There isn’t a whole lot of Tannat planted in the United States, but that could change in the future as more and more winemakers seek out varieties to set their estates apart. Trust us — it’s a variety that’s worth getting to know.
Most historical references trace Tannat’s origins to French Basque country, but most plantings in France can be found in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains in southwestern France. Tannat vineyards there date back to the 1600s.
The wines made from Tannat grapes were so good that they could be used to pay taxes to French kings.
Laws of the Madiran appellation dictated that Tannat had to be blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. But in recent years, those laws have been relaxed, and French vintners have been allowed to make varietal bottlings of Tannat.
But before that happened, Tannat had found a welcoming new home in Uruguay — much like Malbec finally was able to take center stage after being planted in Argentina.
Basque immigrants brought the grape to Uruguay in 1870, and found that it adapted perfectly to the local terroir. During the 1990s, it ascended to star status, becoming the No. 1 red grape variety in the country.
Today, Tannat is responsible for about a third of all wine produced in Uruguay. More Tannat is now grown in Uruguay than in its native France.
If you love powerful wines, Tannat should be right up your alley. In France, vintners typically add some Cabernet Sauvignon to cuvees in order to make Tannat more accessible. Normally, wines such as Merlot or Cabernet Franc are added to Cabernet Sauvignon to make Cabernet Sauvignon more accessible.
In the glass, Tannat has been compared to Syrah, typically showing smoke, plum and spice notes. It’s not unusual to find it assuming the role of Syrah in blends that include Grenache and Mourvedre.
But for a modern version of varietal Tannat, Uruguay is the place to turn. With its high level of tannin, Tannat is a steak lover’s dream wine.
Expand your horizons and give it a try. You just may discover a new favorite for accompanying your steak dinners or summertime barbecues.