Almost everyone has heard of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, so in an ongoing series we will periodically explore a grape that is a little outside the mainstream. This time we take a look at Tannat, a red wine grape grown predominantly in Cahors and Madiran in southwestern France, as well as Irouleguy in the Basque region. (Don’t be intimidated by these foreign-sounding names, each is simply an appellation like “Napa.”) Tannat is also grown in Uruguay, where it is known as Harriague, and in neighboring Argentina.
This obscure grape produces deeply colored wines with high tannins (which is likely how it got its name) and alcohol content, and with distinctive flavors that are often described as leathery, cooked berry (as opposed to a bright fruit), earthy and burnt orange. Tannat is almost always blended with softer grapes like Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and should be decanted and allowed to breathe a bit before serving. The high tannins and good structure make this wine well-suited for aging, which mellows it and gives complexity to the wine’s flavors.
Tannats shouldn’t be treated like easy-drinking wines you can pick up to the way to a party and drink right away with any food – or no food at all. But those with the patience to decant, pair with hearty food and sip the wine with an open mind will be rewarded with a wine experience like no other.
Here are a few to get you started:
Ohitza “The Skinny” ($15)
Bonny Doon ‘Heart of Darkness’ Madiran ($16)
Alain Brumont Chateau Montus ($30)
Domaine Etxegarya Irouléguy