change in the Madiran has been the replacement of older Tannat vines with newer clones that are intended to be more appealing on the international scene, meaning that they produce softer wines of higher alcohol content. Meanwhile, the Uruguayan vines are still mostly the older, original clones brought over from France, so we have the ironic situation of the New World plantings being the older, more traditional clones while the Old World plantings are less distinctively varietal and more "internationalized" (read "less characterful").

The Uruguayan climate also seems especially favorable to the Tannat vine, which ripens better and, though of the older clones, produces wines more accessible than the monsters old Madiran bottlings tended to be. Nevertheless, "progress" (meaning saleability) is hard to resist, and many Uruguayan vintners are now planting the newer Madiran clones to better appeal to mass international tastes. It is thus helpful, with Uruguayan Tannats, to know whether the winemaker is using older or newer vines.

In general, Tannat wines typically taste of dark red fruit, raspberry usually being mentioned in descriptions, though blueberry is also cited, especially for the Uruguayan types.

Owing to its high tannin levels, Tannat is sometimes touted (even above red wines in general) for supposed health benefits, the longevity of Madiran residents occasionally being cited in "evidence". It is less clear what reliable medical sources believe.

Factoid: Tannat is associated with the Madiran region of France, but may actually have arisen in the Basque country just the other side of the Pyrenees Mountains from Madiran.

Some Descriptions of Tannat Wines

Some Tannats to Try

(About this list.)

We include here a number of Uruguayan Tannats, plus an Argentine specimen, and a couple of French Madiran reds. We would have liked to include one or two more Madirans, but it was hard to find any generally recommended ones within our price limitation. As to American examples, almost all were above our $20 limit (many by quite a bit); the few that weren't were either not much recommended or very scarce—perhaps worth seeking, but not for listing on a list of specimens to try. It seems like the Stagnari winery is the class of the Uruguayan field (and not just for Tannat), but their wines are virtually unavailable in the U.S. (though supposeldy imported into Florida).

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
Berthoumieu "Cuvée Charles de Batz" Madiran
(Madiran, France. Typically cut with c. 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
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• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.

Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Charles de Batz is [Didier Barré's] top cuvée, a blend of 90% Tannat and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon made from very old vines hand harvested and aged for 12 months in new oak barrels. . . This is a great wine, dark concentrated and brooding with aromatic black fruit, smoke and spice on the nose. The palate is rich and dry with deep black fruit, round spice, sweet oak spice, espresso, mocha, surprisingly smooth tannins and a touch of bitter chocolate. I liked the firmness that it shows now, but it will soften and become more complex for quite a few years yet. A lovely classic food wine that will appeal to lovers of claret and Syrah - 91/100 points.

[This] is Tannat blended with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. So deeply colored it will stain your teeth purple, this is an irresistible wine with all the force of character you'd expect from a top Madiran and this wild and beautiful region. It's also beautiful winemaking from Didier Barre. . . Rich and forceful.

Tannat with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, this comes from 50-year-old vines and spends 12 months in new barriques. Rich, dark, black plum and olive, very sinewy and tight, with a blue/black richness and edge of woodsmoke, lovely concentration. The palate is dry and savoury, with a tight, meaty intensity and lovely tannin and acid balance that keeps it fresh. 91/100.

A huge wine, both in its shiny black colour and its juicy, spicy and savoury taste. There's a deep plum, prune and currant fruit richness, a whack of power-packed firm dry tannins and a suggestion of tobacco. You know you've had a real grunter when you've swallowed a mouthful of this sumptuous drop.

One of my favourite makers from my favourite appellation. Didier Barre, considered one of the best vignerons of the area treated us to a wonderful tasting in June 2010. This wine, a premium cuvee named after the real life D'Artagnan is a good example of the Tannat grape. The wine includes 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and is deep red with a spicy nose of black and red fruits. This delivers in the mouth with a deep, smooth texture with black fruit and briar flavours and a hint of pepper. May improve for a couple of years yet, the bonus being the price.

It goes without saying that tannic wines are, by necessity, food wines, but it bears repeating. If anything, madiran is not a cocktail wine. Unless that cocktail was some type of steak spritzer, or a cassoulet and coke. This is the stuff to cut right through something nice and fat, something grilled, something rich with flavor. Something to think about on those philosophical sundays when the sun is about to set and the weekend is bracing you once again for what is to come.

I figured I'd throw in a young, locally available Madiran as well just for everyone to get to try a young one. Per advice from the distributor, it was opened and decanted for over a couple of hours before service. Despite it being a bit tight and hard compared to the 14-15 year-old bottles, I found it surprisingly approachable and drinkable at this early stage (good focus and notable structure) . . . In this connection, Bernie told me a week later that, in his experience, the Charles de Batz wines mature faster than than those of Bouscassé and Montus [other Madiran vintners].

Many of the improvements to the Madiran style are credited to Alain Brumont of Châteaux Bouscassé and Montus, but I’m also particularly fond of a domaine that learned from his methods, Domaine Berthoumieu, whose top wine, Cuvée Charles de Batz, is a great example of what modern Madiran can be.

Château Peyros "Vieilles Vignes" Madiran
(Madiran, France. This is typically cut with c. 20% Cabernet Franc.)

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• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.

Some quotations and facts about this wine:

On the southern edge of Madiran, Château Peyros has exceptional rocky vineyards. That gives this seriously structured wine a mineral nuance, framing the dark, very firm and tannic character. The fruit, bold and black, is still under the surface of a wine that needs at least 7–8 years to soften. 92 points.

This full-bodied wine is a blend of 60% Tannat and 40% Cabernet Franc from 40-plus year-old vines. Deep purple in the glass, initial aromas of dark plum, blackberry and cedar unfold to reveal layers of peppermint and coffee. Fully ripe dark fruit and black berry flavors coat the palate along with notes of bitter chocolate and spice, sustained by a generous acidity and firm tannins into a long, structured finish. An earthy, slightly rustic red to be enjoyed with hearty fare; think beef, lamb and game.

♣ Wine Spectator (2009), 88

♣ Jancis Robinson (2009), 16/20

Intense dark color with garnet-red glints. Powerful nose of vanilla and blackberry, with notes of minerality and spice. Well balanced with a strong, round attack. Beautiful tannic structure combining fruit and wood. Strong aromatic persistence.

It is a delicious wine whose richness is matched by great texture and big, juicy fruits. It has plenty of tannins, but they meld easily into the rich ripe fruits, leaving a wine with a structure that offers considerable potential. The wine was rated 92 points by Wine Enthusiast and became a TopShelf - Cellar Selection.

Dark ruby. Deep, excellent nose of dark cherry, black raspberry, cassis/tar, blueberry, tons of leather, and chalky earth, with a bit of aromatic roses, orange rind, cedar, and vanilla. Similar on the palate, with black cherry, austere blackberry, cassis/tar, some juicy blueberry, liquid leather, orange rind, roses. Cab Franc comes through with cedar and vegetal tobacco leaf. The fruit is low key but with remarkable density, and with a remarkable balance between leather and aromatics. Drying, puckery, chalky tannis. Attractive tartness balanced with density. May need more time to show its best. Can go another 10 years, perhaps. 80-20 Tannat-Cab Franc. ***

Deeply colored, full-bodied and somewhat brooding with fairly gripping tannins. Earthy and savory with ample fruit flavor with layers of spice, clove and licorice and fairly lingering earthy finish.

There are two Madiran red wines in particular that strike my fancy: [an unfindable one]; and 2003 Chateau Peyros Ville Vignes Madiran. Both are teeth-stainers, rustic, and filled with dark berry fruits (blackberries, blackcurrants, black cherries, etc.), plums and offer a touch of vanilla given up by the oak barrels they age in. The herbs and spices will tickle you pink as each sip reveals a new flavor. . . To my palate, the Peyros is destinct in its own right, offering up a unique, delicious and intriguing earthy/stoney minerality.

[Google-translated from French:] The technical details are interesting here: the average age of vines 45 years, very reasonable yield of 43 hectoliters/hectare, long maceration of 20 days, raising 14 to 16 months with 40% new barrels and all that .... for wine $ 17.95 But it worth it? Well I would say that this wine somewhere made ​​me think a bit (probably because of Cabernet Franc) at Château Cheval Blanc, which costs about 40 times more expensive. I am not saying that is the equal of the great wine .... it only airs family and it is not 40 times worse. Not bad, is not it? Tasting Notes: Dark red garnet, deep and elegant nose of red and black fruits (blackberry and cassis) wrapped in spices and vanilla, the attack is very soft and melted, mouth following, round, powerful and balanced, tight tannins and for participating in a conventional structure which will make this wine a pleasant companion several quality dishes (tartare, turkey, lamb, beef, duck, etc..) long lingering finish that vibrates fun, great quality / price ratio, with the holidays approaching, it is wise to make provision!

Quite tannic, this blend of 80% Tannat and 20% Cabernet Franc offers mineral-laced flavors alongside deep, almost brooding fruit-filled ones. Its firm structure makes decanting advisable, as exposure to air will only enhance its appeal.

Bodega Garzón Tannat
(Uruguay. This is not the "Reserva" or "Single-Vineyard" bottling.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.

Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Nearly opaque violet color with alluring black fruit, clay, mocha and peppery spice aromas. On the palate it’s medium-bodied with ample blackberry, black currant and graphite flavors nicely balanced with very good acidity and velvety tannins with very giving finish. Outstanding value for $20. Drink now or hold for a 2-3 years. Very good to outstanding: 89-90pts

I could see what he meant but it does not fully convey the cool, dry elegance of the Bodega Garzón Tannat 2013 . This variety is renowned for its firm tannins, especially in its French homeland of Madiran in south-west France. In this wine they are definite but very finely textured, marrying so well with lightly fragrant dark fruit flavours. [Julia Harding, Jancis Robinson, 19 June 2015]

Refined and supple, with good cut to the dried raspberry and macerated cherry flavors accented by sandalwood notes. Cardamom on the finish. 89 points. [Wine Spectator]

Won one of only three "Great Gold" medals at the Association of Uruguayan Enologists' “Concurso Internacional Tannat al Mundo 2013”, in which 145 wines from 54 wineries were entered; their Tannat had the highest single score.

With a consultant winemaker from Tuscany and a cool, Atlantic climate, this wine has a hint of the old world about it. A brooding nose of blackberry jam, violets and spice flows into juicy black fruits in the mouth, with a well judged balance between tannins and acidity. 89 points. [Decanter, 31 January 2017]

Let there be light and break the Tannat mold. Many of us recall this varietal as ripe, tough and coarse. The 2013 Garzón Tannat takes a sharp turn away from the varietal's past and shows how pleasing and supple this red can be…Deep ruby color; very pretty and overtly fruity aroma, excellent depth; medium bodied, soft and supple on the palate; dryish, flirting with threshold sugar, yet dry enough to show fine balance; ripe fruit, lots of sweet berries, delicate, yet persistent; long finish, smooth and fine in the aftertaste.

It’s a fresh and lively wine, full of raspberry and plum fruit without being stereotypically jammy, layering in notes of spice cake, cloves, and a finish that echoes brambly currants and a bit of tea leaf. A clean wine with a simple but balanced structure, it’s an easygoing wine, but one which is extremely food friendly and versatile. Grade: B+

Pisano "RPF" Tannat
(Progreso, Uruguay. "RPF" = "Reserva Personal de la Familia".)

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• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.

Some quotations and facts about this wine:

[T]his wine is much more classic in terms of Tannat’s flavors – strong but soft tannins, black plums, black currants, and black pepper. It’s a wine that still needs a little time, but then 2002 was an exceptionally good vintage and the wine has a lot of power. Recommended.

[T]the producer that, for me, is making the very best wines in Uruguay at this point [is] Pisano. . . That includes the delicious Tannat RPF . . . I rated 93+ points.

Opaque with rusty edges, nose of dried black fruit, sweet oak, briar, licorice, black pepper, savory herbs. Strong, grippy tannins, dry with a chalky texture, cassis, mid-palate rush of acidity. Long dry dusty finish. Good with chef salad. Next day – still tasty.

[C]omplex dark fruit flavors, good acid and big grippy tannins. Another great wine to accompany a steak.

This is the very first Tannat I’m drinking. . . The 2007 Pisano is an inky, black purple colored wine. The nose is dominated by dark berries, vanilla and toast from the oak and as the wine receives more air the alcohol starts to dominate everything. In the mouth the wine is very dry, feel like Sahara dessert found a new home in your mouth, medium body with a lactic flavor, black currant and more black and blue berries. The wine finishes rather quickly with a certain heat in a short to medium after taste. Overall this wine is tight, tannic and rough. This is a fruit bomb, unfortunately quite unbalanced as the nose creates false expectations. To me this looks like a fake wine – fake in the sense that the short after taste is disappointing.

On the Nose: overall surprisingly muted. Black cherry and wood revealed themselves to determined sniffing. The Gulp: It took a good half hour for this bottle to really open up with sharp black cherry, oak and some rosemary. And you cannot disregard Tannins when discussing Tannat. If you drank more than two or three glasses of the ’07 Pisano RPF Tannat in a short time you may feel are getting a touch heavier. A month or two short of celebrating it’s sixth birthday from harvest, I have every reason to believe this wine could benefit from another four years of quality cellaring.

Perfumed nose of violets, black fruits and wood spice aromas. Rich, ripe fruits on the palate, dense with jammy blackberry and blackcurrant flavour, and supported by firm, robust tannins. Lingers with smoky, meaty notes. 3½* (Very Good)

Mineral, fresh & elegant; yes, it's really Tannat we're talking about. A-

There were 20 of us, and I think it’s safe to say the favorite bottles were the Pisano RPF, the Pisano Reserve, the Chateau O’Brien (source of the first Tannat I’d ever tasted) and all three of the French entries.

Michel Torino El Esteco "Don David" Reserve
(Madiran, France. Do not confound this with their "Château d'Aydie" bottlings or any of their other named variant Madiran bottlings. A blend: Tannat, 80%; Cabernet Sauvignon, 10%; Cabernet Franc, 10%.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.

Some quotations and facts about this wine:

…[A]nother Salta born and bred red wine that punches above its weight…The aromas charge out and unapologetically grab your attention. Dark black fruit and a hint of spice immediately stand out and invite you to try a sip. It is at this point that the Don David hits you with a sucker punch if you aren’t ready for it. Broodingly tannic and with an alcohol content just shy of 14%, the wine has a very full body and flavors reminiscent of the nose but at a greater intensity. The black fruit is now accompanied by some oak, vanilla and a stronger pepper sensation. The tannins have completely coated everything in sight when you think about the next sip. You then consider that perhaps you should sit down and find some food so that you can do battle on an equal footing.

This Cafayate tannat opens with ink, dark chocolate and roast coffee, which are quickly squashed by massive, powdery and grippy tannins. While there is a fleeting cushion of attractive espresso rubbed black cherry, those tannins override immediately, and grip the short, warming finish to bitter astringency calling for big, fatty meat stews to counter. 83 points.

Decanter World Wine Awards International Trophy for the Best in Show Red Single-Varietal over £15

Intense blackberry and plum jam, quince jelly on the palate. Good weight with tense and chunky tannins.

Slightly smoky and brambly, there’s lovely intensity to the generous sour cherry and blackcurrant aromas, with refined oak, finesse, elegant spice and tobacco. A soft, succulent palate shows juicy balsamic notes, dark fruit, strawberries, blueberries, prunes and pepper spice. Very concentrated and modern, this is opulent and terrific. {Decanter, World Wine Awards 2014]

Smooth and juicy with bright boysenberry and plum; brightly structured and balanced; racy, fresh and long. 90 points.

From the largest winery in Cafayate, El Esteco, the exuberant floral and tropical fruit notes on the nose belie a crisp, dry palate. A fuller body comes from a minimum amount of oak aging, but it doesn’t interfere with the fruit.

For a Splurge

A solid choice would be Alain Brumont's Château Bouscassé "Vieilles Vignes" Madiran (this is not the "Coeur de Vieilles Vignes" bottling).

• That wine at 1000 Corks
• That wine at Wine Searcher
• Its Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.
• Its CellarTracker pages.





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